Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Designed and manufactured in Britain, Greenbottle is a biodegradable milk bottle that uses a smart two-part system to aid recycling. The bottles are composed of a cardboard outer manufactured from pulped, recycled cardboard, which is lined with an inner sleeve of biodegradable plastic made from corn starch. The plastic keeps the cardboard from becoming soggy, and the cardboard makes for easy transport, storage and pouring. Once the bottle is empty, the inner sleeve can be pulled out and will decompose in a landfill within six weeks. The cardboard outer can be put out for recycling with other paper or thrown in with kitchen and garden waste for home composting. Greenbottle just went through a week-long test run at an Asda supermarket, where the new milk jugs sold out quickly. The bottles currently cost up to 30% more than their plastic counterparts, but costs will go down once production steps up. Three million tons of plastic are thrown away in the UK annually. As manufacturers, retailers and consumers increasingly work to reduce their environmental footprint, now’s the time to snap up distribution rights for Greenbottle’s innovative (patent-pending) product. One to contact if you work in food and beverage or packaging! Spotted by: Emma Howarth A few weeks ago, we featured a British bicycle company that disassembles old bikes and rebuilds them into unique, customized rides. Yesterday, we spotted a US company that’s applying the same concept to high-end watches, turning vintage Rolexes, Kelberts and Rados into one-of-a-kind timepieces. Watch faces, backs and bands are replaced or modified and etched with intricate designs. Everything is done by hand. Bellum Concepts, which describes itself as a creative think tank, selected twenty watches from the 1940s through 1980s for their first series — The Love Collection. The pieces are priced from USD 800-10,000 and sold via www.bellumconcepts.net and at the Aaron Faber Gallery in New York. Each piece is housed in its own custom-made box and comes with a custom-designed t-shirt from Bellum Classics. Bellum Concepts, named for the Latin word for war, is waging a battle for creative freedom, according to its owners: “The lack of originality and individualism in the market place today gave birth to Bellum.” Springwise agrees that there is plenty of room for small manufacturers and modifiers who create goods that lend their buyers the subtle status and pleasure of exclusivity. Which is enhanced by working with vintage pieces, that are inherently scarce and add another appealing layer to a product’s story and value. Bellum currently only modifies watches, but will tackle other luxury goods in the future, including cars and motorcycles. Contact: (917) 403–5002 Spotted by: notcot.org Meeting Tomorrow offers business customers easy access to audio visual equipment. Hotels often charge extortionate prices for renting a projector or display screen, and other meeting venues don’t always have the equipment needed for a presentation. On Meeting Tomorrow, you choose the equipment you need, order it online or by phone, and the equipment is delivered to your home, office, hotel or meeting location on time. Advance orders are delivered the day before the meeting, and same day orders are welcome. (Meeting Tomorrow offers same day delivery to 95% of the US, and next day service to the rest of the country.) The beauty of the concept is how simple it is for customers, who can rely on the equipment arriving on time and don’t have to go out of their way to pick up or return a projector. For returns, Meeting Tomorrow takes a cue from Netflix: pre-paid adhesive FedEx return labels are included with projectors and laptops. After using the equipment, customers slap on the label and drop the cases in any Fed Ex drop box. Bulkier equipment, such as screens or sound systems, are picked up after the event. Pricing is straight-forward, too: no matter where the equipment is needed, customers pay the same rental prices and a flat delivery fee. As pointed out by Seth Godin, the easy-return rental approach could be applied to any number of products that customers only need from time to time. For more inspiration on profiting from a burgeoning rental economy, check out: Marketplace for P2P rental and One-stop shop for transumers. Spotted by: Seth Godin Taking the surprise economy to another level, Singapore beverage company Out of the Box caters to consumers who respond to “What would you like to drink?” with a non-committal “anything” or “whatever”. Two weeks ago, the company launched two complementary brands: Anything and Whatever. Anything is fizzy and comes in six flavours (Cola with Lemon, Apple, Fizz Up, Cloudy Lemon and Root Beer) and Whatever is non-carbonated (Ice Lemon Tea, Peach Tea, Jasmine Green Tea, White Grape Tea, Apple Tea, Chrysanthemum Tea). The