Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Springwise always enjoys simple new business ideas that somehow hook up the local, loud, inebriated offline world with the ubiquitous interaction only possible in cyberspace. Check out Wiffiti, a service that enables people to send text messages to large flat panel displays in venues such as cafes, bars and clubs. Messages sent to Wiffiti screens are also visible on the service’s website, encouraging people to text from anywhere and then watch responses from across the US, if not the world. How it works: every Wiffiti screen displays its own unique screen ID and the number to text one’s message to. Texted messages show up in seconds. Besides replying, other users can also grow or fade messages by texting commands and a message’s tag to the same screen. The first Wiffiti screen was installed in January 2006 at Someday Café in Boston, MA, a city that now has three additional Wiffiti screens. Other screens can be found in Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Knoxville, Boulder and New York. Costs for a user are the same as for sending a standard text/SMS message. Makes for a great conversation starter, pick-up tool or interactive soapbox, and should go down well in other cities and locales around the globe, especially as the rest of the world is truly SMS obsessed. And don’t forget, there’s ALWAYS money to be made the moment you figure out how to get consumers to start sending text messages. While traveling through Argentina, Blake Mycoskie came across canvas shoes that his feet took an instant liking to. He took the alpargatas–comfortable utility shoes that resemble espadrilles–reworked them a bit, and started TOMS Shoes. Not just casual chic slip-ons that were spotted all over L.A. this summer, TOMS Shoes give new meaning to ‘two for the price of one’. For each pair purchased (USD 38), TOMS gives a pair to a disadvantaged child in South America. Materials and shoes are produced and manufactured in Argentina under strict ‘no sweatshop’ guidelines, ensuring fair labor practices and minimal impact on the environment. The shoes are available online and at a limited number of boutiques across the United States. Which leaves consumers in many other countries who’ll no doubt welcome feel-good footwear. Time to stock up for summer ’07?! Touted as the UK’s first eco-friendly car insurance, Ecoinsurance offers customers a cleaner conscience and a greener planet, at no extra cost. Each vehicle insurance policy comes with carbon offsets for 20% of the customer’s car’s CO2 emissions, based on an average passenger car with average annual mileage. Customers who drive cars that emit less than 100 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer receive an extra 10% discount on their policy. (This includes the Honda Insight and Smart Diesel, but not the more popular Toyota Prius.) The company also works with an eco-friendly repair network, paying appointed body shops more to ensure they recycle oil and old parts. Ecoinsurance doesn’t seem to be in it just for a bit of positive green PR. In 2005, its parent company Co-operative Insurance became the first insurer in the world to commit to an ethical engagement policy. Meanwhile in the US, Travelers Insurance is offering hybrid drivers 10 percent discount on auto insurance. Which is only fair — hybrid drivers are classified as lower than average risk, and are preferred customers: middle-aged, responsible and financially stable (source: USA Today). Not your traditionally sexy demographic, but it sounds like good business 😉 Whether you’re selling organic cotton or auto insurance, make it easy for your consumers to be green! Time for an update: here we are working hard to bring you sophisticated new business ideas from around the globe, and guess what brought in the largest number of readers? Our piece last year on Kono Pizza: pizza in a cone. (From Kono Pizza’s site: “the result of advanced studies and research both of a culinary nature and in terms of technological innovation.”) Since then, Kono Pizza has been going from strength to strength, sealing franchise deals around the world. However, they’re not the only ones going after the billions spent by consumers on-the-go looking for portable comfort food: there’s the Conniza in India (on the menu at Pizza Corners throughout the country) and US-based Crispy Cones, which smartly positions itself as the leader of all things cone. Humble lesson to be learned? You can reinvent everything, you can copy everything, this is a multi-billion dollar industry, consumers are increasingly TRANSUMERS and dozens of countries (and thus hundreds of millions of consumers) are still waiting for their first pizza cone outlet… So this idea still has mileage, more than a year after it received mass coverage. And that in itself is interesting, too: things move fast, but they don’t always move *that* fast. Time to get cooking. To many men – and a few women – the garage is a haven for unadulterated self-indulgence. When Vault founder Chad Haas was looking to outfit his new garage, he realized there was nothing suitable on the market. Demanding high quality and stylish furnishing and accessories, Haas found nothing quite lived up to his needs or desires. So he founded Vault, “your showroom for treasures.” Vault offers a range of upmarket and stylish made-to-order garage furnishings. Homeowners can personalize their garage with fine quality cabinetry, work chests, flooring, wall treatments and hand-crafted garage doors. Think industrial floor coatings, stainless steel slat walls and period-authentic furnishing and you can just see the sparkle in any true car lover or handy(wo)man’s eye. Customers choose what configurations work best and can even get cabinet or floor colors to exactly match a car’s paintjob. Through the development of Vault garages, Haas has extended the traditional context of home furnishing and taken it outside of the house. We wrote about a similar company back in 2004 – Premier Garages. With homeowners seeking dream garages to go with their dream houses, it seems there’s plenty of room in the market for more garage innovators and upgraders. For more examples of businesses delivering on consumers’ desire to bring top-level experiences into the domestic domain, check out’s insperiences trend. Spotted by: Luxist DRY Soda is the first culinary soda in a line of all-natural, lightly sweetened beverages designed for those wanting a sophisticated non-alcoholic option to accompany a meal. The soda is currently being sold in four flavors: kumquat, rhubarb, lemongrass and lavender. All natural, non-caffeinated, flavored with fruit and herb extracts and sweetened with pure cane sugar, each bottle of DRY soda contains just 50-70 calories. Less sweet and more sophisticated than Coke or Pepsi, DRY soda is specifically designed to be paired with food; each flavor accentuating certain types of food. The