Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We’re deviating from our regular schedule to bring you the best new business ideas of 2007, featuring our personal favourites. This isn’t a trip down memory lane—all of these smart concepts will continue to provide entrepreneurs with plenty of opportunities in 2008. Next up: telecom and mobile.
  1. Teaching people to use their feature-rich phones: Since the dawn of the personal computer age, millions of us have attended training classes to learn how to build better spreadsheets and killer PowerPoint presentations. Now, as cell phones and other mobile gadgets become increasingly complex and loaded with features, entrepreneurs are finding similar opportunities in the mobile market. More »
  2. Voice to text dictation from any cell phone: Turning any cell phone into an eager personal scribe, Jott transforms spoken messages into text. After signing up for the service online and validating their phone number and email address, users dial Jott’s toll free number, speak for up to 30 seconds and then hang up. Jott transcribes the spoken words into writing, and sends the message to its destination as an email or text message. More »
  3. Launch your own mobile network: We’ve written about mobile virtual network operators for gay customers, for 16-24 year olds and for charity. Now, anyone can start their own MVNO using Sonopia, which launched earlier this week. Sonopia works with Verizon to handle calls and data transfer, and lets anyone from rock bands to church groups set up their own mobile network brand. More »
  4. Zero cents per minute: Blyk, a mobile virtual network operator that launched this year, bills itself as a pan-European free mobile operator for young people. The company offers 16 to 24-year-olds 217 texts and 43 minutes every month, for free, funded by advertising. More »
  5. Selling wine by sms: After encountering a great wine in a restaurant or at a friend’s house, instead of vowing to remember the name and vintage, Dutch consumers can now dash off an sms to BuyYourWine.com. The online wine seller quotes them a price and delivery details, and customers can order a bottle or case by texting back. More »
  6. Build your own mobile phone: US start-up Bug Labs wants to harness consumer creativity by enabling tech-savvy do-it-yourselfers to create their own mobile devices. The company has designed several basic hardware modules that snap together like building blocks to perform whatever mobile function their owners desire. More »
  7. A Blind Call: accidental charity: Every cell phone user has done it: forgot to lock their phone’s keypad and accidentally called the first person in the contact list. Usually some unlucky person by the name of Aaron or Abigail. Belgian ad agency Duval Guillaume came up with a clever campaign that turns accidental calls into semi-accidental donations to the Belgian League for the Blind. More »
  8. Mobile loo locator: While some mobile services work towards such lofty goals as helping people find their soul mates, or making local government more efficient, others focus on more basic needs. San Francisco’s MizPee and London’s SatLav are location-based services that let people use their mobile phones to find the nearest public toilet. More » and more »
  9. Nutritionists on speed dial: Most dieticians agree that food awareness and healthy eating habits beat a fad diet any day. The problem is that most people don’t have the discipline, time or interest to continuously track what they’re eating and how many calories each meal or snack adds to their daily intake. Two services, in Japan and Canada, let consumers use their cameraphones to track their meals and have them analysed by nutritionists. More »
  10. Dialogue t-shirts: T-shirts have long been conversation starters, letting their wearers express bold political views, support their favourite artist or display their quirky sense of humour. Reactee takes the interaction to another level by harnessing the power of text messaging, creating t-shirts that “text back”. More »
We’re deviating from our regular schedule to bring you the best new business ideas of 2007, featuring our personal favourites. This isn’t a trip down memory lane—all of these smart concepts will continue to provide entrepreneurs with plenty of opportunities in 2008. Today: fashion & beauty. Enjoy!
