New business ideas this week

Spotted for you this week: vending machines for bicycle parts, a new crowdsourced sneaker brand, an event planning site that helps friends split the costs, and more. Our next edition is due on 13 August 2008. 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!


August 6, 2008

More crowdsourced innovation! A startup based in Portland aims to harness the creativity of the crowds to build a new sneaker brand. Ryz, which is still in beta, lets users submit graphic designs for a high-top sneaker model. Members vote for their favourite designs, and the sneakers that get the most votes are taken into production. Designers receive a one-time payment of USD 1,000 plus one dollar for each pair sold. Shoes are priced at USD 90, and are produced in limited runs.

Issues like manufacturing, shipping and sizes aren't as straightforward for shoes as for t-shirts or posters, which means Ryz will need to implement sophisticated production and distribution processes. Thankfully, the company's founder, Rob Langstaff, has plenty of industry experience—before starting Ryz, he ran Adidas' operations in North America and Japan. As quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, Langstaff believes Ryz will generate revenues of USD 40 million by 2012.

Of course, rewarding community members for the designs they've submitted isn't new. Threadless started its t-shirt competitions in 2000 and now has annual sales of USD 30 million and a profit margin of 30% (as estimated by Inc. Magazine). We're familiar with the model's benefits: by creating and voting, the community decides which products to sell, which means no guessing what customers want. No design staff, either, and no sales force since both designers and community promote the items they love. One to continue to be inspired by?


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August 6, 2008

Visitors to many of Europe's cities can now get elaborate walking tours for free, thanks to Sandeman's New Europe Tours.

Available in London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Paris and Madrid, each tour begins at a central meeting place and lasts two to four hours as it provides an overview of the city's sights. In London, for example, two free tours are available—one focusing on the Old City of London, and the other concentrating on Royal London. In Berlin, meanwhile New Europe Tours offers both walking and bicycle tours for free. Tours are often available in multiple languages, and Sandeman's New Europe also publishes a free line of English language New Europe magazines, as well as offering hostel booking on its site. The company got started in Berlin in 2004, and has been expanding ever since. As the euro continues to be painfully expensive for tourists from outside the EU, New Europe Tours are no doubt more popular than ever. Recession-proof tourism, anyone...?

While participants on the tours don't have to pay to attend, tips are expected—roughly EUR 10 a head is reportedly standard, which could be viewed as pay what you want rather than strictly free. Besides providing guides with decent income from tips, the tours also advertise the company's range of private and paid tours, including the Red Berlin Tour, the New Paris Tour of Versailles and pub crawls. Indeed, a full 46 percent of visitors who take the company's free Berlin tour end up taking one of the paid tours as well, the company states. Which, of course, is yet another testament to the (marketing) power of free love. Make it fun, make it informative, but most of all, make it free! Consumers will return your love with interest. ;-)
(Related: Blind guides take sighted on sensorial tours of Lisbon.)


Spotted by: Maarten Munster

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August 5, 2008

Last year, we wrote about Ponoko, an innovative company from New Zealand that turns two-dimensional designs into three-dimensional objects by way of laser-cutting plastics and wood products. Besides creating products for themselves, users can also sell their designs through Ponoko, with the company handling payments and shipping.

Ponoko was recently joined by Shapeways. The Dutch venture, which is part of Philips' Lifestyle Incubator, lets users upload 3D designs and have them produced on one of Shapeway's 3D printers. Customers can currently choose from four different types of rigid and flexible plastic, and their object is shipped to them within 10 days of ordering. Costs depend on size and mass, but smallish items are priced around USD 50–150.

Since users need to have access to CAD software and be able to design an object in 3D, Shapeways isn't as widely accessible as Ponoko, which allows users to create items based on 2D vector images. On the other hand, this is one of the first initiatives that makes 3D printing widely available to consumers around the world, at a relatively low cost. Creative people who love to design in three dimensions finally get a chance to turn those computer screen images—of toys, tools, art—into tangible objects, a desire that drives the make-it-yourself trend.


Spotted by: RK

On a sidenote: while Ponoko and Shapeways focus on remote printing, Japanese Tsukulus lets customers print 3D figurines on the spot in their Tokyo showroom (see Akibanana for a summary in English). One for Disney, Mattel and friends to look into? Ready-made figurines are one thing. But let customers change a character's clothes, accessories and pose, and then manufacture their own unique rendition on the spot, and you've turned a product back into an experience.

