Carpooling solution wins Start-up Stars programme for young entrepreneurs

24 Jun 2019

From left: Manal Mukhtar and Ellen Le Bas. Image: Nick Bradshaw/Fotonic

MLN hopes to become a secure and real-time in-house carpooling app that will help increase employee retention levels and reduce the number of cars on the road.

Today (24 June), the Start-up Stars programme awarded its top prize to Manal Mukhtar and Ellen Le Bas for their student venture MLN (pronounced ‘melon’). Mukhtar and Le Bas won a €3,000 cash prize for the app that they are currently developing, which aims to improve commuting by encouraging carpooling between employees at medium-to-large companies and organisations.

The Start-up Stars programme has now been running for five years at University College Dublin (UCD). This year’s programme featured seven early-stage ventures, with a total of 16 team members, who participated in an intensive mentoring programme over the last four weeks at NovaUCD.

UCD selected MLN as the overall winner “as it was considered to have the most commercial potential” of all entries during a final pitch to a panel of judges.

According to UCD’s 2019 Start-Up Programme for Young Entrepreneurs, “the MLN app will enable users to act as both passengers and drivers on their daily commute. The app will use gamification to attract and retain users by providing incentives and rewards for carpooling participation.”

The MLN app also allows users to see how they’re reducing their carbon footprint as they continually use the app.

Mukhtar and Le Bas decided to create a ride-sharing app for the Irish market because they believe it’s only a matter of time until ride-sharing takes off in Ireland. Mukhtar, an undergraduate from the UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business, explained, “We believe that we are at the cusp of a carpooling revolution and that MLN can be at the forefront when it reaches tipping point.”

The two women noted the number of employees who are currently unhappy with their daily commute, with over 50pc of workers living outside of a direct form of public transport to their workplace. Mukhtar and Le Bas believe that the growth of carpooling in Ireland could positively impact employee retention levels across the country.

Le Bas, who has just completed a postgraduate degree at the UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, expressed her gratitude to NovaUCD for facilitating the development of MLN. “The network of mentors and fellow entrepreneurs at NovaUCD is a valuable resource to have as an early-stage start-up.”

NovaUCD offered the start-ups participating in the programme office space to develop their ideas, as well as structured workshops run by industry experts, and interactive workshops to assist in refining their start-up ideas.

The six runners-up also received a cash prize of €500 each. Among those participating were Blue, a scooter-sharing service hoping to launch in Dublin city in 2020; Find-A-Side, an app aiming to connect footballers locally based on age, skill and fitness level; and PodMaster, a mobile phone solution that will allow people to quickly and efficiently edit high-quality podcasts.

There was also a mobile application called MedBell, which sets out to tackle the problem of medication non-adherence, as well as Flux Renewables, a new solar power installation service. The final runner-up in the competition was UCD Formula Student, a start-up developing and constructing an electrical racecar for amateur drivers to compete in the Formula Student Electric competition.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic