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Former Nokia Exec Leads Financing Effort for 3D Printed Braille ‘OwnFone’

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Personalized mobile phone start-up OwnFone has raised $1.2 million in a round of financing to further develop their simplified line of products.

Orange Image OwnFoneThe London-based firm made headlines in 2014 by offering a mobile phone which uses Braille and 3D printing to make it simpler for blind people stay in touch. For just over $100, OwnFone sells the simple-to-operate mobile phone which features an abbreviated set of buttons and no screen. The individual buttons can be labeled with names or other presets, and buttons are provided to allow users to dial and hang-up a call.

The financing round, led by former Nokia Mobile board member Nigel Litchfield, London Business Angels, Renaissance Capital Partners, and the Angel CoFund marks the 50th investment for the government-backed investor angel syndicate.

“We all acknowledge the near-global ubiquity of the smartphone, but this doesn’t mean such technology is the right product for everyone, all the time,” Litchfield says. “In fact, there are plenty of occasions when a smartphone – expensive, energy consuming and complicated – is an unnecessary hassle. The team at OwnFone have recognized this, and I really look forward to working closely with them as we further develop this product and boost marketing efforts over the next 12 months.”

Founded in December 2013, OwnFone makes mini mobile phones about the size of a credit card which are personalized for their owners. The company says the phones are principally designed for children, seniors, or for use as emergency second phones, and they feature a full year of usability via standby battery life.

Nigel Litchfield

Nigel Litchfield

The phones are created in-house using 3D printers, and they’re available from just over $60 if an airtime phone contract is included and can be made to order with calls restricted to the numbers on the handset buttons.

While the original iterations of the phones were designed for children or the elderly, OwnFone now says their new model is customized with 3D printing, and that makes each case unique and affordable.

“It’s really a device that’s designed to connect you with the most important people in your life,” says the inventor of the OwnFone, Tom Sunderland. “It’s just pushing what we can do with the 3D printing process. We’ve got a lot of international interest and we’re looking at expanding overseas.”

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Speaking about his new position as a company board member, Litchfield says he plans to build on partnerships the company has already built with the likes of Age UK, the Stroke Association, and Mumsnet.

“When launching in 2011 the aim of the Angel CoFund was to back promising British businesses and to support the UK’s angel investor community,” said Angel CoFund investment director, Tim Mills. “OwnFone is the perfect example of businesses we look to back: innovative, ambitious and seeking to deliver something of real value to its customers.”

What do you think of customized products which are manufactured using 3D printing? Can you give us a head’s up on any other products which use 3D printing technology in a production environment? Let us know what you think in the Nokia Exec Leads Financing for OwnFone forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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