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August 5, 2008

A few months ago, we featured a startup focused on helping people find classes taught by local teachers through an online marketplace. TeachStreet got off to a flying start in Seattle, where it won praise from both learners and teachers. Chris Lewis, a Seattle-area tennis coach: "TeachStreet drives my business. Last week I had 12 new students e-mail me asking to take lessons. I don't even do anything else to advertise my business anymore, yet my schedule is always full."

Time to roll out in a second city: TeachStreet launched in Portland, Oregon yesterday. The site now features more than 55,000 teachers, trainers, tutors, instructors, coaches and classes in the Pacific Northwest, 25,000 of which are in the Portland area. Besides offering existing instructors an alternative to advertising on Craigslist and bulletin boards, TeachStreet aims to unearth hidden teaching talent. Convinced that everyone is an expert in something—"You have a hidden talent for beer-brewing, pie-baking or parenting and wouldn't mind showing off your mad skills by inviting folks out to your backyard, your kitchen, or local coffee shop"—TeachStreet encourages everyday experts to list a class, either as a jumping off point for a new career or side business, or as a way to meet new friends with shared interests.

Which reminds us of status skills, a trend defined by our sister-site, which explains how a growing number of consumers are gleaning status from mastering skills. TeachStreet is prompting them to transfer those skills to others in a semi-professional manner. Sounds like an instant boost in status! ;-)


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August 5, 2008

Planning outings with friends is always tricky, what with scheduling challenges and the politics of splitting costs. A new, UK-based site called Wigadoo, however, aims to make the logistical end easier so friends can get together more often.

Users of Wigadoo can begin the process by browsing the site's Find Ideas section for possible outings, with inspiration from examples, information on deals and promotions, and a directory of UK activities. "London theatre trip" and "Surfing in Wales" are among the examples provided on the site. With one or a few ideas in mind, they can then start a vote to see when their friends are free and what they want to do. To accomplish that, they first fill in a simple form with the questions to be voted on; Wigadoo then creates a vote page and emails a link to everyone involved. The page tracks everyone's responses, eliminating the hundreds of e-mails it would take otherwise. After the voting process—or instead, if there's already a set idea—users can propose a plan, including costs and the deadline for committing. Again, Wigadoo sets up a page and emails links to everyone invited, asking them to commit to attending and pledge with a debit or credit card. Wigadoo not only lets each invitee see who has pledged so far, it even has a feature called "I'm In If You're In," allowing them to secretly sign up to go if, and only if, a friend that they name does.

Once enough people have committed to coming—and only then—Wigadoo collects the pledged funds and puts them into an online event account. That account, in turn, comes with a Wigadoo Virtual Prepaid MasterCard that can be used to book or pay for everything for the group, either online or by phone. Organizing through Wigadoo is free for the organizer, but participants pay a small fee when they pledge: GBP 1.50 if they use a debit card or if the amount being collected is less than GBP 50, or—if they use credit to make a pledge over that amount—3 percent of the amount being collected.

Still in beta, Wigadoo is backed by a number of high-profile angel investors, it says, most of them internet entrepreneurs from the travel and leisure space. It currently serves just the UK, but plans to expand beyond that when its beta period ends. One to partner with or emulate in other parts of the world! (Related: Social event planning with a side of local search.)


Spotted by: Alison Keith

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August 4, 2008

Unless they happen to be near a bicycle shop during business hours, bicyclists who break down are typically out of luck if they don't already have the parts they need to make a repair. Aiming to make bike parts more accessible, two different vending machines we've spotted are always on hand with critical parts.

Most recently, bike manufacturer Trek set up a prototype Trek Stop Cycling Convenience Center at the end of June, just off the bike path in Madison, Wisconsin. Located outside (and operated by) bike shop Machinery Row, the Trek Stop is a 24/7/365 convenience center for cyclists that provides access to cycling products, information and a safe place to work on a bike. The full-service vending machine is stocked with bicycle products such as spare tubes, patches, tire levers, CO2 cartridges and more, along with food and cold drinks; it also features an information center with maps, a message board and advertising space for local announcements. A covered maintenance area, meanwhile, offers a work stand, free air and even how-to videos—available at the push of a button—for those trickier repairs.

The idea for Trek Stop was born a few years ago when a crew of industrial designers at Trek led by Mike Hammond began thinking of ways to make bicycle commuting more viable. “Motorists have it easy,” says Hammond. “Gas stations, convenience stores, auto parts stores, tow trucks—you name it. The support network for cars far outclasses cyclists. The Trek Stop aims to change that by breaking down some of the ‘worries’ attached to cycling.” While the Trek Stop is currently just in prototype form and slated to run for only another month or so, Seattle-based Aaron's Bicycle Repair has actually had a similar vending machine in place since 2005. With items like inner tubes, flat repair items, energy bars and gel, the machine is located just outside Aaron's for after-hours service.

