Spotted for you this week: a beer display system that allows sampling of small quantities, a kit for creating GSM phone networks in off-grid areas, a free digital books platform supported by adverts, and more. Our next edition is due on 8 September 2010. 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!


September 1, 2010

Beer connoisseurs like to try before they buy just as much as the next consumer; the only problem is that high-end bottles of the stuff can cost a pretty penny, making bartenders reluctant to open them. That's where the BeerVault comes in. Designed by Australian design firm Jones Chijoff, the BeerVault gives bars a way to preserve and display their finest beers for sampling and beyond.

The innovation began when Victoria-based Jones Chijoff was hired by Melbourne-based bar Biero to solve its sampling problem, driven by the fact that some of its boutique bottles of beer can cost as much as AUD 200. Now, with the BeerVault, Biero can siphon its various bottled beers into UV-filtering clear acrylic canisters, which are backlit and suspended above the bar. There, each beer is kept under the same pressure as it was while in the bottle, thus preserving it equally well; it's also kept cold via a clear volume of liquid glycol that surrounds it and circulates through a chiller. Bartenders can dispense quantities as small as they want, allowing patrons to not only sample Biero's beers but also order them based on the colours of those on display. The BeerVault is currently available only for hire while Jones Chijoff readies its marketing plans.

With its preservation capabilities and capacity for creating an aesthetically engaging display, the BeerVault seems highly applicable to other beverage categories as well, including wine. Which bar in *your* neighbourhood will be first to claim this new, differentiating feature?





September 1, 2010

Mobile phones are increasingly viewed as a critical means of improving life for those in the developing world, whether through employment, healthcare or social connections. Such opportunities depend on access to cellular service, however—and that's where a new Silicon Valley startup comes in. Range Networks is currently developing what it calls “the world’s lowest cost, sustainable, full featured GSM infrastructure providing voice, messaging and data services for a wide range of applications and environments.”

Starting with Linux-based OpenBTS, Range's new system works with a software-defined radio such as the Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) to present a GSM air interface to any standard GSM cell phone, according to a report in NetworkWorld. No modification of the phone is required, and the service uses open source Asterisk VoIP software as the PBX to connect calls. The system behind it all is reportedly the size of a shoebox, and it requires just 50 watts of power to operate, making it very amenable to solar power or other off-grid energies. Performance is much like that of any other GSM base station, NetworkWorld reports, and the system is capable of using a wireless backhaul as well. Costs and power needs are within reach of even a small village, Range says.

Range has already shipped about 150 of its OpenBTS systems around the world, including to India, Africa, the South Pacific and Haiti after the earthquake. Currently, the system is being used to provide free cell service at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. Range, meanwhile, is expected to emerge from stealth mode later this month; until then, updates can be found on the OpenBTS blog. Social and mobile entrepreneurs: a functionall* innovation to get involved in early...?


Spotted by: NetworkWorld via Katherine Noyes

* No, that wasn't a typo ;-) Functionall is a trend defined by our sister-site as follows: "The phenomenon of simple, small and/or cheap products and services designed for low(er)-income consumers in emerging markets, with cross-over appeal to consumers in mature consumer societies." Check out's briefing for more examples.




August 31, 2010

Retailers are experimenting with numerous different ways to blend online and off for their customers, as we've already seen on several occasions. Curbside pickup of online orders has been the theme at both Sears and French hypermarket chain E.Leclerc, while Shutl and several others have been pushing the bounds of near-instant home delivery. The latest spotting? British Tesco, which just last week launched what it calls a “drive-thru supermarket.”

Focusing initially as a trial at Tesco’s Baldock Extra store in Hertfordshire, the new service lets customers order their shopping as usual on the website. From there, they choose a “Click and Collect” option and book a two-hour time slot for picking up their groceries. At any point during that two-hour window, they can drive up to a reserved area in the Tesco car park and show a staff member their shopping reference details. Without ever having to get out of their car, they can then sit back and relax while the Tesco team packs their groceries into the boot. A flat GBP 2 picking and packing charge is simply added to the customer's shopping bill. During the trial, Tesco holds customers' groceries in a delivery van for collection; if it's successful, however, Tesco says it will explore possible ways of adapting its stores so as to make drive-through shopping a permanent feature.