surprise part? Consumers don’t know which flavour they’re getting until they take a sip. Cans are simply labelled Anything and Whatever, and the list of ingredients is limited to generic wording: carbonated water, sugar, permitted flavouring, permitted colouring, preservative, tea extract, fruit juice concentrate. Judging from the buzz on Singapore forums, teens immediately got the concept and are loving it. Novel product to launch elsewhere, as the drink for people who don’t know what they want? The key, of course, is to produce products that are good enough to guarantee repeat sales. We think established food and beverage brands could have fun with this one, too, and would have the benefit of working from a brand consumers already trust. How about Snapple or Stonyfield Yoghurt marketing surprise six-packs filled with random flavours? Could be a good way to get customers to try new varieties of any FMCG. Spotted by: Brenton Wong With growing concerns of childhood obesity, keeping kids fit is on the minds of many parents. Keeping it on the minds of kids may be more of a challenge. Fitness franchise NexGym seems to be on the right track with Exergaming—a hot new exercise concept that combines video game technology with calorie-burning workouts. Billed as “The Next Generation in Fitness for Kids,” NexGym’s virtual reality-inspired workouts are geared with the interests of children ages 6 to 14 in mind. Video games are wired to fitness equipment, making the experience both mentally and physically interactive. Kids can race bikes through lunar landscapes, sharpen hand-eye coordination with intergalactic hand-to-hand combat or participate in virtual pro sporting events. More than 20 games are available. Additionally, NexGym offers interactive classes in sports, dance, karate, hip hop, yoga and more, some of which are available for kids as young as age 3. There’s also a morning drop-off just for preschoolers—a definite hit with busy moms and dads—and parent-child music classes suitable for infants on up. NexGym’s staff of certified personal trainers can even customize programs to help children polish their fitness skills. They also offer an innovative program for children with special needs. And, like any good kids’ franchise, of course they do birthday parties! With the continued success of niche gyms, further expansion into the children’s market is a worthy and potentially lucrative enterprise. NexGym franchises are currently only available in the US, but the concept could be reproduced just about anywhere, using widely available video game systems such as Nintendo’s Wii and Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution. (Related: Being space for little monkeys.) Spotted by: Carol Margolis Last week, we wrote about uShip, where customers post shipments online and shipping companies bid for their business. A similar approach is being taken by another venture we recently spotted. This time, it’s all about design. SitePoint, an Australian media company that targets web professionals, lets companies hold design contests and gain access to the creative talents of the global design community. How it works? A business owner looking for a new design, be it a logo, website or stationery, describes exactly what she’s looking for: what the desired colour scheme and file format are, what the design is for, and which elements to incorporate (for example: “We would like to have the initials PCM and ‘Panama City Models’ below the initials with a smaller font. But might consider a different approach”). After a prize amount and an end-date have been set, designers start submitting their work for all to see. Once the contest holder sees a design she likes, she can award the prize to buy the design. Alternatively, she can first suggest minor tweaks or request changes. Designers retain all rights to their submitted work until they’ve been awarded the prize on offer and have been paid in full. On receipt of payment, all rights to the winning design transfer from the designer to the contest holder. To protect themselves, designers are advised to check the contest holder’s previous posts to determine their standing in the community, and to ask the contest holder questions about the terms of payment, etc. While many established designers protest that this type of ‘spec’ work is devaluing their profession, crowdsourcing is a valid and cost-effective option for small businesses or organisations who can’t (yet) afford to hire a traditional branding agency or graphic design firm. Gaining access to thousands of aspiring designers means that a small town pub or a summer computer camp can buy a logo or t-shirt design for USD 100-200. Meanwhile, designers from across the world can tap into a much larger market for their services, while building their portfolio, honing their skills and presenting to real clients. Both clients and designers seem