Wooden it be nice? How a start-up’s vision translates into a sustainable future

27 Jul 2012

A clever start-up from Celbridge, Co Kildare, began by telling me about his business which centres on creating stylish wooden accessories for iPhone 4S smartphones and potentially other devices, but very soon my racing mind was filled with a convincing vision for a sustainable future for jobs and industry in a post-recession Europe.

Donal Maloney of Carve Cases was one of the winners of Simply Zesty co-founder Niall Harbison’s recent €10,000 competition for start-ups.

Harbison, on the heels of selling Simply Zesty for stg£1.7m to UTV plc (potentially rising to stg£5m) wanted to offer two prizes of €10,000 to two start-ups he believed would have the potential to create 20-30 jobs in two years just as Simply Zesty had.

Casey’s elegant creations at present are hand-carved iPhone 4S cases that are selling well online. He plans to make more accessories for devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone and future iPad products.

Even the box that the covers come in (€39 for plain and €69 for engraved) are hand carved and the surrounding packaging is made out of recycled paper; there is no plastic in sight.

I’m used to device covers that are made of plastic or rubber. The idea of a wooden case for a state-of-the-art smartphone is compelling on a number of levels – its ecologically sound (bio-degradable material), it looks stunning, and the craftsmanship is superb.

The case surrounding my iPhone 4 at present is made of Iroko, a species of teak. Maloney plans to make future versions in walnut and rosewood.

Maloney stumbled onto the idea by making a case for his own iPhone. “I had no intention of starting a business. I posted a pic of my creation on Twitter and soon friends began asking me to make them.”

He begins by using a CNC routing machine on the raw material and very soon the real fun begins with chisels, sanding, varnishing, etc, often repeating the process three or four times.

He has just received approval from Apple to allow the use of iPhone trademarks on his packaging and aims to begin selling his creations on the Apple Store.

Since winning the competition there has been a flurry of activity in terms of redesigning the Crave Cases website and spreading the word internationally.

“The plan is to go international fast. We don’t intend to be a solely Irish business and the next step is the UK.”

Going global

What is compelling in my mind about Maloney’s enterprise is not just the good work and the quality product but it is the passion with which he talks about what’s possible for people who create with their hands.

“At the moment it’s just myself, I’m a one-man band, but I’m hoping that will change soon because orders have really started coming in faster and faster.”

What Maloney says next is interesting and suggests a myriad of opportunities for cottage industries in any location in Ireland who with the right blend of creativity, artistic flair, design talent and internet entrepreneurship could create small but thriving operations in any parish.

Think of the thousands of out-of-work artisans and craftspeople wrong-footed by the recession who with a bit of entrepreneurial nous and e-commerce drive could create jobs for themselves and others in their communities. It doesn’t have to be technology accessories, it could be in food, fashion, furniture – anything that can sell and ship to an appreciative global audience.

“To begin with, I would love to have more people on board sanding, varnishing, etching, etc, but what’s key here is the price of the technology and equipment is coming down. CNC machines, laser etching and software that used to be prohibitively expensive are now affordable. Just imagine what’s going to be possible when 3D printing machines are more affordable and available.

“This kind of flexibility used to be available to large operations in Asia, but now smaller businesses here in Ireland are beginning to invest in bringing innovative products to market, combining design and manufacturing with e-commerce.

“There’s no reason why we can’t be building lots of small businesses here manufacturing and selling vital and unique products, using technology to get them out in the world,” Maloney says vehemently.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years