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Spotted for you this week: a Finnish venture that aims to help consumers easily convert standard Corollas into electric cars, a Chinese retailer selling content for mobile phones in malls and big box stores, a US service that lets companies track what their competitors are shipping into the country, and more.

Our next edition will be coming your way on 18 June 2008 (we're taking a bit of an early summer break), but daily posting will continue as usual at www.springwise.com.

June 4, 2008

Although mobile content is something consumers can buy and download from virtually anywhere, Chinese start-up Duo Guo is banking on a different approach by selling such content through specialized kiosks in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Based in Shanghai, Duo Guo—a subsidiary of D Mobile Inc.—has developed partnerships with China's largest retailers and leading global media companies to bring games, ringtones, software and other mobile services to China's 500 million mobile phone users in a retail setting. Each Duo Guo kiosk is staffed by a salesperson, who can help consumers as they browse for content. Once customers make their selections and pay, the content gets beamed to their phone via Bluetooth. In addition to its starting line-up of ringtones, wallpapers and games, Duo Guo recently began offering exclusive mobile content from emerging Chinese artists through its "artist of the month" program, and has launched into ticket sales as well. Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Tesco are among the stores that have signed up to host Duo Guo kiosks in China, while the company also operates its own standalone stores in subway stops and Shanghai’s busy Zhong Shan Park area. Content at Duo Guo kiosks is updated every Friday to encourage frequent browsing.

While it may seem counter-intuitive that consumers would want to buy mobile content in a physical setting, many Chinese consumers are reportedly wary of buying online, fearing that they'll be overcharged or end up paying for the wrong thing. There's also apparently a fair bit of uncertainty as to which products will work on which phones. In China’s smaller cities, meanwhile, mobile phones can outnumber wired internet connections, fuelling a black market in high-priced street-side sales of pirated content, CEO Jonathan Serbin told Pacific Epoch. Duo Guo is positioning itself as the legitimate alternative. While its cost structure is higher than those of the online services, Duo Guo also enjoys new ways to generate revenue, such as by collecting fees from mobile application companies for introducing customers to their services, he added.

"We realized that there is a great opportunity for selling mobile content, applications and services at retail," Serbin explained. "People were excited about buying a phone—they had maybe just spent a month's salary on their phone—and they were saying, 'Why don't you give us the opportunity right here, at retail, to buy this cool stuff rather than go home and have to search online [for it].' This is a great moment, when the customer is learning about their phone and is excited about it. We saw an opportunity to sell content in a very dynamic setting; to have a guided experience. The sales people help them find content and discover what is most appropriate for them."

Launched last year and backed by US hedge fund Jana Partners, Duo Guo currently has about 25 stores in Shanghai. It is in the process of expanding to Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Beijing, with hopes of having 100 stores by year's end, 500 by the end of 2009. One to partner with—or emulate—in other markets around the world?

Website: www.duoguo.cn
Contact: info@duoguo.cn

Spotted by: RK

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June 4, 2008

Sähköautot–Nyt! (Finnish for Electric Cars–Now!) is taking an innovative approach to getting more electric-powered vehicles on the road. The Finnish not-for-profit group, which calls itself an open-source electric vehicle community, wants to sign up 500 or more buyers for its first proposed model. Instead of building a car from scratch, they’ll retro-fit existing Toyota Corollas. At a volume of 500+, the cost of acquiring and converting used, petrol-powered vehicles to run on rechargeable lithium batteries will be on par with the cost of purchasing a standard internal combustion engine Corolla off the lot, and saves the energy needed to manufacture a new hybrid or electric car.

More facilitator than manufacturer, Sähköautot–Nyt! is inviting suppliers to offer components for a prototype conversion kit. Once the conversion kit has been developed, it will use its website to assist customers in ordering a Corolla and a kit, and in choosing a local auto shop that can handle the conversion. While the group says that for the time being its kits will only be available in Finland, its founders are willing to share their knowledge with similar organizations in other nations, as befits the open-source movement.

To be sure, competition will come from the plug-in hybrid vehicles that major auto makers hope to launch over the next several years. Those models will come with warranties and a network of repair facilities, which no start-up organization could hope to duplicate. Still, plenty of early adopters would likely sign up for a vehicle that helps them fight back against the rising cost of fuel. Sähköautot–Nyt! shows how the open-source model could become a powerful tool for (social) entrepreneurs who want to tackle pressing issues sooner rather than later. (Related: Battery-powered trucksThe going is green, and electric.)

Website: www.sahkoautot.fi/eng
Contact: ecarsnow@gmail.com

Spotted by: Antti Kaiponen

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June 4, 2008

Last year we wrote about Brand New You Tube, a program through which consumers can sign up to receive a tube of new beauty product samples to test out at home each month. Now UK-based Latest in Beauty has rolled out a similar concept that gives consumers even more choice.

Consumers who sign up with Latest in Beauty begin by filling out a detailed questionnaire about their natural colouring, needs and preferences. Once they've done that, they can browse the site for products that match their profile and read new product reviews by an independent panel. Based on what they see, they can then choose up to three samples to try at home each month. A few weeks later, Latest in Beauty sends an email requesting feedback, which it then forwards on to the cosmetics brands themselves. Latest in Beauty is open only to UK users, who must pay GBP 1 by text message from a UK-based mobile phone to cover postage and handling of each shipment of samples.

For those who weren't yet convinced that the tryvertising trend is taking hold, let this serve as further proof that consumers really do prefer to try before they buy—and that entire businesses can be built on the strength of that preference. Plenty of room still for other contenders in this space! (Related: New spin on direct mail.)

Website: www.latestinbeauty.com
Contact: info@latestinbeauty.com

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June 3, 2008

As food prices climb and mainstream farming practices fall out of favour in today's increasingly eco-minded climate, there's growing incentive for consumers to farm their own food. Australian Permablitz is a group that focuses on bringing sustainable, edible gardens to the suburban neighbourhoods around Melbourne.

Permablitz picks up on permaculture, an idea dating back to the 1970s that revolves around the creation of perennial agricultural systems whose design mimics ecologies found in nature. Aiming to implement the notion throughout the Melbourne area, Permablitz holds weekend "blitzes" in which groups of volunteers come together to transform a suburban yard into a food-producing organic garden. One planned for June, for example, will be dedicated to helping "Ileana, Gavin and baby Michaela transform their backyard into a fruit, veg, herb and chicken egg producing wonderland." Before each blitz Permablitz coordinates pre-blitz design visits and organises the materials that will need to be donated; post-blitz, it also conducts follow-up visits to check on the results. Along the way, the group hopes to share permaculture skills and build community networks. More than 40 permablitzes have now been held since the group began.

Its founders explain: "Our focus is edible gardens, and our ultimate aim is to make the suburbs edible enough such that should food become unaffordable, we don’t even notice." An undeniably admirable goal, and one that dovetails nicely with the swelling public interest in all things green. And while urban and suburban farming obviously aren't new, we like the blitz approach, which lends an air of instant gratification to the sometimes slowgoing process of gardening. Permablitz appears to operate on a purely volunteer basis—the site is open for anyone to post events—but there's nothing to say the same idea couldn't be implemented with ad support or sponsorships. Time to bring a little permaculture to your neck of the woods...? (Related: Urban farming.)

Website: www.permablitz.net
Contact: permablitz@gmail.com

Spotted by: Emma Crameri

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June 3, 2008

We've already written about companies that serve as book publishers for the masses, and now Tikatok has launched into beta a new service that brings the same opportunity to kids.

Tikatok is an online community any child can use to write and illustrate stories, share them with friends and family, and even print them out as real paperback and hardcover books. Children can create a book free-form, or they can use the site's "StorySpark" templates to help them get started. Words and drawings are easily saved with a book editor that opens right on the site, requiring no extra software to download or install. Children can drag and drop text screens, write their ideas, change fonts and colours, and insert and delete pages at will. They can also easily add their own original artwork by drawing their pictures and scanning and uploading them, or by mailing them into Tikatok. Using the site's Friends feature, children can invite other friends through an email link to join the Tikatok network. They can also invite others to read their books, join and post their books to Book Clubs on the site, and participate in discussion threads with one another. Security and privacy on the site are stringent, as one might expect. Using Tikatok is free; printed copies of books can be purchased in hardcover or paperback for about USD 20 each.

As the youngest members of Generation C, today's kids are sure to be prolific producers of content. Anything that helps them do that while enabling their parents, grandparents and others to preserve their work for posterity is bound to be met with a warm reception. One to roll out in localized versions for doting families around the world! (Related: Archiving children's drawingsGravanity books for kids.)

Website: www.tikatok.net
Contact: beta.tikatok.net/contact

Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen

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June 2, 2008

Importers have long wished for an easy way to keep tabs on the shipping and receiving activities of their competitors and suppliers, and two new services from ImportGenius give them instant access to such information in real time.

Import/export data is collected by US Customs each day, and it is already publicly available. What's been missing, however, is an easy way to search through it, rendering it virtually inaccessible. That's where Arizona-based ImportGenius comes in, with an interface that gives customers immediate information on shipments as they cross customs. The company's ImportScan service, priced at USD 399 per month, gives customers unlimited access to detailed information on every shipment entering the United States since 2006 for their industry vertical. Using ImportGenius's simple interface, they can search by product type, importer, exporter, date of entry, port of entry, loading port, importer's address, exporter's address and more. Results include contact information for both the exporter and importer of the shipment, revealing where competitors are sourcing their products overseas and where overseas suppliers are selling in the US.

For companies more interested in the activities of their suppliers, ImportGenius also offers SupplySpy, which monitors all shipments from a single supplier or importer. Priced at USD 199 per month, the service answers such questions as which competitors are doing business with a particular supplier, including their relative market position, and whether the supplier has been honoring exclusivity agreements.

ImportGenius's data is updated daily by US Customs, and real-time search results can be exported into Excel or CSV format. The result? In the company's own words, "ImportGenius immediately eliminates any competitive advantage your competitors have derived from their superior knowledge of overseas suppliers." Those in manufacturing, import, export, retail, marketing... Check out ImportGenius's free demo. The lesson for all others: find a way to make public data more accessible, and you'll import some tidy profits yourself! (Related: Bringing transparency to restaurant kitchens.)

Website: www.importgenius.com
Contact: info@importgenius.com

Spotted by: Amber York

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May 30, 2008

Last November we wrote about Jay Parkinson, MD, the physician who's become synonymous with Web 2.0-enabled medicine. Now the good doctor is receiving a fresh round of media attention for his involvement in a broader platform that's designed to bring the benefits of technology and transparency to physicians and patients far and wide.

In a new development, Parkinson has teamed up with Myca, a Canadian provider of health technology, to develop Hello Health, a technology platform that's designed to open intelligent channels between patients and doctors. Hello Health aims to improve the delivery of medical services to consumers by incorporating video, voice and data communications across multiple platforms and channels, including mobile phones and PCs; documenting and archiving records and communications for round-the-clock online availability; and integrating remote monitoring devices, among other services. In marketing terms, it will be a friendly, branded consumer experience with the neighbourhood doctor, Parkinson says. Once the platform is launched—it's due soon in Brooklyn, with the rest of New York City to follow—consumers will create an account and become a member for a range of Netflix-priced monthly fees. They'll be able to make appointments online and be seen at home, in their offices, or at Hello Health's offices. All their records will be online and available whenever they need them, as will all communication with Hello Health doctors. The price, Parkinson says, will be "less money than a 4-minute visit with your old doctor who practices in the 20th Century." A preview of the platform is available on YouTube, and patients and doctors alike are being recruited to get involved in the new platform.

Parkinson stopped seeing new patients officially at the beginning of this year to work on Hello Health, but will resume his practice in mid-June, when Hello Health launches. "It’s Geek Squad with doctors and a Netflix-priced monthly membership subscription fee — it is a branded healthcare 'experience' that mixes 'concierge service for all' with house/office calls and web visits via email, IM, video chat, and text messaging," Parkinson told The Efficient MD. "It’s Fed Ex, Apple, Whole Foods, Amazon, Toyota, Fresh Direct, and Geek Squad all applied to healthcare delivery." Indeed, Hello Health has the potential to turn the current paradigm on its ear, transforming US medicine as we know it.

Website: www.myca.com/hello_health

Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen

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May 30, 2008

A few weeks ago we wrote about Keetsa's eco-mattress in a box, and since then one of our spotters came across another eco-bedding line from UK-based Sleep Limited.

Sleep Limited's line of eco sleep products features pure, unbleached cotton and 100 percent recycled polyester fiberfill made largely from recycled drink bottles. Included in the line is the Eco Duvet, priced from GBP 30.80; an Eco Mattress Topper, priced from GBP 25.40; and Eco Pillows priced at GBP 22 per pair. All are soft, hypo-allergenic and machine washable, and all come packaged in an unbleached cotton bag emblazoned with an image of the Earth. Shipping is available only within the UK, and is free of charge for orders of GBP 65 or over, GBP 5.95 otherwise.

In today's eco-iconic world, in which out-greening your competitors is increasingly the name of the game, we can't help but notice that Sleep Limited's products are made from cotton that's merely unbleached, not organic. Nevertheless, with a growing number of consumers eager to be green—and especially to show the world that they are—there's room for many shades of the colour. Make it easy for consumers to be green—or at least, feel green—and they'll reward you with some cold, hard green of their own!

Website: www.ecobedding.co.uk
Contact: info@sleeplimited.co.uk

Spotted by: Graeme A.