As environmental concerns and skyrocketing gas costs lead to increasing numbers of bicyclists around the globe, it's not hard to imagine vending machines like these popping up all over—particularly in spots where there aren't bike shops nearby. Time to get together with a bike shop or manufacturer and bring some machines to the trails near you? (Related: Hybrid taxis rescue cyclists.)


Spotted by: Pat Bice

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August 4, 2008

Eco-conscious consumers may be acutely aware of the environmental impacts of many of the products they use, but jewelry is not often among them. A new line of gold and silver jewelry offered by none other than Wal-Mart, however, is designed to deliver affordable, quality jewelry that can be traced back to the sustainable mine it came from. Between the clearing of vegetation, blasting of rocks and processing of ore, the mining of metals and gemstones can have very negative effects on the environment. Every single gold ring that's made, for example, generates approximately 20 tons of mining waste, Wal-Mart says, while processing gold ore uses "thousands of gallons of cyanide." With such facts in mind, Wal-Mart—the largest retailer of jewelry in the world, it claims—has established a jewelry sustainability group that aims to provide jewelry with less of an impact on communities and the environment.

With almost 30 products including necklaces, bracelets and earrings, the company's new Love, Earth jewelry brand is the result of a pilot project using a transparent supply chain to ensure that the 10-karat gold and silver it uses is from mines that meet Wal-Mart's environmental and social standards. (Wal-Mart's partners in the effort include Aurafin, Rio Tinto, Newmont Mining, Conservation International and Historic Futures Limited.) Each piece in the Love, Earth collection comes with a tracking number on an attached tag; consumers need only visit the collection's website and follow a series of instructions to learn about the exact mine their jewelry came from. In the future, Wal-Mart will also add diamond jewelry to the collection, it says.

"The Love, Earth pilot project is important because it shows for the first time that materials found in a piece of jewelry purchased from a retailer of Wal-Mart's size can be made traceable all the way from the mine to the store," explains the company's site. "Secondly, it is important because it ensures that at each step of the supply chain, from the mine to the manufacturer, companies are working toward leading industry standards for environmental and social performance."

We've already written about several examples of product story labels—most notably, on bananas, coffee, spinach and T-shirts—and this brings that trend into the world of jewelry. Nothing like transparency, sustainability and a status story to give a necklace a little extra shine! ;-)


Spotted by: Maria Dahl Jørgensen

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August 1, 2008

Before consumers can design their own duvets, dresses or handbags—to name just a few—they must first find a company that will let them do it. That's not always easy, but now German site DaWanda has built a portal that brings together in one place a variety of design-your-own opportunities.

Berlin-based DaWanda is a marketplace for independent designers much like Etsy, which we've written about before. Independent creatives from all over the world can join DaWanda to sell their handmade wares in a marketplace categorized by fashion, accessories, bags, jewellery, baby and children, home, art and supplies. Now, on the site's Style Lab section, consumers can create products with their own individual style and have them made to order. Those interested in Queen B. lingerie's Funky Undies, for instance, can choose the style (hipster, bikini, thong) as well as the middle, side and back fabrics used and additions like lace, roses and bows. An Initial Screenprinted Poster offered by alyoisiusspyker, meanwhile, can be customized via the colour of the paper, stripes and other elements of the design, along with the font used. By offering customers the option of buying exactly what they want, Dawanda is drumming up new business for its members. It also limits the need for keeping a lot of product in stock. And if makers use their customers' designs as a very direct form of market research, it can also help them find out which styles they should add to their ready-made collections.

More than 30 products are currently listed in the Style Lab, with opportunities to customize in a variety of ways. Make no mistake: "Have it your way" will be a theme for years to come. One to incorporate in your own product line!


Spotted by: Sabine Janssens

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July 31, 2008

A couple of years ago we wrote about Yummy Mummy Careers, a Canadian classified ad site designed for moms seeking jobs.* Inspired by that story, an Australian entrepreneur—Kate Sykes—launched a similar site in her own country.

