Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We’ve already covered numerous examples of women-only taxi services over the last year or so, and now the idea appears to be spreading to public transportation as well. In Mexico City, where millions of women bus riders have long endured groping and verbal abuse en route every day, a new, women-only bus service aims to create a safer and more comfortable ride. Mexico City created women-only subway cars years ago, and police reportedly enforce the segregation at rush hour. Beginning earlier this month, however, the same concept has been brought to the city’s crammed buses under what’s known as the Athena Program. Equipped with pink signs on the front to distinguish them, Mexico City’s 22 women-only buses currently serve three busy routes throughout the day, and plans are in the works to bring the total to 15 routes by April 2008. “Women were asking for this service because of the sexual harassment, especially groping and leering,” Ariadna Montiel, CEO of the bus system, told the Associated Press. Women-only buses and (subway) trains have also appeared in Egypt, India, Brazil, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan, along with taxis in the UK, Russia, India, Dubai and Iran. This trend shows no sign of waning; next, in more car-centric locales, how about women-only parking garages…? (For more examples of how companies are targeting women, check out our sister-site trendwatching.com’s female fever briefing.) Spotted by: RK Customised content has long been held up as the Holy Grail of digital publishing, and idiomag is making that promise a reality with a personalised, daily digital magazine about music that is based entirely on members’ individual interests. Launched just over a year ago, UK-based idiomag uses a system of weighted tagging to customise both content and advertising to readers’ personal musical tastes. Readers initially name their favourite music topics and weight the relative importance of each of them in the content they will view. idiomag then uses that information to serve articles, tracks, videos and other multimedia content in a high-quality, audio-visual virtual magazine format that readers can enjoy in page-by-page fashion. idiomag has content partnerships with publications including Billboard, 365mag and Hip Hop Nation as well as popular blogs such as Aurgasm and BlogCritics. It has also built up a large team of its own journalists across the UK. As readers rate the appeal of the content they view, idiomag intelligently adapts subsequent issues to reflect those changing preferences. Not insignificantly, advertisers benefit from idiomag’s personalisation system as well, with the ability to serve nonintrusive, full-screen and rich-media advertisements that closely match readers’ interests. A newly incorporated social element, meanwhile, uses Facebook integration to let readers get their idiomag within the social networking site, view their friends’ magazines and capture articles they like, submit articles, and view trends and favourites among the other idiomag readers on the site. idiomag also offers widgets to incorporate the magazine on other social networks, blogs or home pages. Subscriptions to idiomag are free for readers; advertisers are charged on a CPM basis, and revenue is shared with content providers based on their content’s popularity. When readers get the content they want and advertisers reach their target audiences in a targeted way, it really is hard to see a downside. One to bring to other niches, localities and topic areas! Spotted by: Cagla Pakel If the current sub-prime lending crisis in the US and the UK proves anything, it’s that even traditional lenders can act irresponsibly, despite the myriad government regulations designed to hold them in check. That sobering fact, together with the tightening liquidity and a possible upcoming recession, should give a boost to so-called peer-to-peer lending. For the uninitiated, P2P lending websites directly match borrowers seeking relatively small amounts of cash with private individuals willing to lend them the money. Borrowers post their needs, lenders make offers and everyone benefits from bypassing lending’s traditional middlemen who package loans for a fee. We first looked at P2P lending nearly three years ago when we profiled Zopa, a UK start-up which we described as “like eBay for money”. Since then we’ve covered other fast-growing P2P start-ups in the US, the Netherlands, Germany and China. And last week, Fynanz, which focuses solely on loans to students. The latest entrant on our radar screen is Fosik, which brings P2P lending to Australia. Like its counterparts elsewhere, Fosik touts the benefits of using the site’s tools as a way to formalize lending arrangements among family members and friends. Plus, the site notes that investors—whether they know the people they’re lending to or not—can benefit from returns that reach 10 percent or higher. Meanwhile, signs abound that the P2P lending is rapidly maturing. Prosper is seeking to create a secondary market around its loan portfolios. This would allow lenders to get quick cash by selling their loan portfolios to other investors. Is it too late for entrepreneurs to get into the P2P lending space? Probably not. Whether launching in new markets, targeting specific audiences or offering different types of financial services, there’s still plenty of room for peer-to-peer banking to grow. Spotted by: Tom Flaherty Ubiquitous computing is a trend that’s oft discussed and less frequently seen, but a shining new example just opened in New York City’s luxurious St. Regis Hotel. A restaurant called Adour now features a technology-driven, interactive wine bar that lets guests explore for themselves the wide variety of wines available. While the decor of the 72-seat restaurant features hues reminiscent of burgundy and chardonnay, Adour’s 4-seat wine bar is constructed from gold and bronze and covered in luxurious goat skin. Built-in interactive