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May/June 2008 trendwatching.com Briefing: ECO-ICONIC


May 29, 2008

Thanks to California's Proposition 8, passed back in 1978, homeowners in the state can get a temporary reduction in their home's assessed value—and, accordingly, their property taxes—when the housing market enters a slump. Recognizing that that applies to virtually everyone who purchased property in the state within the past few years, Prop8.org is a new consumer advocate group that was formed specifically to help California consumers take advantage of the law.

Prop8.org provides tax-assessment appeals services for commercial, industrial and residential properties throughout California. With a team that's professionally trained in tax appeal rules, procedures and requirements specific to each California county, Prop8 can provide market data and analyses needed to advocate the lowest possible tax assessed value. Clients get full-service representation, from the initial filing of the assessment appeal application and supporting documentation, through negotiations with the county assessor—even including a formal hearing before the County Tax Appeals Board, if necessary. Prop8's services are available on a contingency fee basis for 50 percent of the first year's tax savings or via a flat-fee plan that covers the entire process—with a three-year guarantee—for USD 495. For homeowners who bought their homes between 2004 and 2006, the average savings that result from hiring Prop8 are between USD 1,500 and USD 2,500 per year, the company's founders say.

Prop8 is currently seeking affiliates to help extend its service throughout California. Meanwhile, of course, there are also many other situations in which consumers are legally entitled to compensation but are unaware or too busy to claim it. Find one of those, and you just might have something to build a business on! (Related: Claiming compensation for duped passengers.)

Website: www.prop8.org
Contact: info@prop8.org

Spotted by: Troy Nelson

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May 29, 2008

More crowdfunding! Just recently, Irish fashion portal Catwalk Genius joined the crowdfunded fashion fray with its new Adopt a Designer program.

Catwalk Genius features fashion and accessories from independent designers. Through Adopt a Designer, supporters of a participating designer can buy shares (or "elements," as it calls them) in their work for EUR 14—plus a EUR 1 processing fee—in the hope of sharing in future profits. Once 5,000 such elements have been sold, the designer is given the resulting EUR 70,000 to create a new collection within 6 months. In the meantime, supporters receive a limited edition piece created exclusively for them by the designer. When the new collection launches, all profits from its sale are split equally among the designer, the supporters and Catwalk Genius. If the collection sells out, a tidy profit goes to the designer's supporters, who can also sign up for Catwalk Genius's affiliate program and earn 10 percent of the profits from sales through ads on their personal web pages. By the Adopt a Designer program's mid-April launch, 50 designers had already signed up.

Crowdfunding has now been spotted taking hold in the worlds of bands, software, education and sports, among many others. Any doubters left out there? Time to start putting the power of the supportive crowds to work for your growing brand!

Website: www.catwalkgenius.com
Contact: talktous@catwalkgenius.com

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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.

Glass of beerCrowdfunded breweries
Food & beverage

Britain's BeerBankroll and New Zealand's OurBrew are taking the
crowdfunding approach to beer with the creation of new, community
managed breweries.

Partial image of coffee cargo bikePedal-powered coffee retailer
Retail / Food & beverage / Eco & sustainability

Most mobile coffee carts are motorised, but UK-based Bikecaffe came
up with a pedal-powered alternative. Using cargo tricycles, Bikecaffe
travels emission-free as it serves up a range of coffee blends.

Detail of book coverWiki publisher for collaborative writing
Media & publishing

We've written about publishers for the content-producing masses,
and now a wiki-like site aims to leverage the wisdom of the crowds to
create, rate and publish the best community-sourced content.

Rolls of flooring materialCommunity-focused deconstruction & salvage
Homes & housing / Eco & sustainability

Vacant, run-down buildings are usually viewed as a community liability
and demolished. A more sustainable approach is deconstruction,
which allows for the salvage of the building's still-usable pieces.

Two dogs wearing striped sailor shirtsProduct portal for independent retailers
Retail / Media & publishing

Small retailers face the constant challenge of finding new & innovative
products to sell as they compete with the big-box heavyweights. A new
search portal aims to make the process easier.

Child's drawing of a faceArchiving children's artwork
Lifestyle & leisure

Focusing on preserving and showcasing children's drawings and
other artwork, theART:archives team photographs each one and sends
back a DVD catalogue that can be viewed on a computer screen or TV.

Image of new home's interiorFree plans for eco homes
Homes & housing / Eco & sustainability

Working on the belief that green design should be available to all,
FreeGreen is a new site that offers free, downloadable building
plans for eco-friendlier houses.

Detail of diagram explaining how Knewsroom worksNews site lets users pick stories & share in revenues
Media & publishing

Knewsroom is a community-directed news publication where readers
not only have a voice, but they get paid to use it, either by creating their
own content or investing in stories written by others.





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