Accessible technology firm, already partnering with Samsung, raising funds to make smartphones easier to use for older users.
We are pleased to announce the start of our Meet the Start-up articles. Going forward, we will be profiling emerging companies in the Longevity sector, with a focus on their funding plans, commercialisation strategies, partnerships and routes-to-market. If you know of a startup that we should be talking to, let us know!
Inspired by the mobile digital divide that exists in society, British start-up Zone V was founded to create inclusively designed accessible technologies, applications and services that help people communicate better. Led by two of Nokia’s former top design executives, Dr Peter Ashall and Frank Nuovo, the company’s first focus is on making smartphones simpler for older users.
Through a partnership with Samsung, Zone V provides mobile phones with a simple interface designed for older users or anyone who prefers a more straightforward phone. Zone V’s software focuses on providing simplified access to key applications, such as calls, texts and Facebook, via a simple layout with bigger buttons, clear menus and large text.
We spoke to Peter Ashall, Zone V’s CEO, to find out more about the company’s plans.
Longevity.Technology: What Longevity challenge is Zone V addressing?
Peter Ashall: Smartphones have become a must have device for everybody and yet our research shows that 46% of over 50s struggle in some way or another to use them. This is an increasing challenge here in the UK, but also globally – consider that there are already 400 million people in China over the age of 50.
Smartphones are becoming more complex and capable, which is great for sophisticated service delivery, but not so great for people on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Frequency of use is key. Many younger people are using their smartphones multiple times per hour, while older users may only use them once a day or less, so they don’t develop the same level of familiarity with the technology. And the technology itself can be daunting – a smartphone interface is actually quite complex for an older user and there’s a lot of information being presented on a very small screen that many people simply cannot not read.
Zone V is designed to resolve the challenges that this group of users face on a daily basis and with global partners in technology platforms and distribution and the ability to provide a SaaS solution directly to the existing base of Samsung smartphone users around the world.
Longevity.Technology: What is your route to market?
Peter Ashall: We are operating both a B2B and B2C distribution model. For the B2B distribution, we have an agreement with Techdata, one of Samsung’s major distributors. Techdata supply products to most of the UK’s resellers who then have supply contracts to corporate customers and the public sector organisations. We are actively working with Samsung to approach reseller, corporate and public sector customers.
For B2C, we can deliver Zone V software directly to customers devices from our web site, or a full solution of Zone V software integrated with any new phone in the Samsung range.
The software can also be downloaded directly to the phone from the Samsung Galaxy store. The software is available for a one month free trial and then for a monthly subscription thereafter. All these channels are now active.
Longevity.Technology: How did your partnership with Samsung come about?
Peter Ashall: Our technology is more than just an app as it reaches into the hardware as well, so you really have to work directly with a phone manufacturer. We were contacted by Samsung after developing an initial interface that would allow someone with a severe visual disability to use a smartphone. They told us they had some interesting enterprise software that would match what we were doing and have turned into a great technology partner – giving us all the APIs we need to reach the right functionality within the phone.
Beyond technology, this industry is very tightly managed and structured from a partnership and distribution point of view, and Samsung has also introduced us to their primary distribution channels, which then leads down into the resellers who work with corporations and the public sector. So our B2B business is very much hand-in-hand with Samsung.
Longevity.Technology: Where are you currently focused geographically and what plans do you have to expand?
Peter Ashall: We’re focused on the UK at the moment and that’s because we’re looking to build the correct engagement model – whether it’s an individual client, an NHS trust, a corporation or an operator – we’re looking to establish the appropriate business models.
Once we have established those, then it really is a global market, and Samsung is a global partner – we have a wonderful opportunity to work with them across the globe.
There are about a billion devices around the world that are compatible with our software and Samsung has the capability to deliver our software to any of those devices. So, for example, if an organisation that uses Samsung smartphones wanted their users to have the software, then we can simply push the software to them. So distribution is very simple.
Longevity.Technology: How are you funded to date and what are your future plans?
Peter Ashall: To date we are funded by investments from Angel investors and the directors of the business, as well as initial seed funding from Arm Holdings and a grant from Qualcomm. We are currently raising our next late seed round to fully launch the business through the channels we have established. We are looking for a minimum of £750k up to a maximum of £1.5M by the end of the year, with the raise being managed through Envestors, an FCA regulated fintech platform. We are looking for funding from angels and from funds with a social and financial agenda who have an interest in the sector, and from industry partners who see Zone V as a vehicle to reach the client base with their services.
Longevity.Technology: What observations can you share regarding investment in Longevity startups?
Peter Ashall: Investment in the Longevity or Agetech sector is still relatively nascent in a startup environment that is largely focussed on the millennial market. The need of older clients is evident and growing and as such represents both a significant social opportunity and a growing market to create returns for investors.
Longevity.Technology: And finally – if you had the power to change one thing about the world to help improve global Longevity, what would it be?
Peter Ashall: Loneliness. It’s a growing challenge in today’s society particularly amongst the older population, and a significant cause of ill health. At Zone V, our aim is to contribute to relieving loneliness by offering older people a better connection to the services they need and the family and friends they miss, through an easy to use solution based on the pervasive technologies that many of us take for granted.
Interested in investing in Zone V? Check out the company’s fundraising page at zonev.envestry.com