  1. Full provenance sweaters: Brands are increasingly sharing detailed information on their products’ sources and background. In the Netherlands, new knitwear brand Flocks gives customers details about the individual animals that provided the wool for their sweaters and mittens. More »
  2. DIY dress design: Couture gets personal with StyleShake—a new online venture that lets creative customers design their own duds, picking from a selection of quality fabrics and putting together dresses from virtual pattern pieces to create truly personal pieces that can be delivered to their door in as little as 10 days. More »
  3. Wedding boutique for gay men: With same-sex marriage and registered partnerships now legal in a growing number of countries, a whole new bridal industry is springing up to cater to the demands and wishes of gay and lesbian couples. Spotted in Barcelona: BY, Europe’s first wedding shop for gay men. More »
  4. Sampling salons for cosmetics: Given the overwhelming array of cosmetics and high price tags on many department store offerings, it’s no wonder customers are wary of plunking down their hard-earned dollars without first trying a product. Department store make-up counters have long offered testers, but not without a sales pitch. Cosmetics shoppers in Tokyo now have an alluring alternative—sampling salons. More »
  5. Socks with a story: Swiss Netgranny is a collective of 15 grannies who knit socks on demand and sell them online. Customers can choose their favourite granny from a gallery of Grosis. More »
  6. Web retailer helps find the perfect fit: Every body is different, and just five or six percent of bodies fit the model that most designers use as their standard. Which is why MyShape, a women’s apparel retailer, is using proprietary technology to customize selections to a customer’s individual shape. More »
  7. Baby clothes rental service: Since newborns grow out of a clothing size every month or so in the first half year of their lives, German Lütte-Leihen came up with a solution: a layette rental service for a fixed fee per month. Clothes are delivered by post. Once babies grow out of a size, the set can be exchanged for the next size up, free of charge. Like Netflix for baby clothes. More »
  8. Cosmetics brand prices everything at $1: Take a high-margin product like cosmetics, and cut prices by at least half. Now add online accessibility with customization, community and values. Throw in a pinch of demystifying expert advice, and you’ve got e.l.f., which sells cosmetics for eyes, lips, face and nails for just one dollar per item. More »
  9. A social marketplace for clothes hounds: Now that social networks have become a regular part of the fabric of modern life, segmentation is well under way, with communities popping up all over focused on specific groups and interests. Case in point: OURthreads.com, a social marketplace designed specifically for users interested in fashion, clothing and accessories. More »
  10. Manicures on the go: In this perpetually time-crunched era, it’s no secret that finding time for personal grooming services like haircuts and manicures can be a challenge. Which is why :10 Minute Manicure is going after consumers whose nails need some speedy attention in airports in busy commercial centres. More »
We’re deviating from our regular schedule to bring you the best new business ideas of 2007. Over the next two weeks, we’ll feature our personal favourites, categorized by industry. This isn’t a trip down memory lane—all of these smart concepts will continue to provide entrepreneurs with plenty of opportunities in 2008. First up: automotive. Enjoy!
  1. Person to person parking space rental: Peasy.com is an online marketplace for parking spaces, enabling drivers to search for and book spaces before they leave home, and letting British homeowners monetize unused parking spaces by adding them to the network. More »
  2. Stress-free car shopping: American buyers who are in the market for a new car, but don’t want the headaches of searching and haggling for the best price, now have an alternative that can help them sidestep the usual dealership woes. More »
  3. Integrated auto insurance for teens: A combined package of insurance and a GPS tracking device (the ‘Safety Beacon’), Teensurance offers parents the ability to monitor their teenager’s behaviour on the road. More »
  4. Mobile car rental, wherever it’s needed: Aiming to become more nimble, car rental company Europcar is introducing mobile car rental facilities in the UK. Small rental booths are hooked up to the company’s central booking system and are manned by an agent during peak hours. During off hours, customers can drop off keys and make their own reservations over a built-in reservation hotline. More »
  5. Car dealership catches female fever: Although research finds that women are responsible for the bulk of purchasing decisions, one arena that continues to overlook this important target market is auto dealerships. Not so at Vancouver’s Clutch. More »
  6. Ridesharing with a social twist: One of the problems with traditional carpool matching sites has been the anxiety most people feel when faced with the prospect of sharing a car with someone they don’t know. The solution? Tap into the power of social networking. More »