to like the concept: SitePoint’s design contests boast over 2,000 designers who submit on average 420 designs a day, and over USD 80,000 is offered as prize money each month. Businesses pay SitePoint a USD 20 listing fee and set their own prizes, which must be higher than the minimum dollar amount specified by SitePoint for each design category. Since graphic design and briefings are often tied to language and culture, this is definitely one to start in your own neck of the woods. Alternatively, study SitePoint, Threadless, iStockPhoto and other creative crowdsourcing communities, and carve your own niche. Spotted by: Shayne Tilley Tom Szaky is passionate about worm poop. So passionate that he dropped out of Princeton to start Terracycle, a company that sells worm poop. Vermicomposting is the process by which earthworms eat, digest and excrete castings (aka worm poop). Water is mixed with the worm castings to produce a nitrogen rich ‘tea’ prized by gardeners who believe the mixture makes plants grow faster and healthier than chemical fertilizers. Szaky discovered the magic of worm castings when he was at Princeton. He and fellow student Jon Beyer developed a system to mass produce castings using millions of worms and organic waste from the university’s student dining halls, which they developed into liquid fertilizer. The New Jersey based company’s products are sold at The Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Target. Initial growth was slow but the four-year-old, 12 employee company projects USD 6 million in sales for 2007. At the root of Terracycle’s success is the use of free raw materials—organic waste—to manufacture their product. The green edge doesn’t stop there. Terracycle packages their liquid fertilizer in recycled soda bottles purchased for five cents each from a network of 3,400 elementary schools and non-profits holding fundraisers: the Bottle Brigade. The money is donated to a charity of their choice. Terracycle sells a dozen products, from potting soil packaged in recycled gallon milk jugs to seed starter produced in trays made from recycled paper. Terracycle call themselves eco-capitalists. Springwise loves how they’re turning garbage into gold, keeping waste out of landfills and producing an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers, while building a healthy business. We have no doubt the concept—and story—would work equally well in other countries. Time to contact them and propose setting up factories outside the US? After all, even green products lose their eco-friendly aura if they’re shipped long distance. Alternatively, get creative and start figuring out what else can be created from waste. For more waste-to-wealth inspiration, check out Ecoist & Ragbag and Ecoforms. Spotted by: Daniel Cooper Get ready for fully personalized breakfasts: following customized cereal from Mymuesli, which we covered last week, comes Blends For Friends, a British company that sells custom-blended tea. As the name indicates, Blends For Friends are mainly ordered for others. Gift-givers are requested to tell the company all about their friend in question, from date of birth and job description, to the recipient’s physical appearance and hobbies. And of course the type of tea they usually drink. The more information master blender Alex Probyn is given, the better suited the blend will be. Probyn had worked as a ‘master tea taster’ for a large tea brand for years, when he started blending individual teas for friends and family based on their personalities. The idea caught on, and now Blends For Friends offers customers across the globe the same service. Every original new blend costs GBP 27 plus postage for 100 grams of loose leaf tea, packaged in a gift-wrapped tin caddy with a bespoke label referring to the recipient and the different teas used in the blend. Reorders are priced at GBP 7 plus postage (“less than 20p for every personalized cup of tea”). Besides individual gifts, Blends For Friends also creates bespoke blends for corporate clients and teas for weddings. Springwise doesn’t see an end to the possibilities for smart entrepreneurs to create customized versions of familiar goods, selling them (online) as highly personal gifts or gravanity goods. From wrapping paper to baby blankets, and from bank cards to lingerie. Pick your niche! When parents hear the strains of their wee one’s favourite ditty for the hundredth time, their toes curl up. Most hadn’t realized that listening to a cartoon character singing the same song over and over would be one of the sacrifices they’d have to make as parents. Bryan Townsend, founder of Atlanta-based The Pokey Pup feels their pain: “Let’s face it, parents end up listening to this music and watching the DVDs as much as their kids do, and after a while, that can be downright excruciating on everyone’s ears.