Some analysts have questioned the scalability of Tesco's experiment. Nevertheless, it's further evidence of the need for hybrids in this OFF=ON world. One to watch!


Spotted by: Marketing Magazine via Raymond Kollau




August 31, 2010

It's not unusual to see artwork on the walls at bars and restaurants; what's less common is to see a bar and restaurant double as a photography gallery and community space—one in which the photographers themselves take turns curating quarterly exhibits. That, however, is exactly the premise behind The Camera Club, a new venture launching in Australia this week.

The Camera Club is a new “community-minded bar & gallery concept that’s dedicated to celebrating creativity through camera-based pursuits,” in the words of its founders. With support from New Zealand vodka purveyor 42Below, The Camera Club is based within the Beach Road Hotel on Bondi Beach and will launch this Thursday. In addition to a bar and wood-fired pizzeria, the space will feature quarterly exhibits, each curated by a different photographer. Ten photographers in all will exhibit their work in each zero-commission exhibit—each of them selected by one of the other participants—resulting in 10 micro-galleries focusing on a single, overriding theme. The bar's maiden exhibit, for example, will be focused on the theme, “We all have teenage fantasies.” The bar and restaurant, meanwhile, will support each show with items such as photo-inspired pizza boxes, guest photographer menus and exhibition-inspired cocktails. Ultimately, The Camera Club will include a working photography studio, member library, vintage photo booth and other camera-related inspiration as well.

Given the plethora of watering holes in most cities around the world, the focus on a single niche could become a differentiator for hobbyists while offering a novel experience for everyone else. Upcoming features such as the photography studio and library, meanwhile, could turn The Camera Club into more of a being space for enthusiasts. How long before we see the involvement of a major photography brand—and how long before we see bars and restaurants dedicated to other popular pursuits? (Related: Guided travel for photographersBrands take turns running airport store.)





August 31, 2010

We've written about several retailers who have eschewed a bricks and mortar presence in favour of going mobile, including roaming restaurants that bring cuisine to consumers curbside, and a roaming eyewear store that visits customers at work. Our latest spotting? Hippity Hop Shoes is a mobile children's shoe shop in Berkhamsted in the UK.

Designed to make life easier for busy parents, Hippity Hop Shoes brings a selection of casual, formal and school shoes to customer's homes, and provides a comprehensive shoe fitting service to ensure the best fit. Hippity Hop also promotes the hosting of children's shoe parties, offering a 15% discount off the total shoe purchase for groups of 5 or more children.

Taking the mobile route can be a good alternative for entrepreneurs who don't want or can't afford a fixed space—especially when the outcome offers customers added convenience and personal service. Retail entrepreneurs around the world: time to hit the streets with your wares?


Spotted by: Martin Bamford




August 30, 2010

Hotels and car-sharing are a natural fit, as we've already seen in Zipcar's partnership with AKA. Whereas Zipcar's effort targets extended-stay residents, however, GreenCar Hawaii aims to give hotel guests of all kinds an alternative to traditional rental cars when they visit the Aloha State.

Rather than scrambling to arrange and pick up a rental car at the airport, customers of GreenCar Hawaii simply take a taxi to their hotel. Later, when they need a car, they can easily reserve one of the company's hybrid electric Ford Escape SUVs. Reservations can be made online, by phone or at the hotel kiosk, which then gives customers a voucher; that, in turn, is shown to the hotel valet, who brings a car right to the consumer, complete with a complimentary gas card. Pricing on GreenCar Hawaii's hybrid vehicles is USD 15 per hour, including mileage, free gas and roadside assistance. Alternatively, consumers can rent them for a full 24 hours for USD 115. Currently, GreenCar Hawaii is available at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

There seems to be little doubt that car-sharing is taking hold around the globe — including the peer-to-peer versions we've recently seen — so using the concept to relieve hotel guests of the burden of a full-time rental car makes good sense. Who will bring similar benefits to transumers at the hotels in your part of the world...? (Related: In Paris, a citywide scheme to share electric carsParking operator launches car-sharing serviceZipcar and Zimride join forces on college campusesSmart use of the Smart brand: car-sharing by Daimler.)


