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Phone chargers for Africa and 3D-printing in space win Branson backing

Solar-powered phone chargers for the developing world, 3D-printed satellites and bespoke shoes for the masses have won the backing of Sir Richard Branson.

Solar-powered phone chargers for the developing world, 3D-printed satellites and bespoke shoes for the rest of us have won the chance to stroke the beard of multimillionaire lion-impersonator Sir Richard Branson.

The startups were named as 'Three New Things' worthy of support from Virgin Media Business, chosen by a panel of big brains including quantum computing and nanotechnology expert Dr Ling Ge, the Government's Technology Strategy Board's Emily Memarzia, and technology commentator Monty Munford.

The most worthy of the three new things is Buffalo Grid, which gives large solar-powered phone-charging stations to people who live out of reach of power in Africa and the developing world. Prototype units were launched in Uganda, where Buffalo Grid says 80 per cent of people have access to a phone but only 5 per cent have access to power.

People can unlock the chargers by text and juice up their phones to keep in touch with friends and family and the rest of the world. For example, in Uganda, coffee farmers communicate with the markets where they sell their crop to seek out the best price.

3D printing innnn spaaaccce 

3D printing is already pretty cool, right? Now imagine 3D printing in space. 3D CubeSat has come up with a cheaper way to make thermoplastic casings for CubeSats: tiny 10cm satellites about the size of a box of tissues. Using 3D printing, 3D Cube Sat claims to cut production costs by 75 per cent -- and they can be printed on space stations too.

Shoes your own adventure 

The final winner, Three Over Seven, brings 3D printing back down to earth -- literally. Like, actually touching the ground: this outfit has hatched a plan to custom-print shoes that fit you perfectly. Simply measure your plates of meat with an app on your phone, and these shoetrepreneurs say they'll send you some personalised shoes in 24 hours.

Oh, and they also make shoes out of wool so you don't have to wear socks. Honestly, why has no-one thought of that before?