Equitas is an HR technology company that helps organisations make better and less biased hiring decisions. Based in Belfast, the early-stage company initially built a prototype app for conducting interviews in 2018 to test its theory that interviews and assessments could be improved upon using a digital approach.
After running tests and undertaking customer development with recruitment agencies and more than 300 students, cofounders Michael Blakley and George Oehlert discovered that a market need wasn’t being met and took the company full-time.
We spoke to Blakley to find out more.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Michael Blakley: We are trying to reduce bias in hiring; it’s a massive issue that costs companies time and money and can impact whether they are successful. A study by Devah Pager stated that companies are twice as likely to fail if they discriminate when hiring, and companies are beginning to realise this and are trying to build more diverse teams.
We went full time at the end of 2018 and were able to get on the Propel programme run by Ignite and Invest NI. This helped fast track our company and we released the first version of our interview app towards the end of the programme in June 2019, helping create five new internships in Belfast.
What was your ‘Eureka’ moment?
When we assessed and recruited for different companies it was always the same process. Pen and paper, trying to interview someone while writing down every single word they were saying. We’d usually have a team of interviewers and always thought, “How do we know everyone is going through the same process and scoring candidates in the same way?”
It only takes one or two interviewers or hiring managers to start picking people they like for the process to fall apart and for the wrong people to be hired. Unfortunately, we saw this happen in practice so decided there must be a better way to interview and assess.
If I had to narrow it down to one moment it was on a contract where I spotted one interviewer failing someone based on who they were rather on the content they provided and whether they were right for the role. It didn’t sit well with me but luckily we were able to rectify that mistake and make sure they were hired.
What makes you better than the competition?
Our focus on capturing interview data to minimise bias is the key thing that differentiates us from our competitors. We believe that HR technology should be used to help humans make better decisions and not just replace them from the decision-making process. Not all of our competitors agree with this approach.
One of my favourite quotes from Mark Dowds, cofounder of the Ormeau Baths coworking space where we are based, is, “I love it when my competitors succeed as it drives me to be even better”. Some great things have happened over the last decade in the interview and assessment space but we know it can still be done better.
What’s it like being a tech company in your city/region?
Northern Ireland is the best place in the UK to start a company – there are many entrepreneurs and companies who provide support and are willing founders to succeed. We have had support from Techstart NI, Ignite, Invest NI, Catalyst and Tech Nation.
The POC programmes from Techstart are the perfect way to test the market and validate your idea and the funding and grant support from Invest NI allows companies to grow quicker than in any other region in the UK. Startup and accelerator programmes from Ignite and Catalyst give founders the key skills they need to succeed.
Ormeau Baths was voted one of the top 10 workspaces in the UK (excluding WeWork) and if you get a chance to visit you’ll realise why with some of the most exciting and innovative tech startups in the UK based here. The community is amazing and I have to give a shout out to Claire who runs the Ormeau Baths, Lisa and Emma from Barclays Eagle Labs and our local Tech Nation advisor Gary Davidson – he’s the man who joins the dots between startups and the people they need to meet.
What’s on the horizon for your company?
We are about to start fundraising in the coming months so we are looking to find investors who can add value. We are also looking to build out our tech team in Northern Ireland as the talent here is incredible.
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