Belfast brothers’ start-up plans to revolutionise parent-teacher meetings

‘Equipple strips away the faff and frees up time for teachers to create high possibility classrooms’ - inventor

start-up brothers
Belfast brothers Stuart and Ryan Henry, who are behind Equipple

Belfast brothers Stuart and Ryan Henry are making waves with their tech start-up Equipple, which is aimed at bringing parent-teacher meetings into the 21st century.

The business - which is now in the final stages of the Catalyst INVENT competition - is the brainchild of primary school teacher Stuart Henry, who arrived at the certainty several years ago that there had to be a better and more efficient way to approach parent-teacher meetings.

“As a teacher myself, I am acutely aware of how much time teachers spend outside of classroom hours going above and beyond what we’re actually contracted to do,” Stuart says.

“There are scary statistics about the rates of burn-out and work-related stress in schools as well as the struggles that education is facing in terms of recruitment and retention.

“So, although the initial concept behind Equipple was to ‘scratch my own itch’ so to speak, it quickly became apparent that the issues were being experienced at a much wider level. The feedback from many teachers I’ve spoken to is that inefficient administrative tasks contribute towards higher levels of stress and burnout.

“Parent teacher meetings are a perfect example of this; we spend hours copying pupil data, scheduling meeting times and speaking to parents and other teachers. I believe that we can utilise technology to greatly minimise administrative tasks and workload.”

This realisation set the wheels in motion for Stuart to start constructing an innovative solution to the problem.

start-up brothers
Stuart Henry

“I had been working on the idea for a few years and then I pitched the idea to my brother, Ryan, who has experience of developing digital brands in his role with a multinational company,” Stuart explains.

“He agreed there had to be a better, more efficient way to approach parent-teacher meetings, so we set about developing the solution. After researching other products, we discovered there was nothing already in the market that dealt with the problem holistically.”

“We believe Equipple is unique. We have combined scheduling appointments and pupil data into a single user-friendly interface for parents and teachers alike. Parents are simply emailed a link by the school where they are able to choose a time and meeting format - phone, video-call or in-person - that suits them best.

“Similarly, teachers now have the data they want and need at their fingertips, allowing them to quickly access all information required to have as productive a meeting as possible.”

“In short, Equipple strips away all the faff and frees up time for teachers to create high possibility classrooms.”

The Henry brothers have enjoyed the challenge of founding and developing a tech start-up together in between juggling family life and work commitments in their respective day-jobs.

“Developing Equipple is a huge amount of work for us both, but we have never wavered in our belief that it would usher in a much-needed change for teachers,” the 33-year-old adds.

“Our skill-sets complement each other really well; I bring the experience and perspective of a teacher while Ryan brings his experience of refining and developing ideas into marketable digital products. The long hours and hard work are worth it because we’ve built a digital platform we’re extremely proud of.”

The founders’ entrepreneurial journey has accelerated in recent months as they have progressed through the stages of Catalyst INVENT, an annual competition supporting exciting innovators and entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland.

“We’ve been delighted to receive support and guidance from Catalyst INVENT, in particular Meg Magill, who works on the entrepreneurship and growth team at Catalyst, who has been really helpful,” Stuart says.

“We’ve attended various workshops which have provided useful support as we continue in our venture. Perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to network with experts in this space has been invaluable.”

Indeed, the brothers are ambitious about the growth potential for Equipple and, having already gained a foothold in the local market, are already eyeing international opportunities to expand.

“We’ve secured contracts with several schools in Northern Ireland, and through these, we’re eager to demonstrate Equipple’s value. We truly believe that Equipple can not only make the burden of administration tasks for teachers lighter but also improve learning outcomes both locally and internationally. Excitingly, we’ve had conversations with schools in the US and are currently looking into markets in Australia and New Zealand.”

Apart from providing business support and high-profile exposure, through success in INVENT the founders have an opportunity to secure a share of the £55,000 prize fund to further develop and scale their innovation.

But regardless of the competition’s outcome, Equipple’s co-founder is confident this is only the beginning for the start-up.

“Securing investment from potential investors is our next step as this will allow us to take Equipple to the next level; we are determined and committed to do just that.”

start-up brothers
Peter Lockhart
  • Peter Lockhart is a freelance journalist based in Belfast covering business and sport stories for publications including the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and BBC NI