Grace Kuczynski,  Southampton Eagle Lab Manager, chats to Phil Robinson, CEO and founder of Catapillr. Phil discusses Catapillr's mission, how working at Eagle Labs has provided new opportunities and what the future holds.

Tell us more about your company?

My company is called Catapillr and we have developed a new employee benefit to support working parents with their childcare costs.

At present, we are a small team but we have the backing of a venture capital group called Bethnal Green Ventures, who are based in London. They have invested in Catapillr and supported us through an intensive 3 month business accelerator programme, which has really helped to shape our business model and prepare us for the launch of our product, which is scheduled for October.

What is your company’s mission?

Our mission at Catapillr is to make childcare more affordable and easier to manage for all working parents.

What’s different about your company/product?

Our company is run by parents, for parents. We know first-hand, just how little time working parents have to try and juggle childcare and work, which makes us uniquely placed to deliver a solution which will actually help make their lives easier.

Our product is called the Childcare Cash Advance Scheme, which is a completely unique and innovative employee benefit.

The scheme has been developed as a simple and low cost way for employers to support working parents with their early years and school-age childcare costs. The support is in the form of a 12 month, interest free loan, similar to an employer loan for travel. Our platform facilitates all of the arrangement of loan and provides parents with an online account, a mobile app and marketplace from which they can book all of the childcare they require. The scheme can be used in conjunction with all existing childcare support schemes and ensures that childcare providers get paid quicker too, so that everyone involved in the new scheme benefits.

How did you start off and when?

I registered Catapillr in February this year, having left my job in 2018 to focus on launching the company.  Leaving the corporate world behind was a huge decision but something that I’m really proud I did. ?H

owever, I didn’t leave my job until I was certain that I fully understood the issues I was trying to solve and had developed the first iteration of a workable solution.  This meant competing a lot of research, not just from the perspective of employers or parents but also from the childcare providers well.  From the conversations I had, I could sense the real frustrations that everyone involved was facing and the need for a fresh approach to childcare funding.  The Government’s decision to close the childcare voucher scheme gave me further confirmation that a new solution was required. 

What have been your biggest challenges to get where you are today?

Time is always a challenge! As a Father of three, whose wife also has a professional career;  work and day to day life is a challenging balance and is an area I'm always working on.

Rationalising the huge vision we have for the impact that Catapillr could have into our core values and objectives was a difficult process. We feel we have the right ethos for the launch of our company but still have many other ideas that we plan to introduce to further help working parents to manage their childcare in a positive way.

Having the self belief to try something different from my previous career has, at times been challenging, but we are fully committed to this idea, believing it will have a positive impact on the lives of working parents. At times I have found it difficult to see how to progress with what I wanted to achieve and have found that being able to talk through ideas has been very productive. I am fortunate that I have a wide network of friends and family that have been incredibly supportive and provided a range of perspectives. This has helped us to see more clearly the route we need to pursue. The support of my family has been invaluable to me as well.

What are you most excited about in working at Barclays Eagle Labs?

Eagle Labs has provide us with the opportunity to meet with an extensive range of people. They have been both considerate and supportive, offering a range of practical advice.  Everyone has been welcoming and friendly. The space itself is well thought out. The  open plan set up is bright and airy, allowing a good thinking space. The opportunity to talk to other people and discuss ways forward is mutually beneficial to all of us using this space.

Barclays have provided a range of practical solutions, such as 3D printing, meeting spaces, links to local businesses and network opportunities, all have been invaluable for a start-up business such as Catapillr.

What does the future hold for your company – what are your plans? What’s the next big challenge?

We have big plans for Catapillr! In the immediate future there are 3 big milestones coming up in the life of Catapillr.

Firstly, our innovative  platform solution will be ready for launch towards the end of September, which means, for the first time, we can actually on-board employees. So, all of the companies that have expressed an interest in our initiative will be able to see our product in real terms.
Secondly, in October we will be at the Employee benefits live show at Excel in London, the biggest show of its type in Europe. This is a huge opportunity for us to showcase our idea to an enormous range of potential customers. We are working hard to ensure we can make the most of our time at Excel  by reaching as many future clients as possible.

Thirdly, as an early stage company we have secured our SEIS/EIS advanced assurance status from HMRC, which is great from an investor perspective and also from our perspective as we will be fund-raising to help scale and push the idea forward to positively impact the lives of working parents.

In terms of challenges our key focus is to on-board our first company. We have had exciting discussions with a variety of employers who have been keen to provide our benefit to their employees. As a local business we are particularly keen to on-board a local employer and are actively engaged with local employers to make this happen.

As an Entrepreneur what tips do you have for entrepreneurs starting out on their journey? 

In my opinion, there are 3 keys things to do as an entrepreneur.

  1. Believe in yourself and your idea.
  2. Constantly look for feedback from potential users and refine your product based on their comments.
  3. Take any opportunity, no matter how small to publicise yourself and your business.

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