Another week, another round of interesting new ventures from around the world. Ideas featured this week include a recycling initiative that cuts costs and rewards households, the return of layaway buying, shopmobbing in China, and a gym where members generate power while working up a sweat. Our next edition is due on 22 March 2007. In the meantime, check out our daily postings on, send us your tips, and please don't forget to tell your friends and colleagues about us. Much appreciated!


March 15, 2007

The health industry, a behemoth of rules, regulations and opaque pricing schemes, is in dire need of a shake-up. Three start-ups are attempting to shift power back to consumers by helping them negotiate lower medical costs.

Vimo, a comparison-shopping site for health care, collects data on medical procedures, so that consumers can search and compare prices. People can also submit details about incurred charges. If the amount to be paid isn't the lowest wholesale rate available from a hospital or other provider, Vimo will negotiate a lower price for a cut of the savings. Vimo will also make money from referrals to insurers and, eventually, physicians and products. (The company received USD 10 million in funding from Bessemer and Trinity Ventures.)

While Vimo offers a variety of services, from price comparisons to doctor ratings, another start-up is focusing purely on negotiating bills. "The average provider — doctors or hospitals — has between 5 and 100 reimbursement rates for the exact same procedure," said Timothy Cahill, president of My Medical Control. "A hospital chain with multiple locations may have 150 rates for the same procedure." (Source: Reimbursement rates are negotiated between health care providers and insurers, and are far from transparent. My Medical Control takes customers' medical claims, looks for over-charges and contacts the provider directly to discuss and settle the claim at a reduced amount. The entire process takes 7-10 days and My Medical Control charges a fee of 35% of the savings.

Last but not least, MedBillManager is free software that consumers can use to manage their medical bills, but also to check aggregated data to see what other people in their area are paying for similar procedures.

In countries that don’t offer full coverage health care for all, medical costs are some of the largest expenditures consumers make. Usually without being able to compare prices or even know costs in advance. Which means there are plenty of business opportunities for entrepreneurs who can reduce medical bills on their behalf, or who can put consumers back in charge by creating greater price transparency.

Websites: / /

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March 15, 2007

The power of groups, the clout that crowds can exercise to get what they want, is nothing new. What is new, however, is the dizzying ease with which likeminded, action-ready citizens and consumers can now go online and connect, group and ultimately exert influence on a global scale. Our sister website just published a briefing about crowd clout, and defines the trend as follows: "Online grouping of citizens/consumers for a specific cause, be it political, civic or commercial, aimed at everything from bringing down politicians to forcing suppliers to fork over discounts."

A fun example of consumers aggregating their intended purchases to get a bargain is tuangou, or team buying, which involves strangers organizing themselves around a specific product or service. Think electronics, home furnishings, cars and so on. These likeminded consumers then meet up in real-world shops and showrooms at a coordinated date and time, literally mobbing the seller and negotiating a group discount on the spot.

Popular Chinese sites that are enabling crowds to first group online and then plan for real world shopmobbing are TeamBuy, Taobao and Liba. Combined, these sites now boast hundreds of thousands of registered members, making money from ad revenues and/or commissions from suppliers who are happy to have the mobs choose their store over a competitor's.

So who's going to introduce this concept in San Francisco, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Barcelona or Sydney? The PR value from being the first to do this outside China will be priceless. And may we suggest that the future founders turn it into a hybrid online/offline model, going for maximum reach and visibility? For more business opportunities related to consumers ganging up to get what they want, check out's briefing.


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March 14, 2007

Going green has gotten a lot more enticing to consumers in communities served by Philadelphia-based RecycleBank. Households can earn RecycleBank Dollars, redeemable for discount coupons at select retailers, just for putting their recyclables out to be collected. But the incentives don't stop there. It's also great promotion and community recognition for participating businesses. Sound too good to be true? Well, you may be surprised to learn that it's even more cost-effective than most traditional recycling programs.

How does it work? RecycleBank containers are embedded with identifying barcodes, and households can throw all of their recyclable waste into one bin (single stream recycling system, also known as making it easy for customers to be green). Collection trucks scan and weigh the containers to track how much each household is recycling. The more customers recycle, the more they earn in RecycleBank dollars—up to 35 USD per month. Customers can track their points online and redeem points for coupons that can be used toward purchases at major chains such as Whole Foods, RiteAid and Starbucks, as well as local companies that choose to be part of the program. More than 250 businesses currently participate.

