Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

With a few notable exceptions (such as student-oriented Precious Time), concierge services and personal assistants are a luxury that tends to be beyond the reach of all but the most well-heeled members of society. Not so with Sunday, a request-based service that offers 24/7 personal assistance by internet or phone. New York-based Sunday lets busy people in the US, Canada and the UK delegate chores as they arise, with monthly fees starting at just USD 29 and no cost to join. The site’s agents are available 24/7 by email or phone, ready to make outbound calls, arrange travel plans, set dinner reservations, enable remote access to numerous websites and take action in emergency situations—virtually anything that can be handled remotely. The proprietary Sunday Portal facilitates interactions between members and agents by saving member information such as contacts and encrypted login details to leading websites such as Yahoo, Google, Seamlessweb, Zipcar and Fandango, to name just a few. Messenger and errand services are also available in New York City. Sunday’s Silver membership plan, priced at USD 29 monthly, includes 30 requests per month, with a charge of USD 2 for each request beyond that. The Gold plan is USD 49 for 50 requests per month, and USD 1.50 for each thereafter; it also gives members the ability to have Sunday make international calls on their behalf. It should come as no surprise that Sunday’s low prices are made possible by outsourcing most of the work to agents in India. Sunday was founded in 2006, and plans to expand to other major cities around the world. In this time-starved era, it’s hard to imagine a place where the concept wouldn’t succeed, especially with lifestyle gurus like Tim Ferriss promoting personal outsourcing. Next challenge, or rather, opportunity: bringing similar services to non-English speaking countries. (Related: Bidding system for domestic outsourcing.) Spotted by: Susanna Haynie Parents who are running out of space on refrigerators and bulletin boards to showcase their children’s artwork, but can’t stand the thought of parting with their creations, have a new option for preserving their tots’ masterpieces. Artimus Art publishes beautiful custom hardcover portfolios of children’s artwork and hosts online galleries to share the images with select family and friends—or the whole world. Part website, part publishing company, Artimus Art offers packages beginning at USD 155, which includes a 55-page book and 70 webhosted images. Customers receive a return postage-paid portfolio for sending in the artwork. Once pieces are scanned and uploaded, customers can begin organizing their images through a simple click-and-drag process on artimus.com. A template guides them to set details such as the font for the book’s cover. As soon as it’s ready, the custom book—suitable for displaying on any coffee table or bookshelf—is delivered to the customer’s home. And online galleries never expire, so users can continue to browse and share images for years to come. There’s even a public art gallery where aspiring Rembrandts and Monets can publish their work for the world to see. Customers can also choose to have images converted to oil masterpieces, using a special canvas treatment, for just USD 99. Of course the potential merchandise that might be adorned with images of the artwork is endless. So, entrepreneurs thinking of duplicating and expanding on this concept should take note. Another obvious enhancement would be to let customers scan the art themselves and send it electronically, avoiding the hassle of shipping and alleviating any worries about precious originals getting lost in the mail. And, last but not least, don’t forget the art book and web portfolio market for artists who have long since put away their crayons and fingerpaints. 😉 (Related: Everyone’s publisher and Self-publishing via email.) Spotted by: Laura Bond Williams One day you pass that quaint row of shops in your neighbourhood only to discover it’s being demolished to make way for a parking lot. If only you’d known about the tear-down plans well enough in advance you could have lodged a protest. That’s where PlanningAlerts.com comes in. The UK startup functions as a targeted search engine, digitally scouring local government agencies’ online records for news of construction projects destined to affect the lives of local residents. Residents can sign up, enter a postal code and receive alerts by email. Result: if there’s a public meeting scheduled to discuss zoning changes in a nearby subdivision, users receive word of the meeting’s time and place. So far, the non-profit venture has sent out 21,686 alerts for 156 local authorities. Of course, this information is already made public—as required by law—in a local newspaper’s official notices section. Likewise, truly determined neighbourhood advocates can find news of planning and zoning commission meetings and city council agendas posted online. However, like another service we recently profiled—Cleanscores, which posts restaurant health inspection reports online—PlanningAlerts.com unlocks the information, making it easier for people to stay informed. Especially by adding social features like comments and discussion boards that would make it easy for neighbourhood residents to coordinate action. PlanningAlerts.com is currently in beta, covering only portions of the UK, but it doesn’t lack potential. The site’s super-local focus serves a role traditionally taken up by community newspapers and illustrates how the most mundane and obscure information can hold huge importance to those affected by it—something that publishers like Gannett are picking up on, and that many other established newspapers should take to heart. Spotted by: Susanna Haynie Back in 2003, our sister-site trendwatching.com coined the term nethoods to describe an emerging trend: “neighbourhoods, streets