Another week, another selection of smart new business ideas from around the world: desktop manufacturing from New Zealand, a mattress removal and recycling service in San Francisco, sock-knitting grannies in Switzerland, a British vending machine that blends drinks to order, and more. Our next edition is due on 10 October 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!


October 4, 2007

Swiss Netgranny is a collective of 15 grannies who knit socks on demand and sell them online. Customers can choose their favourite granny from a gallery of 'Grosis', which includes information on why the women knit ('not for money, just to pass the time') or about their professional credentials ('at age 6, I taught my 4 year-old sister to knit').

Customers pick the colour of their socks, or opt for a surprise design. After placing an order, their personal sock-knitting granny will take approximately two weeks to knit the pair of socks, which are sold for CHF 39 (USD 33 / EUR 26) a pair, including delivery.

Netgranny was founded by Swiss fashion label Tarzan, who have created a product loaded with storytelling opportunities. While socks are generally a bland clothing commodity, this line of foot apparel lets customers pull up the leg of their trousers and share a great story with their friends or family. (Related: Full provenance sweaters and Mormor's baby clothes made by Danish grandmothers.


Spotted by: Sarah Fenner

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October 4, 2007

House-hunting can be a difficult and time-consuming process in which it often feels like you spend more time in a real estate agent's car than you do viewing houses. Pedal To Properties has come up with a novel concept whereby agents offer customers the chance to check out properties and neighbourhoods in a more healthful and leisurely fashion: via bicycle.

The free—and environmentally friendly—service is completely optional for clients, but those who choose to can tour through neighbourhoods and visit properties by cruiser bike. Boulder-based Pedal To Properties's agents meet clients with a few of the company's small fleet of cruiser bikes attached to the back of their car. An immersing ride can follow, giving potential buyers an alternative way to experience a neighbourhood and view multiple properties in an area without the hassle of getting in and out of a car.

Launched by real estate professional, avid cyclist and Ironman triathlete Matt Kolb, Pedal to Properties combines health and fun with the home-buying process, providing a hyper-localized feel for neighbourhood vibes that could never be attained by car. The company is currently licensing its model to realtors across the United States, but the concept is simple, and could be applied virtually anywhere (reminds us of City Running Tours, which combines sightseeing and exercise). Of course, Boulder is an exceptionally fit kind of town, so realtors and other service providers in similarly health-conscious areas: this one's especially for you.


Spotted by: Stacie Bogan

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October 3, 2007

New Zealand-based Ponoko is offering consumers a new way to turn their turn creative ideas into real-world objects. After uploading their design to the website (in EPS file format), users can choose from a variety of materials. Ponoko then runs the design through a laser cutter. Besides offering access to professional tools to manufacture products, Ponoko also helps users bring their products to market. Once they’re ready to sell, members add photos of their product to their profile page, together with a description, pricing information and descriptive tags. If a product needs to be assembled before being shipped to customers, Ponoko delivers the bits and pieces to the designer. If the product is self-assembly, Ponoko can ship directly to the end-customer.

Equally important, Ponoko serves as a community where fledgling one-off fabricators and designers can exchange ideas and help solve each other’s problems. The larger goal, according to Ponoco, is to be a catalyst that helps bring personal manufacturing of individualized products to the masses. Users who aren’t interested in selling physical products can opt to sell or give away their design, for other manufacturers to produce and sell, which makes Ponoko stand out from creative consumer marketplaces like Etsy. As Ponoko explains: “By giving away the EPS files that make up your product, you allow other people to extend and improve your product, whether it's by trying out new materials, adding decoration or simply finishing the job.” Ponoko encourages licensing under Creative Commons, to stimulate users to remix each others’ designs.

Ponoko currently only offers two-dimensional sheet cutting, which limits designs to flat objects or three-dimensional objects that can be assembled from flat pieces. Plans for 3D printing are in the works. Available materials are plastics and various types of wood, which users so far have used to create jewellery, furniture, lighting fixtures and speaker boxes. The concept is mainly targeted to consumers who are good at the design part, but less interested in manufacturing, or just don't have access to the tools needed to produce something. While contract manufacturers are only interested in high levels of production, Ponoko takes down that entry to barrier, allowing designers to manufacture a single unit.

The startup launched in open beta in New Zealand recently, and will be rolling out worldwide over the next few months. Ponoko is looking to establish physical points of presence in other parts of the world. One to partner with for regional distribution or manufacturing? Or if you’re a brand that caters to creative consumers, then it’s time to figure out how you can work with companies like Ponoko to help your customers turn their creative notions into real-world products. (Related: eMachineShop.)


Spotted by: Bill McMahon

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October 3, 2007

San Francisco-based BedBusters is focusing on a specific element of household garbage: mattresses. For about USD 100, the company will haul away a two-piece full-sized mattress set. Extra charges apply if the haulers must climb more than 18 stair steps, and removing bigger mattresses costs more. Riding the eco wave, the mattress disposal service has incorporated an important green element. Once the mattress is carted away, it’s taken to a recycling centre where a machine grinds the mattress back into its basic elements of steel, wood and foam, all of which can be reused.

