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UBC Okanagan engineers use tech to tackle rental shortage

UBCO grad and professor create new way for renters and landlords to connect.
Cailan Libby has developed a new online service to help renters in tight markets like Kelowna. —Image credit: UBCO

Kelowna entrepreneur Cailan Libby is putting his engineering know-how to work for the community.

The recent UBC Okanagan graduate has partnered with Kenneth Chau, associate professor with the UBC’s School of Engineering, on a new venture focused on addressing the difficulties in renting, especially in the Okanagan where some communities have seen vacancy rates as low as 0.6 per cent over the past year.

Helping people find their best matches in the rental market, is a novel online service that allows landlords and renters to search, advertise, screen potential matches, form rental contracts, and post reviews — all in one place.

“I’ve been a student renter for the last five years and is a tool I wish I had when I first moved to Kelowna,” says Libby. “While traditional classified ads and online listings exist for renters to find places to live, they don’t do the job very well. The system is not transparent and it’s slow – it can take weeks to find and secure a place to rent.”

Libby and Chau spent the past year talking to tenants and landlords to create the Happipad vision.

“It’s not just about making the process more efficient and it’s not just a listing service,” say Libby. “Happipad wants to make renting a connection, rather than a transaction.”

Designed to support long-term rather than brief vacation rentals, Happipad guides users through the entire rental process. Renters can search for their future home and submit applications, while landlords can list their properties, screen, and accept authenticated applications. And when the right match is made, rental contracts are electronically signed and delivered by email.

It took some heavy-duty engineering to develop from concept to the online experience now available to the community. Libby and Chau began exploring better ways to do it while Libby was still a fourth-year engineering student in one of Chau’s classes. Now, the duo are partners and working together to tackle the practical challenges of renting while engaging the local rental community.

“We worked well together and talked about all sorts of solutions that we could build,” says Libby, recalling the early discussions about how they might collaborate on addressing a compelling community challenge.

“As engineers, we have been able to go through the visioning and development processes, and all the creative problem-solving, very quickly,” he says. “A large company might take months to do what we are able to do in a matter of hours.”

Libby also received direct support from Accelerate Okanagan’s Venture Acceleration Program, which provided access to experienced advisors including Lance Schafer, one of Accelerate Okanagan’s Executives in Residence.

“Working with Lance has been great,” says Libby. “As an Executive in Residence, he has offered ideas about what to focus on, how to stay motivated and make the best decisions. The program has given us access to all the resources at Accelerate Okanagan – help with our accounting and legal questions, advice about advertising and networking. It has been very beneficial.”

Creating a start-up venture isn’t for everyone, Libby acknowledges, but he says the experience has been amazing – and something he’s very comfortable with. When he graduated with an engineering degree, he told people he was going to create a job for himself – drawing on his education, perseverance and willingness to take a chance on a big idea.

Happipad recently hired its first employee, and while still in its first month the service is growing fast, seeing a 300 per cent increase in weekly traffic. Every day, new authenticated landlords and prospective tenants are registering to become part of the Happipad community.

“I want to create something our society needs,” Libby says “I realize most people are not willing to take on the risk and struggles, that’s where I’m a bit different. I want to change the way renting is done. Renting should be simple and stress-free. I want everyone to be able to find a ‘happy’ home quickly and easily.”

Happipad launched in Kelowna in July and has plans to expand across North America.