Taking the plunge: meeting Locate-a-Locum CEO Jonny Clarke

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  • “We aren’t smarter than anyone else. The only difference is, we took a stab at it. We took the decision to jump ship, and leave our careers,” says Jonny Clarke, co-founder of Locate-a-Locum. Northern Ireland’s home-grown pharmacy recruitment platform is taking its market by storm, earning its stripes with a list of award nominations and prizes, as well as a fresh co-working space in Belfast’s City Centre.

    We sat down with Jonny Clarke, qualified pharmacist and co-founder of Locate-a-Locum to talk about the roots of his idea, and getting one of the recruitment sector’s most exciting start-ups off the ground.        
    As with many entrepreneurs, Jonny Clarke found his expertise in areas outside of the world of business. “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 while, for a couple of months at least. Then I was lucky to be offered a job in the Royal Hospital in Belfast for around three years.”

    It was the time Jonny spent looking for work in that period which gave him the inspiration behind his pharmacy recruitment start-up. “I was constantly passing on my business cards to pharmacies. I noticed a habit that they had - they would keep all the business cards in a drawer,” says Jonny. “Instead of my cards simple 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. That is essentially what the business grew out of.”

    The genius behind the app was inspired by real-life experience, and has developed an impressive number of features over recent months. “Basically, we have created a website and app which connects pharmacies and locums directly. Compare it to the likes of Uber - a pharmacy would register with the site, saying that they need a locum pharmacist to work tomorrow. The website and app automatically smart notifies locums in the area, saying “hey, there's a job in your area tomorrow that needs filled”. With one click of a button, the locum applies for a shift, and is connected with the pharmacy.”

    Although life-experience was to inspire Jonny Clarke’s idea behind the business, he was also guided by his own observations of the recruitment sector. “Recruitment agencies work off a middleman model. So if you’re looking for work, you go through an agency. If you are hiring, you go through an agency,” he says. “We have stripped that away to allow the two sources to communicate directly with one another. We can do it faster, and we can do it in a more cost-effective way. We cut out the nonsense, we connect one person to another - it's as simple as that.”

    Determination and talent invariable come into play when discussing the success behind Locate-a-Locum. However, behind every successful business is a strong team and strong support, and with Northern Ireland’s budding recruitment firm, that idea is no different. “My co-founder Michael gathered his expertise from the tech sector. So, he helped us develop the vision for the app - the other, non-pharmacy related skills: how do we build this; how do we make it happen? He is a former Head of Design at Randox Laboratories, so his experience really did help to build that.”

    “Things like Entrepreneurial Spark have been great at getting us into the papers,” says Johnny, who is praising of Belfast’s renowned incubator program. “We won the Invent Competition’s internet category, which was run by Catalyst. E-Spark is great. I took a career break to travel and focus on Locate-a-Locum whilst travelling in Thailand. Michael was still working at the time, so we were working a lot behind the scenes. When we came back, e-Spark really helped us. They ask for nothing in return; it's open and honest, and they are pushing Belfast forward - helping the city solidify its reputation as a renowned start-up hub.”

    Jonny is keen to stress that such success is not only available to the likes of himself and Michael Budden. The Locate-a-Locum co-founder insists that any entrepreneur with a strong idea and a driven mindset can make it in the world of business. “I would say to young, budding entrepreneurs in Belfast to just go for it. When I was at university, everything seemed to hinge on getting a job post-graduation. Well, I got a job, and I felt unfulfilled,” says Jonny. “The reason that I studied pharmacy in the first place is because I liked the business aspects of the subject, and the possibility of owning your own pharmacy years down the line. But sadly, that’s not possible anymore with the likes of Boots and other large retailers. This is a pharmacy-related business that I could actually achieve in setting up. There are a lot of people who say they have a business idea, but they rarely go for it. We say go for it.”

    With a growing team and an ever-expanding list of clients across the British Isles, the sky certainly appears to be the limit for Locate-a-Locum. Jonny Clarke is hopeful for the business’s future: “We think it's going to be massive. Obviously, we focus on pharmacy at the moment, but we would like to expand into different areas. We see massive things for Locate-a-Locum, in a world outside of pharmacies.”

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