By contrast, many mattresses are simply taken to landfills and left to rot. A lot of mattresses, it turns out. The International Sleep Products Association reports that just in the Duluth region of Minnesota in the US, more than 63,000 mattresses are dumped at landfills every year. Elsewhere, many landfills no longer accept mattress drop-offs, or charge hefty fees. Which creates a growing niche for entrepreneurs.


Spotted by: Tina Riter

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October 2, 2007

A cool new concept in beverage vending uses pouches to mix drinks in situ—offering freshly made drinks for consumers and vastly reduced restocking and maintenance for machine owners and operators. With the PouchLink system, which was designed and developed by UK-based WaterWerkz, machines can hold up to 2,000 interlinked resealable, spouted pouches of varying sizes that are filled on demand, using filtered main water and flavoured syrups.

Not only does this innovative design promise decreased stocking, storage and transportation costs associated with machines that vend bulky pre-filled cans or bottles, but it's environmentally sound as well. In fact, the system boasts the lowest “food mile” rating of any vended packaged cold drink. Moreover, just-in-time flash chilling reduces energy consumption by as much as 80% compared to what's required to refrigerate beverages in traditional vending machines.

WaterWerkz is launching its own brand of juice-based drinks under the brand name Froobee, designed to meet new health standards of UK schools. With so much going for it, PouchLink may well revolutionize beverage vending as we know it—especially considering potential enhancements, such as offering customers the novelty of creating their own distinct mixes (and even programming their mobiles to order their signature blends for them!). Good time to jump on board this hot new vending venture?

Contact: (vending sales)

Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen

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October 1, 2007

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how many a video goes for. Now add audio, the web and the power of social networking, and you may just be CareerTours, an online recruiting site that brings all of the above to the task of matching employers with job candidates.

Launched earlier this year, CareerTours goes well beyond the traditional text-based job database to allow job candidates to experience potential employers through online profiles, video and audio clips that tell each company's story and show why it's a great place to work. The service is free for job seekers; employers pay a monthly fee starting at USD 199. In exchange, companies gain a way to give potential employees an online "tour" of the job, workplace and culture, thereby increasing the odds of a good match.

A built-in assessment tool provides candidates with instant feedback on whether their application will be considered, while giving employers a way to prioritize them. A word-of-mouth tool, meanwhile, allows employers to take advantage of the connections in their social networks with tailored e-mails and invitations. All postings made on CareerTours are also cross-posted to Google Base, Indeed, Simply Hired, MySpace, Oodle, WorkBlast, the National Association of Sales Professionals and JobTarget, among others, reaching an audience of more than 20 million visitors a month, CareerTours says.

CareerTours is a good illustration of why it's important to keep innovating. By taking a traditionally text-based service and bringing it into the YouTube age, CareerTours not only gains an edge in matching jobs with today's web-minded candidates, it also begins to serve as a career guide for the undecided. The Arizona-based company surpassed 375,000 candidates in July, and is planning to launch a sister business called ResumeTours soon. We'll keep you posted...


Spotted by: Susanna Haynie

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September 28, 2007

Most of us receive hundreds of emailed receipts each year. The team behind, a startup based in Durham, North Carolina, promises a way to safely store them. Anyone can sign up for the free service. Once enrolled, users receive an email address which they can give to merchants when buying online. The receipts then go to their Shoeboxed mailbox, where they’re safely stored. Better yet, the service allows members to organize their receipts by creating virtual shoeboxes, for a recent vacation or a series of tax-deductible home-office purchases, for example. Result: no more hunting for receipts in shoeboxes of the cardboard variety, or in a regular email inbox. Shoeboxed recently added a feature that allows users to scan in paper receipts for storage on the site.

All students from Duke University, the Shoeboxed team launched the service from a Soviet-era East Berlin apartment, during a study-abroad stint in Germany. Shoeboxed’s founders hope to eventually sign on 11 million users or 10 percent of US online shoppers. Next step: going global. As the number of users grows, so will the value of their enterprise to potential advertisers and those who wish to offer scaled-up pay versions of the service. Shoeboxed isn’t currently monetizing their product, and is operating on money from their angel investor. In the future, Shoeboxed aims to have several revenue streams (none of which involve selling personal information). They’ll likely offer a premium service at some point, but the core functionality will always be free.

Organizing purchase receipts is just one example of the hassle-filled bookkeeping tasks everyone is stuck with. Creating an online application to smooth out the process is the digital age’s version of the proverbial better mousetrap. Lesson: identify a hassle, do a great job at solving it and grow rich. Immediate opportunities include partnering with Shoeboxed to launch the service in other countries, or coming up with an equally simple solution to a common administrative problem. (Related: Sharing errands online.)