Spotted by: John Rankin




August 30, 2010

Hard on the heels of our story about the world's first smile-activated vending machine comes word of a similarly paradigm-busting innovation: a machine that dispenses free spring water drinks to those who can prove their mental prowess.

No mere smile earns a reward from the Smart Vending Machine, which was launched recently by British Britvic's Juicy Drench drink brand. Rather, consumers must play a series of games designed to test their mental agility. Featuring an interactive touch screen, the device is programmed with 40 different games, ranging from clever mathematical tasks to visual “spot the difference” challenges. Each of the games is designed to test alertness, underscoring the Juicy Drench brand's message that “brains perform best when they’re hydrated.” The Smart Vending Machine was installed in London last week at the Westfield shopping centre and Covent Garden Train Station. In September, it's slated to pop up in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

It's hard to imagine a better way to engage consumers, encourage trial and underscore a brand's message while also dispensing some always-popular free love. Time to put on your own thinking cap and brainstorm some like-minded ideas! (Related: Vending machine dispenses free samplesTouch-screen machine for interactive vendingRetail chain for brain games targets aging population.)





August 30, 2010

Just as ad-supported sites like Pandora and Spotify let music lovers listen to and share their favourite music for free, so Spanish 24symbols is gearing up to do something similar for electronic books.

Based in Madrid, 24symbols is a platform that lets anyone with an e-reader enjoy and share digital books using their browser. Users of the site can search for ebooks or browse through the myriad genres, nationalities and publishing houses represented, ranging from classics to new publications, comic books to technical tomes. They can also check to see which books their friends have read. Reading is free as long as the user is internet-connected thanks to the site's advertising support, and users can write reviews or even highlight particular passages in a book before sharing it with a friend. They can also pay to buy a copy of the books they love, either by download or in paper format. With 24symbols' ad-free subscription model, meanwhile, books can be stored in cache for reading even while away from an internet connection. 24symbols will reportedly launch first in Spain, followed by Latin America, France, the UK and Germany, and then the US and Asia after that. Subscription pricing has not yet been announced.

Now that music distribution has settled squarely in the online world, it's only natural that books should be next—particularly amid the tablet craze and as the e-reader market continues to hold its own. Time to bring a little free love to the book-loving masses near you...? (Related: Books for free by podcastBusiness books served in bite sizes for e-readersMusic site offers updated playlists in 22 genresThe world's latest music, streamed city by city.)


Spotted by: Leticia Pérez Prieto




August 27, 2010

It's been a few years since we wrote about quick-delivery e-commerce companies MaxDelivery, Lickety Ship and Zifty, but recently we came across a new contender in the field. Launched last December, London-based Shutl also gives online shoppers a way to get their goods delivered almost immediately.

Users of Shutl can choose to receive their order within 90 minutes of purchase, or they can select a one-hour delivery window at any point in the future, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shutl integrates directly into the ordering systems of its retail partners—which currently include Argos, Start London and Laithwaites Wine—and shows up simply as a branded delivery option. When customers opt to use Shutl, it sends a courier to collect their purchases from the store and then delivers it within the chosen timeframe; customers can even track their deliveries in real time on a GPS-enabled map. Pricing for Shutl delivery starts at GBP 4.95.

Since its launch, Shutl has focused on the London area, but it plans to roll out across the rest of the UK in the coming months, with international expansion after that. One to partner with in your neck of the instant-gratification woods? (Related: Sears combines online shopping with curbside pickupEmergency wardrobe service for hotel's local express delivery.)





August 27, 2010

Rather than list all the products we've seen offered in customized form over the years, it's getting to the point now where we might be better off listing the ones we *haven't* seen served up in personalized versions. One example? Beef jerky — until recently, that is. New Jersey-based Slant Shack Jerky is a small, artisan company that hand-crafts beef jerky to suit each individual consumer's tastes.