technology from Potion Design helps patrons choose a wine by allowing them to browse Adour’s complete wine list by wine type, country and varietal. Computer menus are projected from the ceiling onto the bar, and patrons make their choices by pressing on the bar’s surface. The first menu, for example, prompts guests to choose from a list of selections including By the Glass, By the Decanter, Sparkling Wines, Red Wines, White Wines, etc. Additional choices follow from there, including lists of countries, regions and wines. When a guest selects a particular wine, a rosette-shaped image is projected with information about the wine on each of its five petals, including details about the producer and the grapes. Adour’s Wine Director manages the wine list using a custom-designed content management system and can update the interactive bar daily or for special occasions. Adding a personal touch to its high-end experience, Adour also offers temperature-controlled, private wine vaults in its 12-seat private dining room to give guests a way to store their very own wine collection. Besides being an upscale novelty, Adour’s interactive bar feeds modern consumers’ apparently insatiable infolust with relevant information, and it incorporates that information into the real-world dining experience. It also educates consumers about wines, providing them with key status skills that (they hope) will elevate them above the rest of the crowd. All that and a highly engaging experience too! Mark our words: there’s more of this to come… Related: Interactive touch-bar combines drinks, ads & gamesWine by numbers, with a digital content twistBars use technology to blend online and offline interaction. Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen HOLZundEISEN—German for wood and iron—sells equipment for a new sport that’s taking off in cities around the world: urban golf. Also known as cross golf or street golf, urban golf isn’t limited to country clubs, and its players don’t have to fork over exorbitant greens fees (although a good personal liability insurance is advisable). Instead, they play their rounds on building sites, campuses, rooftops and quiet streets. Since urban golfers literally hit the pavement, HOLZundEISEN’s iron is extra durable. It’s equally suited to long and short shots, a definite advantage for golfers trekking through the city without a caddy. As befits a democratic game, the club is priced at an affordable EUR 22. The tongue-in-cheek brand, which describes the club’s design as ‘high-porno-anti-glamour style’, was founded by two German students aiming to promote the burgeoning sport. Besides its urban iron, HOLZundEISEN also offers tips and a Google map marked with urban golf ‘courses’ across Germany. One to distribute outside Europe? Or find your own up-and-coming sport and cater to its underserved players. Since manufacturers in China and other low(er) cost production countries are increasingly accessible, designing and manufacturing equipment for niche (sports) audiences is more feasible than ever. Spotted by: A.L. With hooligans grabbing the spotlight more often than not, warm and cozy aren’t terms that are usually associated with fans of European soccer/football. A new Swiss venture called Sleep-In could change that. Set up in advance of the 2008 European Football Championship that will take place in Switzerland and Austria this June, Sleep-In enables area residents from both countries to offer their homes to visiting soccer fans. Visitors can list the type of accommodations they’re looking for, and local hosts choose their temporary housemates based on the write-ups that guests submit. Besides access to accommodation that is low cost and in some cases free, the site’s overriding benefit, its organizers say, is the chance it affords both parties to meet new people. To make sure everyone is satisfied with the arrangements they negotiate, Sleep In exhorts its users to be truthful in the descriptions they place in their ads. We covered a comparable website last year, which facilitated bed-sharing at the Salone del Mobile in Milan and, like Sleep-In, didn’t feature advertising. However, revenues from ads could fuel similar sites for other events. The concept’s chief advantage is that it’s relatively easy to launch. A few days spent piecing together a website, sending out press releases and garnering blog posts might be all that’s required to generate some handy extra cash. Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen We’ve always said everything can be upgraded (or premiumized, in our sister site trendwatching.com’s current lingo) and the recruiting industry is no exception. To wit: TheLadders, a job site created exclusively for high earners looking for jobs paying USD 100,000 or more. TheLadders lists more than 35,000 new jobs each month—all of them with annual salaries of USD 100K or higher—including many C-level, vice president, director and manager positions. Seven functional areas are served by specialized search engines, creating “ladder” listings specific to sales, marketing, finance, human resources, law, technology and operations; an eighth list, meanwhile, captures all other fields. But just as the site focuses on high-end jobs, so, too, does it cater to high-end earners. Reasoning that free access makes it too easy for less-qualified candidates to flood recruiters with a deluge of poor-quality applications, TheLadders grants full access to its listings only to premium members, who must pay USD 30 a month for the privilege. Such members can access the full set of listed jobs as well as connect with corporate and executive recruiters. A one-on-one resume service, advice from career experts, customized online profiles and e-mail alerts are available, as are a host of services for recruiters. Since TheLadders was founded in 2003 by ex-HotJobs.com executive Marc Cenedella, the New York-based site has grown into the largest specialty employment website in the world, it says, with more than 1,600,000 members