While many recycling programs have proven to be more expensive to run than they monetarily are worth, RecycleBank wins by driving higher utilization of trucks and manpower. The cost of running the program is far exceeded by the money saved in landfill fees: RecycleBank charges municipalities USD 24-30 a household, and guarantees clients they will save at least that amount in disposal fees as waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators. Meanwhile, residents are racing to fill their bins with recyclable paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, tin and aluminium: in test neighbourhoods, the amount recycled per household went from an average of 5 lbs to 35 lbs per week. Demonstrating that it pays to reward good behaviour. RecycleBank's reach is currently limited to West Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, but it's generating some great buzz and could easily be expanded to other areas. For another example of incentive-driven recycling, check out our earlier coverage of reverse vending machines.


Spotted by: Bob Staub

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March 14, 2007

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company that needs to motivate hundreds, maybe thousands of employees, to support a new initiative, such as a product launch or headquarters relocation. You know from experience that traditional ‘push’ communications, including newsletters, slide presentations and emails, just won’t excite employees or inspire the changes in thinking and action required for success. So, what do you do?

Enter This Los Angeles startup helps companies develop an internal TV network that airs on a regular schedule over the client’s existing IT infrastructure. ‘Internal TV’ features employee generated video programming to help roll out initiatives, reinforce company culture, or share best practices. Social networking features are also incorporated to allow employees to tag episodes, add comments and search a library of archived stories.

Meat Team begins each project with a face-to-face client session to assess opportunities and decide on a program mix. Then they craft scripts for a series of episodes and produce them with the client’s employees as the on-air ‘talent.’ Scripts serve as a framework, but most content is in the employees’ own words. Meat Team provides guidance, edits the segments and puts together a season of weekly broadcasts, all for about the cost of producing a company wide newsletter.

Since Meat Team’s sweet spot is companies with a large and/or dispersed workforce, you could make this concept work just about anywhere. Needless to say, Meat Team’s extensive involvement comes at a cost. We think there’s also room for a less full-on solution to help companies run their own internal YouTube. Could be cheaper, less scripted and more immediate. Of course, not every company is ready for the transparency tyranny that employee videos can bring to the workplace, and to the world. ;-)


Spotted by: Shamus Halkowich

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March 13, 2007

Before everyone had access to credit cards, many retailers offered layaway plans, letting shoppers pay in instalments and storing their purchases until payment had been made in full. As the general trend moved from 'live within your means' to 'buy now, pay later', layaway faded away. Walmart stopped offering the service in November, and most other retailers have also switched to delayed payment plans that offer customers the instant gratification they're looking for.

But every trend has its counter-trend. Florida-based eLayaway is taking layaway plans online, offering consumers flexible payment schedules without mounting interest fees. How it works? When shopping with a participating merchant, members choose eLayaway as their payment option. They pay a one-time transaction fee of 1.9% upfront, and can then set the payment schedule that fits their budget. As soon as full payment has been made, the purchased product is delivered. If customers want to cancel a purchase, they're refunded whatever they've put down, minus a USD 25 cancellation fee.

eLayaway aims to offer a fiscally responsible alternative to credit-based payment solutions, forcing customers to plan ahead for purchases and 'setting them free' from credit cards and excessive finance fees. The service has been integrated with several online stores, with many more on the way. (No big names, so far.) The major benefit for retailers is that eLayaway offers them a way to tap into a growing market of consumers who have overextended their credit. Merchants pay an annual membership fee of USD 299, and no transaction fees.

This is a concept that would work anywhere consumers are facing a credit pinch. And if you're a retailer selling big-purchase items, from cruise trips to wedding rings, look into working with eLayaway as a customer-friendly payment plan.


Spotted by: Sergio Pinon

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March 13, 2007

Hot... errr... cold on the tracks of our recent spotting of a British ice-cream truck for adults comes Heartschallenger. A speciality truck stocked with international ice cream, candy and toys, Heartschallenger is available for private events and birthday parties in Los Angeles, regularly drives down Sunset Boulevard, and is also known to pop up near clubs after closing hour.

Owner Leyla Safai, a former in-house designer at hip LA hotel The Standard, converted an old mail truck into a pink ice cream dream machine, complete with white unicorns and fairylike electronic music. Flavours on offer include Japanese mochi balls and whipped vanilla bars from Armenia. Dreamchallenger aims to open up (mobile) shop in New York soon. We can't vouch for the profitability of this business model, but nobody can deny that it sounds like a lot of fun ;-)


Spotted by: Marketing Alternatif

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March 09, 2007

Following our post on airline KLM’s successful attempts at creating social network platforms for frequent flyers, we were alerted to a start-up that’s aiming to do something similar.

