Women and minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, are inordinately impacted by a lack of security in public spaces, something which – says the founder of UrbView – is a significant obstable on the path to equality and diversity. Indeed, studies show the impact that security-conscious urban planning can have on crime rates and the use of public transport.
In our interview, Elnaz Nouri talks about starting her business, the personal history behind it, and what advice she would give to other academics and start-up founders.
How did you come up with the idea for your start-up?
Well, as an Iranian, I've personally dealt with a lot of street harassment. It's a major problem back home. But when I came to Germany for my studies, things were better. Still, harassment happens here too, just in a different way. During my Master's programme in Public Health at HAW Hamburg, I decided to concentrate on citizen health issues, focusing specifically on harassment. I collected data in my hometown and studied research from around the world. And let me tell you, the data and metrics clearly show that harassment affects every aspect of a person's life. It changes how you perceive things, how you interact with others, how you use transportation systems and infrastructure, and even the choices you make regarding work or studies. It's a far-reaching issue.
What are the characteristics of good or safe urban architecture?
Wow, that's a huge question! And it's important to know that safety in cities or public spaces is a complex idea. It's influenced by culture and society too. We want to make better places for everyone, regardless of their gender, minority status, or background. To understand how to do this, we need to study how different communities and minorities use and interact with public spaces. Even simple activities like walking or using public transportation depend on factors like how you were raised, your gender, and your sense of personal safety. These issues are about fairness and justice in society! Research shows that women often choose more expensive but safer ways to travel, like taking a taxi instead of a bus. They might also avoid certain places like parks at night.
What does your project have to do with this? How does it make cities more secure?
Our goal is to tackle harassment and sexual violence in public spaces. Right now, there are apps that can show you how safe an area is based on crime statistics. But honestly, that's just a temporary solution. It's like taking painkillers instead of addressing the real problems. And why should I have to pay just to feel safe while going about my daily life? That's not fair at all! There are many factors that need to be addressed. Things like education, the economy, community involvement, the efforts of social and government organisations, police work, and of course, urban architecture and planning. We particularly focus on the latter. We bring together knowledge from public health, criminology, data science, and urban planning to create and maintain secure public spaces for the future. Urban planning offices can use our expertise to make public spaces safer for everyone, and we provide them with the tools to do so!
What are your next milestones?
In the next few months, we're planning to open up our services to our first group of beta users, mainly urban planning businesses. It's an exciting milestone for us! Additionally, we're also applying to government and public start-up funding programmes in Hamburg and Berlin, such as EXIST or InnoFounder. If we get selected, it will take our project to a whole new level! Right now, we're a team of five people, focused on developing our prototype. We're fortunate to have a strong support network, especially with our mentor, Professor Noennig, who provides us with valuable insights into urban planning and urban science, which is his field at Hafen City University Hamburg. However, it would be great to expand our team's expertise in areas like sales or urban planning.
Do you have any helpful advice for other people who want to transform their research into a start-up?
I truly believe that almost everyone has the potential to start their own business. And the three most important things you need for that are your team, your team, and your team. When we first started, we didn't have much knowledge about how or where to begin. But we reached out to start-up services in Hamburg's start-up ecosystem, like beyourpilot.de, and their consultants helped us gain a better understanding of what might work. But you know what? The most crucial thing was connecting with other founders. It's incredibly important! Just go out there and ask for help or advice. Many people are afraid to reach out, but trust me, it works wonders! I got in touch with a female founder, and we started meeting for coffee every other week. It has been such a tremendous help. So don't hesitate to reach out and make connections. Surround yourself with people who share your values, vision, and care about the same things. They can be a great source of inspiration.
Thank you for your time!
Interview: Olaf Ledderboge (the interview was conducted in English)
Become a start-up founder
You've finished your studies, and now what? HAW Hamburg's Start-ups Service offers comprehensive initial consultation for individuals and teams in the pre-founding, founding or post-founding phase of establishing a start-up. It also provides advice on working as a freelancer.
This session covers the following topics, among others:
Those interested can find additional information on the HAW Hamburg website.
For those who are still at the beginning of their studies: the application deadline for the Master's degree course in Public Health has passed. However, applications for winter semester 2023/24 are currently being accepted fora range of degree courses. Applications can be submitted until 15 July 2023.