“ The Pokey Pup is an online e-tailer that sells CDs, DVDs and books as an alternative to pre-packaged saccharine and TV-inspired music. “The best children’s music can be music that parents enjoy as much as their children,” says Townsend. A long time music industry veteran, Townsend was inspired to launch The Pokey Pup in 2005 as he and his wife awaited the birth of their first child. Since then, sales have doubled each month and he’s amassed a catalogue of over 1,000 selections, combining classics like Sesame Street with selections from well-known and relatively unknown artists. Gen X and Y parents who want to participate equally in family entertainment are The Pokey Pup’s primary audience. These parents actively seek out and participate in cross-generational experiences and expect to enjoy the activity as much as their child. Another example of this trend is previously featured Baby Loves Disco, which holds Saturday afternoon parent/child dance fêtes at local night clubs. One to expand to different countries and languages. Note that curation is key with a concept like The Pokey Pup, and harnessing the long tail of independent music requires dogged research, original taste in music and the ability to communicate your preferences. If literature is your forte, why not start up a niche online bookstore offering the best alternative children’s books? Spotted by: Beth Blenz-Clucas Last year, we featured a virtual travel agency that offers tours through the virtual world of Second Life. That agency, Synthravels, now has 5,000 volunteers offering themed tours focusing on everything from architecture to virtual love for sale. Three recent spottings reveal that other long-time residents are providing similar services. Since volunteers make wonderful guides, but can’t always be relied on to show up at the agreed time and place, SL Tourguides is offering newcomers professional tours for a fee. The company focuses on business travellers: “You will learn the lingo, learn the protocols, ask questions as you go and find the places/experiences you need to know about. Once you’ve done a tour you will be better placed to decide whether you want to do business in SL.” SL Tourguides offers a 30-minute training session to get to grips with handling an avatar, learning to move, take pictures and store locations. Once they’ve covered the basics, customers can take shopping tours to see what’s happening in virtual retail (90 minutes), or visit examples of what other companies are getting up to in SL (90 minutes). All tours are priced at USD 10 per 30 minutes. SL Tourguides works with freelance guides, who pay the agency a 20% commission fee. Dutch speaking travellers are catered to by AmaZingg Travels, which offers corporate clients personalized tours lasting an hour, pointing out potential business opportunities while teleporting from one SL location to the next. AmaZingg Travels has been guiding clients around SL since July 2006, and charges corporate clients EUR 115 per hour, allowing up to 8 avatars to join in on a tour. The company’s founder, Danielle Jansen, also gives in-house presentations for larger audiences in RL (real life), using her alter ego Gwendolyn Kronsage to give corporate groups an insider’s view of Second Life. Jansen has noticed a shift in what clients are asking for: at first, they were still trying to figure out what SL was, and were mostly interested in general tours. Now, companies and non-profit organisations are more tuned in and requesting specific tours that are relevant to their brand or industry, or in-depth forays into the virtual world’s technical possibilities. AmaZingg’s most requested tours by corporate clients are Education, Politics & Government, Collaboration & Meeting, Architecture & Urban Planning and Art. Last but not least, an actual, physical guidebook has been published by St Martin’s Press: The Unofficial Tourists’ Guide to Second Life. It’s a light-hearted guide that introduces first-time visitors to “an online tourist destination where you can shop for virtual designer clothes in a shopping mall atop a live volcano, teleport to an underwater gig by U2, before taking a new friend back to your personal spaceship for virtual coffee.” The book was written both for business travellers and casual tourists, and contains basic but important travel information like what to wear, where to go shopping, and how to find the hottest clubs. In short: while the huge burst of media hype surrounding Second Life might be behind us, there are still plenty of opportunities for minipreneurs who can help businesses find their way around virtual environments like Second Life or World of Warcraft. Same goes for social networks like Facebook or Bebo: corporate clients need to discover whether these are platforms they can work with(in) and require knowledgeable guides to show them the ropes. Websites: www.sltourguides.comwww.amazingg.nlwww.unofficialsecondlife.com