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BuzzStreets is an app that helps you find your way around in large buildings, including hospitals, an indoor wayfinding system. 

If you have ever been on a hospital site, already stressed about an appointment, or visiting a loved one, but unable to find your way around you will know just how much this could help.

But BuzzStreets saves the hospitals time and money and increases efficiency with its wayfinding systems too.  It is also a business with an incredibly passionate founder who took the time to tell me why indoor wayfinding can make such a difference and literally save lives.

Joe and the early years of BuzzStreets

Joe (João) Fernandez is originally from Portugal.  He studied for a BA in sales and marketing and then an MSC in Digital Marketing, and his early career was in a variety of Marketing roles.  He told me that marketing and sales were his passion and that since he was a kid, he had loved them both, loved advertising, and sold newspapers and publications, enjoying every minute.

Joe describes himself as a person who needs goals, which sales suits.  But he quickly learned that he likes it best when he sets his own goals.  In 2010, he started his first company, a magazine, and digital multi-platform news and gamification.  Tech was emerging at that point and would become another passion for Joe. 

Joe was working in Lisbon.  He loves the city but, as with most cities, it had terrible traffic problems back then.  It is a little better now with all the cycling but still crazy, Joe says.  Going back and forth to his marketing business, Joe, who suffers from claustrophobia, would get out and leave the car rather than sit in a jam.  Eventually, his wife asked him if the problem was so bad, why didn’t he solve it.

Joe went to City Hall and the City Council talked to engineers and pushed for information.  He concluded that around 20% of the problems could be avoided if the drivers knew up-and-coming hot spots.  The volume of cars was a problem.  But it was the sudden occurrences from construction sites to accidents that an early warning system would solve, allowing drivers to divert and avoid them.

Joe worked on a tech solution, the first BuzzStreets, and set out to sell it to Lisbon and Porto Councils.  They loved it but had no budget to pay for it; they were also reluctant as they believed most older drivers would not use an app.

At this point, Joe received a call from Madrid suggested he go there, join a twelve-week accelerator program and develop the app more fully.  He was torn, not wanting to be away from his family but knowing the opportunity was a good one.  It enabled him to develop the tech massively.  That technology would eventually form the basis of the business it is today, one that enables Joe to work with his three passions, sales, tech, and people. 

Success didn’t happen straight away.  Joe’s is a story of perseverance.  He had three failed businesses at that point and was desperate to find one that he could succeed in helping people with. 

Tough Beginnings

While Joe was in Madrid, he received a phone call from Canary Wharf in London asking him over for a visit.  Canary Wharf is a colossal site and includes five shopping centers, thirty-six buildings within the financial sector.  He received the call on 27th January 2015, a date Joe says he will never forget.

On arrival, Joe went straight to the top floor of One Canada Square there and stood gazing in awe at the incredible view.  In the meeting, the management asked him to look at their traffic flow, so Joe stayed on, spending working weeks in London and flying home to be with his family at weekends.  He was broke, often sleeping at Canary Wharf.   One meal a day had to be enough, and he lived off chocolate which he could buy in the vending machines onsite.   Back home, his wife was paying the bills and had money invested in his company.

Joe studied the traffic flow but could see that they did not have a traffic problem with well-organized entrances and exits and their personalized policing in place.  They asked him to look at the lorries in the Malls, but these were only causing minor problems. 

Canary Wharf houses the most extensive art collection in the UK, possibly in Europe.  And the volume of commuters was just incredible.  Joe suggested an outdoor and indoor wayfinding system which would enable everyone to both find where they needed to go and, also, to find the art.

The site owners loved the idea.  The market for indoor wayfinding is more crowded now, but at this point in 2015, no one was offering what Joe could.  It was hugely innovative.  Even now, BuzzStreets remains in the top five wayfinding companies in the market.

They gave Joe an award and a pat on the back but told him it would take a while to put everything into place.  Being a huge corporation, and Joe an unknown tiny company from Portugal, there were a lot of hoops to jump through.

Joe pays enormous tribute to Camille Waxer of Canary Wharf, who he describes as inspirational.  Despite having over 500 employees and a huge corporation to run, she was continually supportive to Joe through what would be a very long wait.  It took till 2017 to launch the pilot, and even then, there were more due diligence hold-ups as with any huge corporation spending large investment reserves.

Wayfinding Inside

Bringing wayfinding inside would prove the best decision Joe could have made.  The market outside disappeared with the effectiveness of Google maps.  Inside, it was just opening up, with the sales challenge being to persuade people to take risks on a new idea.

Their wayfinding technology can be used for all commercial and public spaces, including shopping centers, airports, and mammoth sites such as Canary Wharf.  However, it quickly emerged how effective BuzzStreets could be in hospitals, and they have recently signed a contract with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital via their Foundation. 

The word is out on just what a difference Joe’s wayfinding can make to hospitals, and he is in talks with a further twenty-three in Scotland, six around the City of London, and eight elsewhere in England.  In Portugal, they are working with the Hospital de Sao Francisco Xavier, CUF Tejo Hospital, the CHUK Healthcare center, and ISCTE university. 

Working with hospitals makes Joe truly joyful as it has always been his desire to help people, and he knows they can make a tremendous difference.

The Benefits of BuzzStreets:

Once you arrive at the entrance of a vast hospital with BuzzStreets, you can use the wayfinding app to find whatever ward or room you are looking for.  It is free for customers and can be used data-free as there is an opt-out if you just want to use the navigation system. 

But in addition to making life easier for patients, the wayfinding system also helps the hospitals save crucial time and money: Fewer wasted appointments, smoother running, and fewer people asking for directions.  Doctors and nurses are stopped at least three times a day for people wanting to know the way; that is many person-hours lost.

The wayfinding app also tracks movement analytics for the hospitals to improve the building’s efficiency and keeps track of vital equipment.  For example, Joe has just added a new feature to the wayfinder to track and find wheelchairs, something so hard to find when needed.  Equipment often gets stolen or lost, and if you need an oximeter with the wayfinder system, you know where to find it.  When ambulances arrive, spare beds can be easily identified.

Older people are more able to visit hospitals independently and find their way around.  It has lifesaving potential for elderly patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s as they can be tracked both in and even outside the hospital via the phone in their pockets.

There are not just medical benefits to the wayfinding system.  Joe wants to help turn hospitals into a good experience, add some fun and pleasure.  Chelsea and Westminster have an extensive art collection, and they can use the AI to show the art and promote the local artists they have invested in.  With one of the Scots groups, they have been asked to feature games for the children.

 The Future

Joe is looking for substantial funding now to kickstart the volume of contracts coming through.  They need to find the right people to deliver.  Joe, always generous with his praise, says he has a genius in his digital partner, freeing him up to translate people’s needs to tech solutions.  It is always quality over quantity and the quality of their wayfinding system is what is crucial.

Joe says he would be happy if what he does helps one person.  However, he aims to spread all through the NHS and the groups in Portugal.   Joe is in the process of moving to the UK permanently, which he loves and sees as a country he wants his children to grow up in.

Joe found the time away from his children in the company’s early years beyond hard, but his passion for helping others has kept him going, and he is looking forward enormously to spending quality time together in their new home while watching BuzzStreets’ wayfinding system flourish.

Wayfinding app

If you enjoy interviews with technology entrepreneurs, you may enjoy reading this on Matt Bullock a serial tech entrepreneur from Australia