and even apartment buildings are starting to get their own internet and intranet sites: not just to promote the many qualities they have to offer their (prospective) inhabitants, but also to provide communal interaction and localised services.” A recent example of this trend is LifeAt. Launched in March 2007, LifeAt offers property managers a turnkey solution for launching a nethood for their building. So far, over 335 buildings have joined. The property websites are private and password protected, for use by residents only. Besides offering a platform where residents can meet and communicate, sites also allow users to post classified ads and rate and review local businesses. In addition, property managers post news about vacancies and maintenance work. By connecting people who tend to share not only a building but also similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and offering them a source of hyperlocal information, LifeAt is creating valuable links between cyberspace and ‘meatspace’. The concept is likely to find a wider audience now that people of all ages are getting used to sharing information online. Free for residents, LifeAt charges buildings a one-off fee of around USD 6,000 to create and launch a site. One to set up in other countries? And how about a version focusing specifically on office buildings? Spotted by: Tara Mason Following Radiohead’s ‘pay what you want’ pricing scheme for their latest album, In Rainbows, indie pop culture magazine Paste is giving its readers the option of paying whatever they like for a subscription. For two weeks, anyone signing up for a new subscription or a renewal can name their own price for a year’s worth of Paste (11 issues plus 11 CDs), with a minimum price of USD 1. “We were curious to know what our customers thought we were worth. And what better way to find out, than to let them tell us?” explains Paste President/Publisher Tim Regan-Porter. “While it’s certainly a bit unconventional, we also see it as a chance to get our product in the hands of people who could become lifelong fans. It’s been our experience that once people become familiar with Paste, they turn into loyal readers.” According to Yahoo Tech, sales for In Rainbows may have reached USD 10 million. While Radiohead’s fans are more likely to voluntarily fork over money to their musical heroes than new subscribers are to an ad-sponsored music magazine, riding the wave of publicity generated by Radiohead is undeniably clever 😉 Spotted by: Palmer Houchins Hair salons on wheels aren’t particularly novel any more (to wit: Onsite HairCuts, which we covered last year), and most often they cater to office workers who spend their days in large industrial parks. Now UK-based HairPOD is picking up on that basic idea but bringing it out to the masses—wherever they happen to be—with quick, inexpensive haircuts on the go. HairPODs are transportable, free-standing styling booths that look like futuristic space capsules. Featuring extendable floor and side panels, they can be closed up and locked for the night, then unlocked and opened up again the next day. The compact design features tucked-away storage space for supplies, and a suction unit at the base of the pod even makes hair clippings disappear. Best of all, they can be strategically placed in locations such as airports or downtown crossings—and relocated, if necessary—without the high rents most salons must pay. HairPODs take 3 to 4 hours to put together, and require just an electricity supply–no shop fitting or site alteration are necessary. The first HairPOD launched in August at Heathrow Airport, which isn’t surprising given that that’s where founder and CEO Martin Warren came up with the idea. Warren was waiting for a flight to present a business pitch at the time, and had had too many things to do beforehand to make time for a haircut. “It’s one of those things you wish you had time for, because feeling smart really increases your confidence, but it usually takes a back seat due to time constraints,” he explains. Much like Japan’s QB (“Quick Barber”) House, which has hundreds of stores operating under the slogan, “1,000 yen for 10 minutes,” HairPOD offers quick, stylish haircuts in convenient locations where consumers are likely to have a small window of time. The company is currently looking for franchise partners to help expand the business, and will likely also sell its HairPODs for about GBP 20,000 each. Warren has already received inquiries from entrepreneurs interested in using HairPODs for nails instead; what other services could be offered up in a pod? Spotted by: Nea Barman Aspiring musicians and filmmakers now have yet another new venue to vie for their big breaks. Part YouTube, part American Idol, OurStage provides a forum for artists to audition their talent directly to prospective fans, who vote for their favourites through a patent-pending judging process. Winners get more than just recognition—they can also win cash and other cool prizes. Here’s how it works: artists upload their songs or films and enter them into the appropriate channel competition. There are channels for just about every category or style, such as Acoustic, Indie/Alternative, Electronic, Metal, Solo Performance and Reggae for music and Animation, Comedy, Short Films, Trailers, Documentaries and so forth for films and videos. Fans judge works side by side, casting votes for their favourites as they go along. At the end of the month, the top 20 and top 10 in each channel go head-to-head, followed by a site-wide contest to pick the Grand Prize winner for that month. Channel winners get American Express gift cards in the amount of USD 100. And the Grand Prize winner receives a whopping USD 5,000. There are also special prizes and awards given by sponsors, which can be anything from books and other merchandise to one-on-one sessions with industry professionals or opening gigs for established bands. Funded in part by partnerships with companies such as Paste Magazine and other supporters of independent artists, OurStage is poised to revolutionize up and coming film and music scenes. What’s more, putting the power in the hands of the people who are actually purchasing CDs, concert tickets, movie passes and DVDs is a smart move for the industry. Entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry may want to keep an eye on this one as a meter for the everchanging music and movie tastes of the their target audiences. However, the bigger picture question here might be what other industries could benefit from a little healthy competition where consumers pick the winners. (Related: Bands funded by their fans and Dinner with a side of limelight.) Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Last June, we wrote about a t-shirt retailer whose shirts are custom-printed with a unique text message keyword and phone number. Anyone wanting to contact the t-shirt’s wearer or learn more about the message printed on the shirt can contact the wearer via a text message. US-based Augme goes a step further. Instead of a text message, the site lets users create a unique two-dimensional barcode. When scanned by a cell phone, the viewer’s phone links up with the website embedded in the code: could be the wearer’s MySpace profile or a favourite cause. Augme also lets users link to profile pages they create on the Augme site. And the revenue model? An online store selling customizable tees. The range of shirts is rather limited at the moment—there’s an opp for other entrepreneurs! 😉 In parts of Asia, the box-shaped codes are becoming as common as URLS and barcodes, and present a streamlined way to access information. One for savvy entrepreneurs and marketers in the rest of the world to dive into, feeding consumers’ infolust? Visit the Active Print Project to learn how marketers and others are using mobile-coded media. Spotted by: Arkay Earlier this year, we reported on NexGym—a youth fitness franchise that keeps youngsters moving through video game-inspired workouts. It turns out they’re not the only players capitalizing on kids’ fitness by incorporating video games. Canadian Bulldog Interactive Fitness and Colorado’s XRKade are getting in on exergaming, too. Bulldog Interactive Fitness founder Holly Bond was inspired by her own son’s childhood battle with weight—a problem she realized affected not just his health, but also his self-esteem. That’s why it was such a priority to develop fitness solutions that didn’t leave fun out of the equation. Children ages 3 and up can take advantage of PS2 game bikes, Dance Dance Revolution machines, simulated mountain-climbing treadwalls, circuit equipment and much more, including camps, classes and special team training programs. Customers can purchase single session passes or memberships in increments of three months or a year. Denver-based iTech Fitness launched XRKade with the same idea in mind of making fitness fun for kids by building on activities that already interest them—namely video games. In addition to consulting with a team of seasoned experts and industry professionals, iTech created an XRKade Jr. Board of Advisors ranging in age between 9 and 16 years old. The result? Fitness centers that feature the latest in virtual cycling, snowboarding, climbing, dance, tae kwon do and more. In fact, they might easily be confused as cutting edge video arcades rather than exercise facilities—which is precisely the idea. Franchising and licensing information for both companies is available online, but clearly this is a concept that can be replicated or adapted. An obvious next step might be to let adults in on the fun. It’s hard to imagine exergaming not quickly gaining popularity at any gym—even in office parks or senior living facilities, where a virtual climb through the Alps or boxing match might be just the ticket to inspire a newfound love of fitness! Websites: www.bulldoginteractivefitness.comwww.xrkade.com Spotted by: Darren Baxendale Medical recruiting agencies, like many others, typically focus on the nuts and bolts of the job when attempting to match up doctors and positions. Missing from that model, however, are many of the factors that can have just as big an effect on the success of the match—lifestyle factors like the surrounding culture, the availability of family-oriented services and activities, and the types of sports and recreation on hand nearby, all of which contribute to a doctor’s ultimate happiness with the position. MedRecruit aims to pick up where other recruiting efforts leave off by explicitly including lifestyle in the process of matching doctors with positions. Doctors who sign up for the free service, which currently serves just New Zealand and Australia, specify not just the details of their medical specialty and grade; they also tell MedRecruit what type of location they want and what sorts of family, cultural and recreational opportunities–skiing or surfing, for example. MedRecruit then helps find a good match among the hospitals and medical organizations it represents. Watchlists are available, as is 24-hour assistance, and MedRecruit facilitates all travel and accommodations. It even pays a 4 percent bonus to doctors who work exclusively through MedRecruit. Ultimately, the company says, the result is happier doctors and higher retention rates for the hospitals that hire them. With thousands of jobs available at hundreds of hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, MedRecruit was founded last year by Sam Hazledine, a doctor and skiing champion who wanted to create better balance between doctors’ work and personal lives. The same principle could well be applied to virtually every other profession, too. As everyone knows, happier employees translate into better performance all around—who’s going to argue with that? (Related: Jobs for working moms.) Spotted by: Natalie Ferguson