and over 35,000 recruiters using its .com and .co.uk websites. Last fall it was named a Momentum 2007 Company at the Momentum Growth Conference in recognition of its revenue growth over a short period of time, proven and scalable business model, user-base size, customers and partnerships. A good one to emulate, either in other regions or targeting niches with similarly simple boundaries. Personal gene sequencing may be just beginning to make its way into the mainstream commercial world (see our post on Genome mapping services, as well as DNA-driven dating, which we just covered), but it’s already getting upgraded. Witness Knome, which is offering whole-genome mapping for USD 350,000. Launched in November, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Knome is offering just 20 individuals the opportunity to participate in its debut by having their entire genomes sequenced. Whereas the contenders we’ve already written about have focused on sequencing just key parts of the human genome for anywhere between USD 985 and USD 2,500, Knome will map out and analyse the entire thing–something only two people have had done before. That means decoding the 6 billion bits of information that make up an individual’s genome, and the result is a comprehensive view of more than 20,000 genes and insight into the individual’s risk of developing up to 2,000 common and rare conditions. Knome’s price also includes a thorough analysis and continued support by a team of geneticists, clinicians and bioinformaticians. Clients will retain full ownership of their personal genome and have the ability to anonymously share all or portions of it with researchers and other medical professionals. Dr. George Church, PhD, a cofounder of the firm and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, explains: “In 2003, the Human Genome Project completed a 12-year effort to sequence the first human genome at a cost of USD 3 billion. Only very recently have costs come down to a level where it is now feasible for private individuals to be sequenced and analyzed. We expect this evolution to quickly usher in a new era in personalized medicine.” Need we say more? As this type of service becomes more commonplace, there will be plenty of demand for medical consultants who can put it all in perspective. Something tells us there may be a whole new market for medical lawyers as well… Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Of all the markets that could benefit from increased price transparency, the one for used cars surely ranks near the very top. Pricing sites have emerged in one area after another—including Zillow for home buyers—but now used-car buyers finally have one of their very own with the launch last fall of PriceHub. San Francisco-based PriceHub was created by two car enthusiasts who have collectively bought, owned and sold more than 30 (mostly used) cars over the last decade. They observed that while car buyers can refer to published invoice prices, MSRP prices, book values, trade-in values and other estimates of valuation, there was no source of real, actual car transaction prices. PriceHub, now in beta, is dedicated to providing that price transparency as well as a community for people to share and discuss prices. Users of the site can search for a car’s make and model, and PriceHub will furnish a chart listing transactions made, including model year, mileage, condition, location, transaction date and actual sale price. People who have just bought a used car can submit the price they paid, thereby adding more data to the list, and PriceHub gathers sale prices from various auctions, agencies and dealers as well. Used-car sellers, meanwhile, can get a better indication of how much they can reasonably charge given their car’s make, year, options and mileage. Sellers on Craigslist have even been spotted using PriceHub to justify their asking price, according to the company blog. Exposing pricing information for all to see is an example of what our sister site trendwatching.com would call transparency tyranny—a phenomenon that’s informing buyers and leaving sellers with no place to hide. The lesson for companies: Offer real value, or pay the (figurative) price yourself! Spotted by: Bill McMahon Last year we covered muesli that’s mixed to order, and now You Bar has brought another customizable food to the table with its design-your-own nutrition bars. Customers of You Bar can choose every ingredient that goes into their nutrition bars: the base, protein powders, nuts and seeds, fruits and berries, sweeteners, seasonings, grains and infusions. One consumer might select cashew butter with shredded coconut, organic molasses and nutty rice cereal, for example; another might choose dates, soy protein, walnuts, ground cinnamon and dried banana. Special requests such as for organic ingredients or “extra crunchy” can also be accommodated. Consumers can choose a name for their specially designed bars, and You Bar will print it on each wrapper. For those feeling overwhelmed by the list of choices, on the other hand, You Bar offers three popular bar styles—”Honey Cashew,” “Great Date with Chocolate” and “Breakfast Bar”—that are still customizable, but based on set ingredients. All bars are freshly made to order in You Bar’s kitchens; pricing is USD 40 plus shipping for 12 fully customized bars, or USD 30 plus shipping for 12 of one of You Bar’s popular styles. Los Angeles-based You Bar was founded about two years ago by a mother-and-son team frustrated with the limited choices on the retail shelves. They’re certainly in good company, as consumers have begun to expect having it their way, all the time. Because the bars fall into the realm of snack foods, they also lend themselves particularly naturally to use as gifts—promotional or otherwise. It’s hard to imagine a health club, for example, that couldn’t delight its members with specially concocted and self-named nutrition bars. (Related: Custom vitamin packs, Blends for Friends tea.) Spotted by: Jonathan Teller