An app that fosters neighbourly connections across campus

Jack Jia Hinbor presentation
Posted 2022-10-28

While Jack Jia was growing up in Shijiazhuang, China, his grandmother would frequently ask him to deliver freshly-baked cookies to their neighbours. For the UBC Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) alum, neighbours have always been friends who look out for each other. Jia’s close-knit community was a defining part of his childhood and today it’s an ongoing inspiration for his growing business venture, Hinbor.

When Jia moved to Vancouver in 2016 to pursue an education at the UBC Sauder School of Business, he saw an opportunity to bring the same inclusive community spirit to his new home.

"I observed that people were busy in their own lives. I knocked on dorm rooms and asked my peers if they had ever helped out a neighbour. The answer was usually no,” says Jia. “It’s not because people don't want to help, but because they've never had a chance to know each other's needs.”

Jia set off on a mission to build closer relationships and a stronger sense of community. "I realized there was something missing and came up with an idea to connect these neighbours and spark friendships."

An app built on kindness

With his childhood memories as his baseline, Jia created a social app called Hi Neighbor, now branded as Hinbor. The platform aims to foster interactions and eventually friendships among students living on campus. The interactions usually take the form of helping a fellow student—by running errands for them like picking up a meal or groceries.

On the back end, the app partners with grocery stores and restaurants who are incentivized by the large volume of orders. The vendors offer discounts to users for their group orders and pay a commission to Hinbor on each purchase, creating a unique revenue model that stems from the kindness of strangers.

The earliest version of Hinbor was a feature integrated into social media app, WeChat. Since its full launch in September 2021, Hinbor has emerged as a popular platform of its own with over 7,000 users across three campuses in Canada. Jia says the platform has registered over $238,000 in sales through more than 15,000 transactions. One year after its launch, the venture is run by 18 full-time employees, two of whom are UBC Sauder alumni.

Jack (far right) hiking with members of the Hinbor team
Jack (right) hiking with members of his Hinbor team, Luki Hou (middle) and Kent Claudio (left).


Support and mentorship from UBC Sauder in the classroom and beyond

Jia attributes much of the app’s dramatic growth in its early days to the support and mentorship he has received from the UBC Sauder community.

From the start of the ideation phase, faculty members from UBC Sauder stepped in to mentor Jia as he navigated building an app and running a start-up—both areas he had little experience in himself.

The New Venture Design (COMM 466) course taught by faculty members Blair Simonite and David (DJ) Miller stands out in particular, having introduced Jia to crucial concepts in running a new entrepreneurial venture.

"How to conduct market research, how to raise funds, how you reach your target audience, all of these things made a huge difference in Hinbor going from an idea to a viable business," says Jia.

The most prudent advice Jia received was the importance of building a minimum viable product (MVP) before launching a full-scale offering. Jia launched a pilot project for Hinbor and then tested it out on a limited audience. "This validated the business idea before I'd fully committed to the app, which saved me tons of resources," he says.

Jia also benefited from practical training in fundraising. He recalls pitching his idea for Hinbor in one of his classes in front of an investor from the industry. It was a valuable learning experience that helped him finesse his presentation skills and persuasiveness. Today, Jia says he has raised more than $1 million in investments.

Jack (left) with Darrell Kopke, Adjunct Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group (right).
Jack (left) with Darrell Kopke, Adjunct Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group (right).

The support extended beyond the classroom environment. "Throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, the UBC Sauder faculty, particularly Adjunct Professors Simonite and Darrell Kopke, have offered to have regular meetings and helped me with connections, resources and fundraising advice."

Jia also participated in entrepreneurship@UBC, which supports UBC ventures and entrepreneurs by providing them with the resources, networks and funding they need to succeed.

Jia says he received “tremendous support” from several members of the entrepreneurship@UBC team, including Simonite, former program director, Fraser Pogue, venture activator and UBC Sauder adjunct professor, and Chang Han, lead entrepreneur in residence. 

Pivotal partnerships with fellow UBC Sauder alumni

Support from the UBC Sauder community continued even after Hinbor's launch into market. A key aspect of its commercial viability is partnerships with other businesses who are willing to give app users discounts on purchases.

One of the first cafes on UBC campus to partner with Hinbor was Great Dane Coffee, whose founder is a fellow UBC Sauder alum.

"When I reached out to [the owner] Andrew for a chat, he immediately responded and heard my business idea. There was an instant bond because of our shared experience at UBC Sauder and it helped build trust," says Jia.

The blossoming partnership boosted Jia's confidence and he was able to leverage the relationship to start conversations with other businesses on campus.

"I'm extremely grateful for my time at UBC Sauder," he says.

Plans to become the ‘LinkedIn for Neighbours’

As he looks towards the future, Jia says he aspires for Hinbor to become the 'LinkedIn for Neighbours.' The platform has added more social features and has built a virtual hub for students to connect over events, club activities, and other initiatives on campus.

"Ultimately, I want to go beyond monetary transactions and make it easier for neighbours to meet with each other. I want to see the inclusive spirit of my hometown spread across all campuses in Canada and beyond," says Jia. "I want to bring unity back into our community."