Grant Ripley and Fran Ferris-Ockwell, Family Phone

Grant and Fran are co-founders of Family Phone, a platform to ensure people living with dementia stay connected, stay well, and maintain their identity

Hi, Fran. Tell us a little bit about you and Family Phone

Myself and my co-founder, Grant Ripley, have worked together for many years in senior non-profit roles and consultancy projects. However, it was our shared experience with close family members experiencing dementia which drove us to found and develop Family Phone. 

Grant’s grandad was an engineering lecturer, an intelligent man who liked technology, and this is how they stayed connected. However, after his dementia diagnosis, he often couldn’t use his smartphone to keep in touch, not recognising who was calling and often couldn’t physically answer. He would fall, wander, or become confused, and Grant’s family would have no way of knowing if he was safe. 

My dad also embraces technology, but his own battle with cognitive decline means that keeping in touch is becoming increasingly challenging. Despite our concerns for his wellbeing, he is not ready or willing to embrace safety devices as he clings onto his independence. For him, like many others, there is a perceived loss of dignity and an admission of defeat in accepting disability aids. 

Both of our experiences, like many millions of others, confirm that we are relying on outdated safety solutions that are not fit for purpose; devices that are linked to landlines, alarms that can’t detect falls outside the home, and pendant trackers that people don’t want to wear. 

This is why we have created Family Phone. 

Through a fully customisable native app, people with dementia will be able to stay connected with those who are most important in their lives. Everybody’s journey is different, so we’ve created customisation options for caller recognition and usability. Discrete home sensors provide an ambient assisted living solution, alerting family members if something unusual is detected. We aim to ensure that people can be safe and supported without intrusive and undignified hardware solutions.

What have you achieved through the IoT Engine Programme?

The programme has been incredible. Rikki has supported us to build a prototype for our smart sensors and connected us with suppliers who can help us take this to market. It’s catapulted us forward several years by providing exceptional expertise and support that we would never have been able to access otherwise.

Why is IoT important to you?

Dementia is an international public health crisis. In the UK alone, an estimated 850,000 people are currently living with dementia, and this is expected to exceed 2 million by 2051. Technology is leaving these people behind. 

If we are able to keep people safe and independent for as long as possible, we need to ensure that are are utilising the latest advances in technology. Yet, we are still relying on outdated aids, applications and hardware solutions which are no longer fit for purpose and do not provide inclusive and accessible solutions for those living with dementia. 

We need IoT to provide a solution available to keep people safe, independent and connected, which can be customised and adapted to the needs of the individual as their illness progresses.

What has been most challenging on your Family Phone journey, and what has been your greatest success?

Fundraising remains a massive challenge as we are still pre-revenue and so options are limited. Like many other founders, we have been bootstrapped and received some very early stage help from Bethnal Green Ventures and an Innovate UK grant which has been a massive help. However, there is a huge lack of funding available for proof of concept work for start-ups, and it’s holding back some really great innovators, which is why the IoT Engine programme has been so beneficial for us. 

What’s next for Family Phone?

Our MVP is now live and we’re speaking to suppliers about producing the sensor so we can secure some traction with care providers. We’re currently fundraising our pre-seed and we’re actively looking for investors who can support us on our journey. Please get in touch if you’re interested! – Family Phone – Helping people living with dementia to stay connected.