website offers descriptions of each of the four flavors in much the same way as a good wine. Descriptions include the soda’s characteristics, suggested food pairings and even a mixer idea if consumers wish to mix the soda with their wine or use it as a base for cocktails. Lavender, for example, is a great accompaniment to cheese, pork and chocolate, whereas lemongrass works well with Asian dishes. The concept was dreamt up by Seattle based entrepreneur Sharelle Klaus who, when pregnant, was frustrated with the lack of non-alcoholic options on the market. Seems like a good niche addition to a growing market for ‘adult sodas’. DRY Soda is currently only available in the US, distributed like a wine rather than a soft drink, and it’s on the menu at a select number of upmarket restaurants. Worldwide interest is growing, so it’s a good time to get involved! Here’s a very clever and very ‘now’ idea: a travel agency for virtual worlds. Synthravels is the first travel organization to offer a guide service to anyone who wants to tour highly-hyped virtual worlds like Second Life or World of Warcraft. The increasing complexity of virtual worlds is making them more interesting, fun and potentially lucrative. But it’s also creating a considerable threshold for newbies, especially for those who have little or no experience with online gaming. Compare it to snatching a tourist from his annual holiday in Myrtle Beach and dropping him in the back streets of Mumbai 😉 Which is why it makes perfect sense for two savvy Italian entrepreneurs to set up a service that takes curious explorers by the hand and shows them the wonders of metaworlds. A customer registers with Synthravels, picks a destination and preferred day and hour for the trip. Within a few days, he or she receives an itinerary by email. To prepare, a visitor has to download any software needed for the virtual world and should also create an avatar. After logging in on the selected day and time, the visitor will find an expert guide waiting to show them the ropes, from the basics of maneuvering to finding elusive and exclusive virtual hotspots. Tours and destinations are selected by Synthravels’ staff: programmers, architects and experienced video gamers. Sightseeing excursions include ‘Discover the Post Art Deco architecture of Paragon City’, a shopping tour of Second Life, and a lastminute to Entropia Universe, including dinner with Deathifier, the legendary owner of Treasure Island. Synthravels, which launched last week, welcomes skilled avatars to sign up as guides. Sounds like a great minipreneur gig for experienced gamers, especially for those who can offer added value by giving specialized tours. There’s a substantial market for services like Synthravels, from parents who’d like to experience how their children are spending all their waking hours, to thousands of marketing and advertising execs who want to dive into youniversal branding. Spotted by: Emerce There’s a new premium commodity in town, and its name is mastiha. Those of you with no ties to the Eastern Mediterranean or the Middle-East are forgiven for not knowing exactly what mastiha, or mastic gum, is. It’s a product of the mastic tree, which is mainly cultivated on Chios, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Small cuts are made in the bark of the tree, the sap seeps out and congeals into ‘tears’ of resin, which are harvested and cleaned by hand. The resinous result has been popular and highly valued in the region for thousands of years, and was traded from Venice to Damascus. More than just a sticky flavouring, mastiha is cherished for its antibacterial properties, used to reduce tooth plaque and treat gastric ulcers. It was once considered so precious that countries fought for the right to control its cultivation. (The ancients were very fond of mastic chewing gum.) Flash forward 20 centuries, and welcome to modern Greece, where the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association started Mastihashop to stimulate demand for its produce. Mastiha is used in a wide variety of products, and Mastihashops carry everything from mastiha-flavoured coffee, biscuits and liqueur, to toothpaste, cosmetics and chewing gum. All well-branded and sleekly packaged. There are currently seven Mastihashops in Greece. But the cooperative-formed retailer has its eye on international expansion: both in the Middle-East, where mastiha is a familiar ingredient, and in the west, where the fragrant and exotic product has yet to catch on. Unlike olive oil or sea salt, Mastiha’s hand-made and uber-local character ensure a lasting degree of exclusivity. The medicinal properties and nice branding can’t hurt, either. Time to enquire about distribution and franchising? Back in the sixties, the Volkswagen Beetle’s iconic curves were habitually adorned with painted daisies and peace signs. Customization is still highly popular, though more often than not it’s now an optional extra. In a world saturated with mass-produced products, Volkswagen UK has jumped on the custom-made bandwagon by offering customers the option to decorate their brand New Beetle. Consumers can customize the exterior of their New Beetle with special vinyl stickers, called Beetle Art, created by four up-and-coming artists and illustrators: Mibo, Parra, Steve Wilson and Jamie Cullen. The accompanying microsite lets prospective customers configure their desired car, choosing a body style (hatchback or cabriolet), body colour and decal design. They can pick from and try different colours for each of the decals. The durable vinyl decals can last for up to five years, are guaranteed for three years and cost from GBP 45 for a single panel to GBP 200 for an entire car. It’s a cost efficient way for consumers to distinguish their very own Beetle from the rest. And if they change their mind or want to sell? Unlike painted hippie art, the stickers can be removed without harm to the paintwork. Of course, going the full customer-made route would mean letting customers design their own decals. One for next year, or for another car brand? It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s a picture of your wife on a camel in the Sahara, on a Boeing 737! Dutch airline Transavia recently held a photo competition that we couldn’t help but notice. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the holiday transporter invited passengers to send in pictures taken in or around one of their 87 destinations. Forty winning photos have been picked and will be printed on larger-than-life stickers, along with the photographer’s name, and stuck onto several of Transavia’s planes. It’s a fun example of using gravanity: the ever-popular consumer trend – and faithful marketing standby – that lets the masses get their names and faces in lights, even if just for a moment. A previous pairing of gravanity and airlines was KLM’s create your own luggage tag campaign, which is still running.