Computerworld

Australian startup snapshot: Ollo Mobile

Maker of wearable 3G device has entered talks with SingTel and Optus under Innov8 seed program.
  • Adam Bender (Techworld Australia)
  • 18 March, 2013 09:51
A prototype of the Ollo Mobile device. The shell was made with a 3D printer. Credit: Ollo Mobile

A prototype of the Ollo Mobile device. The shell was made with a 3D printer. Credit: Ollo Mobile

Brisbane startup Ollo Mobile is building toward global release of a wearable 3G telehealth device designed to protect seniors and young children.

The company this week entered talks with the SingTel Optus Innov8 program after successfully pitching its business plan on 26 February, founder Hugh Geiger told Techworld Australia.

The pitch

Geiger founded Ollo Mobile with Ken Macken. The idea was born after the great aunt of Geiger’s partner, Julianne Murray, fell and fractured her hip, Geiger said. Geiger thought it would be useful for her to have a small mobile phone that could be worn around her neck, he said.

However, an Internet search revealed that such a device did not exist, he said.

“It became pretty clear that the only thing you could get in Australia was a fixed-line panic system,” a service that becomes “totally useless” as soon as the user leaves the house, he said.

That wasn’t going to work because the doctor wanted Murray’s great aunt to get out and be active to strengthen the hip.

Geiger decided to build his own solution. He formed Ollo Mobile to design a palm-sized 3G mobile device that can be worn as a pendant under clothing.

When the wearer presses a panic button on the Ollo device, it automatically calls all of their family. It can be set up to let the first person to answer take the call or to do a teleconference. The device works as a speaker phone so the wearer can speak normally without touching the device.

The device also sends via SMS a link to an HTML5 Web page showing the location of the wearer on a map and other relevant information.

A future iteration may add voice-activated dialling so the wearer can call specific users by saying their names, Geiger said.

When not in use, the device can be fitted into a dock for charging. The battery should last at least 10 days on a single charge, Geiger said. The device is also waterproof and difficult to break, he added.

After creating the device, Geiger received feedback that it would also be useful for keeping track of young children.

“It’s for those parents on the fence about whether they need to give the child a phone or not,” he said.

The Ollo Mobile device lets parents communicate with kids on the go without handing them a more complicated and expensive phone.

Using the device’s location features, parents can even set up a predefined path for their child’s journey to school and receive alerts if the child is late or strays too far, he said.

The company also plans to target adults, for example in India, who want to wear the device for personal security, he said.

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Selling it

Ollo hopes to start selling its product in Australia this Christmas, and then expand to other world markets, Geiger said.

Ollo has already set up in Australia as an MVNO operating on the Optus network, he said. It plans to charge $99 for the device and $30 per month for the service, with bundle discounts for customers who buy multiple devices, he said.

Ultimately, Ollo wants mobile operators to sell the device like any other phone in their store, Geiger said. The company will white label the product so that telcos can put their own names on the product, he said.

“We’re in discussions with three ASX-listed telcos” in Australia, he said. “Two have agreed to carry and one’s talking white label and joint venture.”

A few non-profits have agreed to distribute the device, and Ollo is also talking to retirement villages about providing them to their communities, Geiger added.

The company next seeks to bring the device to Asia and the US.

Geiger hopes that SingTel under the Innov8 program can provide help bringing the product to Asia, he said.

Meanwhile, Ollo is working with Advance, a startup mentorship program, to bring the telehealth device to the US. Advance will bring Ollo to Silicon Valley for networking with investors this April, Geiger said.

Ollo Mobile is especially courting T-Mobile USA to carry the device because that mobile operator uses spectrum compatible with the device, he noted.

Funding it

A rendering of the final Ollo device. Credit: Ollo Mobile
A rendering of the final Ollo device. Credit: Ollo Mobile

Ollo Mobile began as a self-funded endeavour. “We bootstrapped the hardware,” Geiger said. “We did it ourselves out of our savings.”

Now, Ollo Mobile is approaching the end of its first funding round. The company has received funding from angel investors in Sydney and Brisbane, Geiger said.

SingTel Innov8, launched in June last year, will provide up to $250,000 for startups funded under by seed program. Besides cash, the seed program provides startups with mentoring, networking and dedicated co-working spaces.

Geiger said he does not believe Innov8 funding will require exclusivity with SingTel or subsidiary Optus.

Geiger advises new startups to get into incubators and co-working spaces “as soon as possible.”

“The experience you gain and the people you meet really accelerate your thing and understanding of the entire process,” he said.

Ollo is a member of iLab, a startup incubator associated with the University of Queensland, and works with River City Labs, a co-working space in Brisbane.

It’s better to seek funding earlier rather than later, Geiger said. Still, he noted that angel investors in Australia can be reluctant to fund a startup before there is revenue, especially for a hardware company.

“But it’s very relationship-driven,” he said. Finding the right ally with established credibility can improve the receptiveness of investors, he said.

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If you’ve got a startup or know about a cool new Australian business, please email Adam Bender at adam_bender@idg.com.au or on Twitter (@WatchAdam).