Though it's named for working mothers, CareerMums actually includes in its target audience all skilled parents seeking work. With a national online jobs board and candidate board, the site aims to connect skilled parents with flexible employers offering full-time, part-time, job share and contract style roles. Using CareerMums is free for job seekers, who can set up job alerts, post their profiles for prospective employers, register and search for jobs. The site offers a range of resources to assist job-seekers in transitioning back into the workplace after parental leave, including survey data, a flexible work proposal toolkit, and tips on dealing with recruiters. CareerMums also works with employers to adopt flexible work practices and retain working parents, offering several plug-in HR toolkits toward that end.

Will family-friendly workplaces ever become the norm? We sure hope so. In the meantime, sites like this can be replicated around the globe!


* Yummy Mummy Careers added networking services to their website and now operates under a new name:

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July 31, 2008

We've already written about onsite haircuts, dentistry and nail services, and now another mobile concept in the world of health and beauty has built its business on transparency.

Launched in April, Return to Glory is a platform for mobile beauty experts that brings a wide range of beauty, massage and fitness services to clients' homes, offices, weddings and events. The London-based company was formed by a group of stylists and therapists who now work together as a uniform group, with a shared website, standard services and transparency every step of the way.

Customers begin by inputting their postal code online and then browsing and selecting from a list of services available in their area—whether it's makeup or hair, pilates, lymph drainage or personal shopping. From there they choose the date and time they want, and then view the specialists available to perform the service. Along with a photo, each specialist profile includes details of the professional's background, qualifications and insurance; average star rating; and feedback from previous clients. Pricing is set by the hour rather than the treatment type, and is listed up front as well. Once the customer is happy with their selection, all bookings can be made instantly online or via text or telephone. Post-service, clients are asked to rank and provide feedback on the treatment they received.

Beauty services have been an area sorely in need of some transparency tyranny, and the addition of mobile convenience and direct booking further sweetens the deal. Will Return to Glory set a new standard? In the meantime, how about bringing something like this to the rest of the world?


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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.

7Up branding on an EcocabPedal-powered taxis deliver free love in Dublin
Transportation / Marketing & advertising / Eco & sustainability

Cycle taxis and ad-sponsored free love have both been around for
years, but it wasn't until just recently that one of our spotters saw them

Woman leading two blindfolded menBlind guides take sighted on walking tours of Lisbon
Non-profit & social cause / Travel & tourism

After being securely blindfolded, Lisboa Sensorial's tour participants
are steered through Lisbon's narrow streets by a blind guide, offering
them a taste of life without sight.

Detail of a Kidmondo journal pageOnline baby journal keeps everyone updated
Life hacks / Media & publishing

Kidmondo is an online baby journal and organizer designed to help
parents chronicle and share their child’s most important moments in
a safe, secure and streamlined way.

Bookcover of Angus Wilson's Anglo-Saxon AttitudesOut-of-print books, printed on demand
Media & publishing

Through a highly automated new imprint, renowned publishing house
Faber & Faber now lets customers order titles that have gone out of
print. The books are printed to order and delivered within two weeks.

Shiny red tricycleShoreditch tricycle race benefits social entrepreneurs
Non-profit & social cause

On August 31st, the streets of Shoreditch, London, will be overrun by
adults on kids' tricycles as part of a new annual race to benefit local
charities and social entrepreneurs.

Stack of RDM coinsConsumers get paid for input on new products
Style & design / Marketing & advertising

Crowdsourcing product-improvement site RedesignMe, which we
featured last year, now pays members for their input on new products.
As well they should ;-)

Yellow landscape at sunsetFarmers barter produce for solar panel funding
Eco & sustainability

Since not every farmer can afford to buy a wind turbine, a new
grassroots scheme is asking individuals to help them invest in solar
panels. Annual return on their investment? Farm products.

Cafe in a red London doubledecker busNiche tours focus on sustainable London
Eco & sustainability / Travel & tourism

Insider London's green tour uses walking and public transport to
show participants the most exciting and innovative sustainable retail
concepts, buildings and designs that London has to offer.

Slide controls in a private KlusterPrivate Klusters help groups make decisions
Media & publishing

Designed to enable collaborative brainstorming on myriad different
questions, Private Klusters allow invited participants to share their
opinions on a relevant, customized set of criteria.

Detail of a user-designed fontFree tool for DIY font design
Style & design

Thousands of fonts aren't enough for truly dedicated members of
Generation C. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of a do-it-yourself
font-building tool from digital type retailer FontShop.

Two men on a green, electric scooterEmissions-free motorcycle taxis take to Paris streets
Transportation / Eco & sustainability

We've seen both green taxis and motorcycle taxis before, but never a
combination of the two. Sure enough, though, one of our spotters
recently came across an all-electric motorcycle service in Paris.





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