Spotted by: Dan Englander

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September 27, 2007

There’s nothing like customization to make consumers feel unique, and the mass-customization trend has brought that feeling to goods as diverse as computers, blue jeans and breakfast cereal. Now New Jersey-based Inmod is taking customization into the inner sanctum of consumers’ home lives with a service that lets them design their own duvets. There are other outlets that offer custom duvets, but most often the only choices to make are the fabric and size, and maybe the colour. Customers using the Inmod Design Studio, on the other hand, choose from a growing variety of embroidered patterns as well as colours and fabrics to design their duvet just the way they want it.

Fabric choices include silk taffeta, silk dupioni and a linen blend; embroidery options include a wide variety of chic modern, retro, pop-art, geometric and nature-inspired designs, all in the customer’s choice of colours for background and each level of detail. Once satisfied with their creation, customers can preview it online in a bedroom environment. Each embroidered Inmod duvet is hand-made in India, and delivery takes 4 to 6 weeks. One rule of thumb with customization is that it’s hard to offer too much of it from a consumer’s viewpoint. How about taking a segmented approach to the same idea, with custom duvets for kids, teens, newlyweds? What about sheets, towels, drapery, or table linens? Let the customizing fun begin!


Spotted by: Tina Riter

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September 27, 2007

There's nothing like an old Volkswagen camper van to evoke images of footloose and fancy-free holidays during the Summer of Love. Now, modern-day flower children can relive the experience thanks to Devon-based O'Connors Campers and Bristol’s Seven Degrees West. Both companies operate small fleets of VW campers, including the 1960s splitscreen and the 1970s bay-window style vans, offering a retro taste of freedom for authentic hippies and wannabes alike. O’Connors uses rebuilt vans with new engines and new interiors that maintain the classic charm with which they were originally made. Seven Degrees West, meanwhile, has imported brand new VW campervans from Brazil, combining the classic look with new everything. Prices are around GBP 630 –700 for a summer week.

The power of nostalgia is well-known to marketers. The added appeal of an outing in a VW campervan is that it goes beyond evoking memories to actually recreating an experience. O'Connors and Seven Degrees West aren’t the only outfits doing this—Cornwall-based Rent a Dub offers something similar, for example, including a classic VW Beetle for those seeking smaller transportation—and it's easy to imagine the concept spreading to other countries. There are an estimated 450 million baby boomers worldwide, according to MIT AgeLab; those in the US alone spend almost USD 2 trillion on goods and services each year. Now that's flower power... ;-) Much more on catering to baby boomers can be found in's booming business briefing.


Spotted by: Penny Watson and Susanna Haynie

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Just in case you missed our previous edition, 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.

Esmee on YouTubeProduct placement agency targets YouTube
Marketing & advertising

Brandfame has launched itself as a product placement agency for
YouTube and other online video sharing platforms, connecting makers
of online videos with brands that want to get in on the action.

List of recent pledges Crowdfunding software projects
Media & publishing

microPledge uses the power of crowdfunding to uncover untapped
demand for software products, asking potential buyers to put their
money where their mouth is.

Phone and Blyk sim-card packaging
Zero cents per minute | Update
Telecom & mobile / Marketing & advertising

Blyk launched in the UK earlier this week. The company, which bills
itself as a pan-European free mobile operator for young people, offers
16 to 24-year-olds 217 free text messages and 43 minutes per month.

Dress featured in an OURthreads closet
A social marketplace for clothes hounds
Fashion & beauty

OURthreads facilitates buying, selling and trading of clothes. Users
set up a virtual closet, and can rifle through other members' closets for
something to buy or trade.

Solar-powered vending machine on a beach
Solar-powered vending machines
Eco & sustainability / Food & beverage

Coming to a golf course or unplugged beach near you: an off-the-grid,
solar-powered vending machine that can be placed anywhere it will
catch enough sunlight.

Mover hugging (or lifting) senior Helping seniors relocate
Life hacks

Catering to the needs of seniors who are moving house, a full-service
specialized relocation company handles everything from packing to
setting up entertainment systems and hanging drapes.

Woman grabbing free napkin from displayFree love at the food court
Marketing & advertising

A new venture in Australia promises to capture consumers' attention
—and hold on to it for more than 15 minutes—when they're out and
about and in the mood to shop. How? Ads on free napkins.

House for sale, with Iggys House signFree listing for sellers & cash back for buyers
Homes & housing

Selling a home 'by owner' may save consumers a real-estate agent
commission, but it also makes it harder to get the broad exposure
that agents typically provide. Iggys House came up with a solution.

Ice crystalFreeze-dried eco burials

A new Swedish technology uses ice instead of fire to reduce a body to
ashes, creating an eco-friendlier alternative to traditional cremation.
Once buried, casket and remains fully decompose in 6–12 months.





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