While KLM’s Club China and Club Africa are destination-focused—connecting people who are doing business in specific regions—PairUp matches business travellers headed to any destination. How it works? Members start by uploading their current contacts from Outlook or whatever contact management tool they use, and can build their network from there. When planning a trip, users enter their travel data: departure and arrival dates and cities, and if relevant, the trade show or conference they’ll be attending. They can then select the contacts they’d like to track or meet up with: people in the destination city at the same time, those attending the same event, flying on the same day, or working for a specific company or in a particular industry.

For example, if a member is flying out to Houston, PairUp will display people that he or she might want to meet face-to-face. Either existing contacts that will be in the city at the same time, or people who work in the same industry or are attending the same event. PairUp also makes it easy to share travel plans with colleagues and coordinate meetings with new contacts. A memory-jogging trip history feature keeps tabs on past business trips, meetings and contacts made at trade shows, conferences, etc.

PairUp launched very recently, and as is always the case with social networks, the service will need to gain a certain level of active members before it becomes truly useful. Offering events organisers a ready-to-use networking tool dubbed ShowConnections, PairUp plans to get a significant number of users signed up soon. Like KLM’s clubs, PairUp is targeting a new audience for online social networks. Time to set up similar grown-up, hardworking versions of MySpace and FaceBook in other parts of the world? If you’re in the travel industry, now would be a good time to meet up with PairUp. Lots of opportunities for interesting partnerships ;-)


Spotted by: Amanda Robinson

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March 09, 2007

Like the sustainable dance club we featured last year, a gym in Hong Kong is turning human movement into kilowatts. While the gym's customers are working up a sweat on cycling and cross-training machines, the energy they create is used to power lighting. Excess energy is stored in a battery. The "Power by You" concept was developed by French inventor Lucien Gambarota and Californian entrepreneur Doug Woodring. Gambarota rigged up the exercise machines using a variety of bits and pieces, from washing machine parts to a car battery.

California Fitness, part of an international chain of fitness centres, won't have humans powering entire gyms anytime soon. The modified machines generate approximately 50 watts when used by an average person. So if all 13 machines are in use, enough electricity is generated to power 10 or 11 60-watt light bulbs. However, the idea is smart and appealing, and could well make gyms more sustainable if the technology is improved and if manufacturers of exercise equipment can be convinced to adapt their products accordingly.


Spotted by: Inhabitat

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No worries. We've got you covered. All of last week's articles are listed below. And don't forget—you can access everything we've published in our idea database, which is conveniently organized by industry. Enjoy!

Spot RunnerLocal TV advertising made easy & affordable
Using a self-service approach akin to Google's AdWords, LA-based
Spot Runner makes it fast, easy and affordable for local vets, florists,
and dry cleaners to advertise on television.

Carpe Diem Finest Fingerfood
Cone pizza goes upscale

Spotted in Salzburg: an upscale version of the cone pizzas that we've
featured in the past. The Austrian cones merge haute cuisine with
haute convenience.

Putting cash test dummies to work

Cherrypicka invites customers to register as 'cash test dummies' and
purchase new products and services at steep discounts in exchange
for submitting reviews.

Free love from Blyk: 0 cents per minute

A pan-European free mobile operator for young people, funded by
advertising, aims to change the way the mobile telecoms industry

Mod Green Pod
Wallpaper combines style & sustainability

Taking organic 'from hippie to hip', Mod Green Pod sells vinyl-free
wallpaper without harmful chemical finishers, as well as home textiles
made from 100% organic cotton.

GoGo Britain
Car swapping for the holidays

London-based GoGo Britain offers customers a simple, reliable and
cheap alternative to rental cars: car swapping.

Software tackles wedding planning

Could technology help tame Bridezilla? For a fraction of the cost of
hiring a wedding planner, Australian couples can use Marziplanner
to help them organize everything from guest lists to thank-you cards.

KLM's Club China
Airline's social networks connect frequent flyers

Frequent-flying business people aren't known to spend a lot of time on
MySpace. Royal Dutch Airlines has created a social network they do
like: one that helps them get in touch with other entrepreneurs doing
business in China and Africa.





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