Available in quantities of a quarter pound, half pound or a full pound even, Slant Shack's jerky offers customers numerous choices. First, for example, is whether to use traditional USDA choice or organic grass-fed beef, which adds an extra charge. Next, buyers must decide whether they'd prefer an original or a “hot & smoky” marinade. From there, it's the rub that must be selected, with four tantalizing options or—alternatively—the “naked” approach. Last but not least, consumers can choose a brown sugar or spicy pepper glaze, or none at all. For those having trouble deciding, there's also an assortment of chef's choices to choose among. Pricing starts at USD 10 per quarter pound. The customization trend is still going strong! (Related: Design your own pet foodDesign-your-own protein shakesCustom-made energy bars.)


Spotted by: Chris Turner
Photos by: Liz Vidyarthi




August 27, 2010

If users of social media are interested in buying notebooks embellished with their online tweets or Facebook feed, doesn't it stand to reason that they'd want a mug featuring the profile pictures of their online friends? California-based CrowdedInk apparently thinks so, for it launched a “Friends” mug in precisely that vein.

CrowdedInk's Friends social mug can be embellished with the customer's friends from either Facebook or Twitter. The ordering process begins when customers sign in to whichever of the two social sites they're interested in. From there, they can select up to 184 friends to go on their mug. They can also choose the mug style, colour and size—ceramic, stainless and glass options are all available—as well as customizing it with the images or text of their choice. Pricing on Zazzle ranges from USD 15 for a simple 11 oz. ceramic mug to USD 23.75 for a 16 oz. frosted glass version.

We're still at the beginning of off=on integration; where else could users' online content become a one-of-a-kind embellishment for real-world goods...?


Spotted by: R.E.




August 26, 2010

Last September, we wrote about Planeshop, an innovative new airport retail concept developed by the pop-up retail pioneers who launched Vacant. Planeshop’s principle is simple: it lets different brands take turns running its permanent store. Now, 11 months later, Planeshop is opening in a former departure lounge at Glasgow Airport.

The first brand on rotation at Planeshop is Californian sports label K-Swiss, which will be using the space to sell and market its sneakers and clothing. The store’s exterior is entirely K-Swiss branded, billboard-style, while the interior features black-and-white graphics by a Glaswegian designer.

To put it mildly, opening an airport store can be challenging. For brands who want to test a market, launch a new product or reach consumers in vacation mode, Planeshop removes most of that friction. It will be announcing its next guest brand in a few weeks. And the company is thinking big — it aims to open Planeshops in airports around the world. (Related: Nationwide network of pop-up marketing spaces.)





August 26, 2010

We've seen a number of sites dedicated to helping companies and nonprofits tap the crowds to get work completed. Generally those have focused on small, online tasks — done either on a volunteer basis or for pay — but Irish Weedle is a new contender that opens up the possibilities even further to match skills of any kind with those who need them.

Now in beta, Dublin-based Weedle is a social utility that helps both sellsumers and skilled professionals get found by people who need their talents on a freelance basis. Users of the free site begin by creating a skill page that advertises their abilities for all the world to see. Weedle then leverages social media and semantic technologies along with its own search and social graph algorithm to match up skills and needs effectively. Accordingly, companies and individuals in need of such skills can then find them through the site, along with an overview of what connections they have in common with the individual and what peer reviews he or she has received so far. Current users of the site span the globe, representing a wide variety of professions and capabilities.

We can't help but think that Weedle would benefit by narrowing its focus — by niche, location or both. Nevertheless, it's one more testament to the power of the “labour as a service” crowdsourcing trend — which, of course, suits today's sellsumer masses to a tee. (Related: Work site divides large jobs into small, concurrent tasksOnline marketplace for $5 tasksJob marketplace for quick online tasksMatching students with odd jobs.)


Spotted by: Jonathan Kyle




August 26, 2010

We've seen myriad sites that aim to connect musical artists with their fans — whether for crowdfunding, for promotion help or for generalized band management, for example. Typically, however, classical music has not been part of the online action. Enter San Diego-based InstantEncore, which aims to tap the internet to keep classical music vital and accessible to modern audiences.

InstantEncore's mission is to be “the world’s leading resource for delivering and enjoying live classical music anywhere and anytime,” in its own words. Toward that end, the site provides tools to help classical music lovers, artists, composers, educators and concert presenters connect, enhance and extend the concert experience. Music lovers, for instance, can become fans of their favourite artists, track those artists via a “fan feed” and set up alerts for new music, videos, concerts and buzz. Some 2,500 presenters, 20,000 composers and 80,000 artists are currently on the free site along with a constantly updated assortment of high-quality live and recorded music.