  7. Insurance discounts for GPS-guided drivers: Drivers who use GPS devices are less damage-prone than their old- school brethren. Which is why a Dutch insurance company is giving them 10% discount on their auto insurance. More »
  8. Crowd clout & Japanese auto parts: An Australian start-up is focusing on a ‘group buying’ niche: parts for Japanese performance cars. Auto Group Buy aims to combine the purchasing power of car owners with a keen passion for modifying, tuning and styling their vehicles. More »
  9. Zipcar uses mobile GPS to pinpoint nearest car: Zipcar members can use their GPS-enabled cell phones to find the nearest vehicle and make an instant reservation, making spontaneous car-sharing easier than ever. More »
  10. Navigate with your own voice: While most personal navigation devices come with a variety of voices to select from, from soft-spoken to stern, they all get boring after a while and aren’t, well, personal. Now they can be: it’s possible to have your own voice, or that of a loved one, tell you when to turn right. More »
While most personal navigation devices come with a variety of voices to select from, from soft-spoken to stern, they all get boring after a while and aren’t, well, personal. To the rescue comes YourPND. For EUR 6.95, users can record instructions on www.yourpnd.com using their computer’s microphone. Recording a full set of instructions takes 7 minutes. Once they’re done, YourPND creates a file that the navigation device will be able to use, and gives full instructions on how to install. Instead of the basic “Turn right at the next junction,” users are encouraged to get creative, adding their favourite catchphrases. Or someone’s name: YourPND is pitched as a perfect gift. Customers can record instructions and have them sent to a recipient on a USD flash drive, for EUR 19.95 including shipping. YourPND currently only supports TomTom’s navigations devices, with other systems to follow soon. Another smart example of personalization as a business concept! (Related: Insurance discounts for GPS-guided drivers.) Spotted by: RK We first covered “a deal a day” websites in 2006. Since then, the concept has proliferated, with niche and regional players joining the field. Nonetheless, Ideeli, which is due to launch next week, caught our eye. Like Woot and others, Ideeli creates buyer excitement with deep discounts and by only selling one item at a time. Unlike Woot, Ideeli is members-only and new users need an invitation to sign up. Members are alerted by email when sales start. Premium (1st Row) members also receive a cell phone alert and have access to sales one hour earlier than 2nd Row members. The subscription service provides an additional stream of income for Ideeli—1st Row members pay USD 7.99 per week, billed to their cell phone. While in testing mode over the past 6 months, 10 percent of members chose to sign up for 1st Row access. Besides making money through subscriptions and on items sold, Ideeli is also supported by sponsors looking to promote products. Brands can sponsor weekly giveaways or have Ideeli include samples with customer purchases. The New York venture is focusing on the female market, selling luxury handbags, sunglasses and jewellery for 50 to 90% off the original price. As Ideeli puts it: “It’s like a sample sale, but no getting elbowed.” Spotted by: Sara Jacobsen Norwegian Jule Tre Fra Skogen (“Christmas trees from the forest”) believes that every tree is unique, and shouldn’t be sold anonymously. So, founders Anders and Bartosz trekked into the woods with a camera and took pictures of the trees they liked, and gave them names inspired by their appearance: Kjedelig Tre (boring tree), Jesus Gran (Jesus spruce), Voldsomt Ordinær Gran (Highly ordinary spruce), etc. The snapshots were posted online to let customers find a tree they like the look of. Trees are priced at NOK 300 (USD 54 / EUR 37.50) and reserved by emailing Jule Tre Fra Skogen. Anders and Bartosz then head back into the forest to carefully chop down the selected trees for delivery to Oslo. Customers can pick up their tree at a central meeting point or have it delivered for an extra NOK 100 (USD 18 / EUR 12.50). While your inner Grinch might find the concept overly whimsical, JTFS’s personal touch is entirely in line with a strong consumer trend—the desire for authenticity and story elements. Buyers don’t just like picking a tree with a name, they also enjoy sharing the whole story with friends and family. “The tree? Yeah, we bought it online, from these crazy guys who went out and took pictures of trees and gave them names. We picked this one, and they went back and got it for us.” Start preparing now to set up something similar locally in time for next year’s holiday season. And how about Easter eggs from a personable hen of your choice? Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Get people from the same industry into a room together, and they’ll invariably spend the whole time talking shop; get them into a social network together, and the whole industry could benefit from the discussion. That’s a rough approximation of the idea behind FohBoh, a new vertical social network dedicated to those involved in the global restaurant industry. California-based FohBoh (a play on the insider terms “front of house”—FOH—and “back of house,” or BOH) is designed to enable connection, communication and commerce among employees, owners, operators, vendors, suppliers and service providers of the restaurant and hospitality industries worldwide. Personal profiles, blogs, forums, groups, photos and videos are among the social networking tools available to members of the site, which just launched in November. Beginning in January, it will kick off a rewards program that gives members the opportunity to earn points for community participation, redeemable for gifts and shadow stock in FohBoh. Membership on the site is currently free, but in the future FohBoh plans to offer value-added, subscription services such as a job bank and restaurant marketplace. It also plans to host sponsored live events in regions around the globe and travel excursions for networking and education. Advertising opportunities are coming soon too. General-purpose professional networking site LinkedIn currently boasts more than 17 million users, but there are 40 million workers or so involved in the global restaurant industry alone, FohBoh says. Time to unleash the vertical contenders—in hospitality and beyond! Spotted by: Mark McKellier Local artists have long donated their talents in support of charities—to the benefit of both. Artists get name recognition, and worthy causes receive cash from the sale of donated works. British venture Part of It shows how the concept can be streamlined and taken online, and in a way that perhaps more effectively harnesses the creative energies of the artists who are showcased. While many charities solicit donated works from artists as part of a fundraising effort, Part of It invites artists to submit works in support of causes they themselves are passionate about. Money from the products’ sales, of course, goes to the charities they’ve chosen. The likely theory being: an artist just might channel some of that passion into a superior work. The bright designs of Part of It’s t-shirts and tote bags support causes ranging from saving polar bears to combating dyslexia. That’s also in keeping with a philosophy shared by founders Christopher Sleboda and Kathleen Burns who are themselves artists. “Activism,” the pair say on their website, “can be fun, personal, beautiful and engaging.” Bios of contributing artists help establish links between products, creators and buyers. That kind of person-to-person connection is eons removed from what consumers experience at large retailers when purchasing mass-produced items marked with a charity badge denoting that an (often undisclosed) portion of proceeds will be donated to a good cause. We’re not saying that massive fundraising doesn’t make a huge difference to charities. But—as is the case in many areas of business—small can be big for social entrepreneurs looking to make a connection while making a difference. Spotted by: Ozgur Alaz Coffee drinkers around the world are expected to consume almost 7 million tonnes of the stuff each year by 2010, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and that means a heck of a lot of spent grounds to dispose of. Rather than throw the nitrogen-rich material into landfills, global chain Starbucks has found a greener solution by giving it away to consumers with gardens. Eco approaches may be all the rage today, but Starbucks’s Grounds for Your Garden program actually began as a grassroots initiative back in 1995. After growing steadily for almost a decade, it was officially launched in 2003, offering up free spent coffee grounds to North American customers year-round on a first come, first serve basis. Grounds are packaged in reused coffee bags and sealed with simple directions for using them in the garden or compost pile, where they can help improve soil quality. “Coffee grounds are a valuable source of nutrition for the garden,” explains Ben Packard, director of environmental affairs for Starbucks. “Reusing coffee grounds in the garden is a great alternative to disposing this rich resource from our stores. It’s a win for gardeners and a win for Starbucks.” Indeed, now that the spotlight is shining full-force on companies’ environmental practices, this kind of approach really is a win-win for everyone. It’s relatively low-cost and easy to implement, but it means less waste in the landfills, a benefit for consumers and their gardens, and a warm and fuzzy green image for Starbucks—definitely worth emulating! Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Two days ago, we covered a Brighton grocer who only sells products produced within 50 miles of his store. Opening today on the other side of the Atlantic, is a Brooklyn establishment that operates on a similar premise. Urban Rustic, located in Williamsburg, is a grocery store and café that aims to connect local urbanites with local farmers and producers, much like farmers’ markets do. The store will primarily sell food and dry goods produced less than 100 miles from Brooklyn. Anything from farther afield will be sourced from sustainable sources. One of the shop’s founders is Aaron Woolf, who produced and directed King Corn, a documentary about America’s most productive and most subsidized grain. It’s no surprise, then, that Urban Rustic is well-stocked with stories: from details about its upstate New York apple and arugula farmers, to the provenance of the store’s timber, sustainably milled from Woolf’s own property in the Adirondacks. More uber-local grocers to follow soon, no doubt! Contact: 236 N. 12th Street, Williamsburg