Pharmacy UpStarts reflect on being finalists in last year’s Digital DNA startup competition

  • Locate a Locum were finalists in last year’s Digital DNA UpStart competition. Pitching against 34 other startup was nerve-racking said Jonny Clarke, CEO and co-founder. “But learning to pitch is an essential tool of an entrepreneur,” he says. The firm matches up pharmacies with locum pharmacists who can cover shifts and vacancies.

    Like many entrepreneurs, Jonny picked up skills outside the world of business before becoming an entrepreneur.

    “I studied pharmacy at Queen’s University for four years, then I did a year in pre-reg, so five years total. After that, I came out at the height of the recession with no job,” says Jonny, reflective of a time post-graduation when things were a lot different. “So, I did locum work for a couple of months. Then I was lucky to be offered a job in the Royal Hospital in Belfast for around three years.” 

    The time spent looking for work during that period gave him the inspiration for Locate a Locum. “I was constantly passing on my business cards to pharmacies. I noticed a habit that they had of keeping all the business cards in a drawer,” says Jonny. “Instead of my cards simply joining the pile, ready to be shuffled, I thought about setting up my own website, with my own professional details on it. I thought that this would work well for some of my friends and colleagues too, and I persuaded them to sign up to it. And the business grew out that.”

    The genius behind the app was inspired by real-life experience, and has developed an impressive number of features over recent months. “We have created a website and app which connects pharmacies and locums directly. A pharmacy registers with the site, saying that they need a locum pharmacist to work, say, tomorrow. The website and app are smart and automatically notify registered locums in the area. With one click of a button, the locum applies for a shift, and is connected with the pharmacy, cutting out the inefficiency of a manual recruitment agency sitting in the middle.”

    According to Jonny and his co-founder Michael Budden, their participation in the local incubator programme Entrepreneurial Spark (e-Spark) really helped them flesh out their business plan and get moving. “I took a career break and focussed on Locate a Locum whilst travelling in Thailand. Michael was still in his previous job at that time, so we were talking a lot in the background. When I came back, e-Spark really helped us. They ask for nothing in return. It's open and honest, and they are helping Belfast solidify its reputation as a renowned startup hub.” 

    It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, with Jonny getting married and Locate a Locum’s team swelling while their list of clients across the UK and Ireland continues to expand. 

    They are now connecting 4,000 locums with over 8,000 pharmacies, and the team plan to hire five new staff over the next six months in anticipation of further growth. 

    Jonny is hopeful for the future of the business: “We think it's going to be massive. We focus on pharmacy at the moment, but we would like to expand into different areas outside of pharmacies.

    “We took the decision to jump ship, and leave our careers. We aren’t smarter than anyone else. The only difference is, we took a stab at it.”

    His advice to people taking part in this year’s Digital DNA UpStart competition in St George’s Market?

    “Practice, practice, practice!”

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