For artists and organizations, meanwhile, InstantEncore provides a variety of tools to help reach out to fans. Performers can create and maintain their own websites, mobile apps and social networks in minutes, for example. InstantEncore also offers a digital asset management system, daily internet crawler and classical music search engine that let artist partners enter and sync their events, music, video channels, blogs, podcasts and news all at once, with automatic publication in real-time to their own websites, mobile apps, social networks and email fan groups. Music sales, download cards and online donations can also be supported. Many of InstantEncore's artist tools are free, while its iPhone app service, for example, starts at USD 19.99 per month.

Now that popular music sites have become commonplace on the web, it's time to bring classical music into the fold — a more natural fit than one might think, given that classical music lovers have long been exceptionally fond of the digital download, according to a report in The Guardian. One to regionalize for your part of the world? (Related: An iPhone app for every bandCommunity connects designers, fans and things.)


Spotted by: Sutter Schumacher




Just in case you missed it, we've included our previous edition below.

And don't forget—you can access everything we've published in our idea database, which is
conveniently organized by industry.

energyincommon Microloans for clean energy in the developing world
Non-profit, social cause / Eco & sustainability

Working on the premise that reliable energy is a key to fighting
poverty, Energy in Common is a New York-based nonprofit that
facilitates microloans to bring green energy to people in need.

oliverslabels Labels for kids' gear use codes to track lost items
Life hacks

Toronto-based Oliver's Labels sells a wide variety of name labels
in colourful designs and sizes. Should the labelled item be lost, a
code can be used to inform the owner that it has been found.

dbuild Reclaimed building materials with a story to tell
Homes & housing / Eco & sustainability

D-Build provides a place to track the stories of deconstructed
buildings and reclaimed materials, as well as a marketplace to
sell those materials and any products made from them.

companiontree Matchmaking site for platonic friendships
Life hacks / Lifestyle & leisure

Seattle-based Companion Tree offers a variety of simple tools to help
find people with similar interests, make a connection and meet up
as friends. Ten percent of membership fees go to Save the Children.

coffeeforacause Coffee roaster offers custom blends for fundraising
Non-profit, social cause / Food & beverage

Newhall Coffee for a Cause allows qualifying nonprofits to market
and sell custom, branded blends from the roasting company. The
nonprofits then receive a significant percentage of the proceeds.

hotels Five innovative hotel concepts
Tourism & travel / Eco & sustainability / Marketing & advertising

A hostel touting its energy efficiency, a hotel gym that generates
electricity, two loyalty cards not bound to specific chains, and an
events menu that promises to help attendees stay mentally sharp.

chiptracker Frito-Lay shows consumers where their chips came from
Food & beverage

Consumers enter their ZIP code along with the first three digits of the
bag's product code; in return, the site gives them the specific location
along with its annual output.

playplanit Curated by moms, an online calendar of kids' activities
Media & publishing / Lifestyle & leisure

Ad-supported PlayPlanit gives San Francisco parents a calendar
of all the kid-friendly events happening in the city. The information
is searchable by age, location, availability, keywords and price.

fotopol Fixed camera mount for group photos in scenic spots
Tourism & travel

The fotopol is a camera mount for tourist locations that lets visitors get
everyone in the picture. The pole can feature custom branding and
a front panel has space for local information and advertising.

libreclothing Clothing line designed for dialysis & infusion patients
Fashion & beauty / Life hacks

Libre Clothing produces garments with hidden access points
to make it easier and more comfortable for patients to undergo
treatments requiring intravenous lines, catheters or infusion tubes.

agrocafe Cafe creates NGO to ensure fair trade with suppliers
Food & beverage / Non-profit, social cause

Vancouver's AGRO Cafe sources its coffee direct from small-scale
farmers in Africa and Latin America through a nonprofit NGO
established specifically for that purpose.

flohclub Remote computer support for senior citizens
Life hacks

Actress Florence Henderson has started the FloH Club, a service
offering 24/7 telephone computer support aimed at senior citizens.
Prices range from USD 24.99 per month to USD 249.99 per year






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