Buffer is a support network platform for international students, that I designed with Pragya Mishra, Mafe Perez, Jenny Emmons and Cova Abril Paredes as part of our Leadership and Entrepreneurship class at DSI.
Through surveys and interviews we identified a need for an early entry, peer support network for international students who are accepted to school in the US and need to prepare for the transition to living in a new country and a new city. The need does not just apply to basic difficulties and adjustment around housing and finance in new and unfamiliar circumstances, but also for safety, security and accessible help in case of emergency. Not a lot of information is available about the security concerns and dangers posed to international students, though they have been identified as a population group that is more vulnerable to crime than the norm. With high campus crime rates and low reporting, we realized that in itself was a clue to a major gap that can have significant impact on stakeholders' and their families' lives.
Buffer is a school based peer support network to fill the gaps in access to valuable knowledge about safe living in the city, using online communication and a buddy system. The student’s journey with Buffer begins with the acceptance letter from the school. Buffer mentors from the preceding cohorts are there for them through the planning and preparation so that when they arrive they have a trusted circle in place as well the information they need.
Buffer is available on web and mobile. Students have a dashboard where they can access crowdsourced information on topics like housing and funding, they can connect with peers and mentors directly, and nominate their circle of trust which they can easily reach in case of emergency through the mobile help button. The platform is school based, so all the members are verified students to ensure accountability.
We designed a business model which is based on providing the platform to students for free, with the revenue coming in from offering the mobile help button as a premium feature for their parents to purchase for them - and of course, selling the platform to universities. Targeted advertising space will be an additional revenue stream.
We came up with Buffer when we reached a block with a previous project and decided to pivot. Working on a problem we all personally knew and experienced as international students was a powerful experience which informed our design greatly. At the end of the semester we pitched the idea to a panel of potential investors and got great feedback and responses.