Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

A couple of years ago we wrote about Yummy Mummy Careers, a Canadian classified ad site designed for moms seeking jobs.* Inspired by that story, an Australian entrepreneur–Kate Sykes–launched a similar site in her own country. Though it’s named for working mothers, CareerMums actually includes in its target audience all skilled parents seeking work. With a national online jobs board and candidate board, the site aims to connect skilled parents with flexible employers offering full-time, part-time, job share and contract style roles. Using CareerMums is free for job seekers, who can set up job alerts, post their profiles for prospective employers, register and search for jobs. The site offers a range of resources to assist job-seekers in transitioning back into the workplace after parental leave, including survey data, a flexible work proposal toolkit, and tips on dealing with recruiters. CareerMums also works with employers to adopt flexible work practices and retain working parents, offering several plug-in HR toolkits toward that end. Will family-friendly workplaces ever become the norm? We sure hope so. In the meantime, sites like this can be replicated around the globe! * Yummy Mummy Careers added networking services to their website and now operates under a new name: connectmoms.com. We’ve already written about onsite haircuts, dentistry and nail services, and now another mobile concept in the world of health and beauty has built its business on transparency. Launched in April, Return to Glory is a platform for mobile beauty experts that brings a wide range of beauty, massage and fitness services to clients’ homes, offices, weddings and events. The London-based company was formed by a group of stylists and therapists who now work together as a uniform group, with a shared website, standard services and transparency every step of the way. Customers begin by inputting their postal code online and then browsing and selecting from a list of services available in their area–whether it’s makeup or hair, pilates, lymph drainage or personal shopping. From there they choose the date and time they want, and then view the specialists available to perform the service. Along with a photo, each specialist profile includes details of the professional’s background, qualifications and insurance; average star rating; and feedback from previous clients. Pricing is set by the hour rather than the treatment type, and is listed up front as well. Once the customer is happy with their selection, all bookings can be made instantly online or via text or telephone. Post-service, clients are asked to rank and provide feedback on the treatment they received. Beauty services have been an area sorely in need of some transparency tyranny, and the addition of mobile convenience and direct booking further sweetens the deal. Will Return to Glory set a new standard? In the meantime, how about bringing something like this to the rest of the world? Pedal-powered taxis and free love have both been around for years, but it wasn’t until just recently that one of our spotters saw them combined. Specifically, Dublin-based Ecocabs now offers free eco-taxi rides throughout the streets of the city. Ecocabs are pedal-powered (but battery-assisted, when necessary) tricycles that can accommodate three people for emissions-free transit through congested urban areas. Launched in April, they offer short-distance travel within the Dublin city centre from 10 am to 7 pm, seven days a week. Rides on the vehicles are free, of course, through the power of sponsorship. Vehicles are wrapped with brand-specific colours and imagery, and drivers can also hand out leaflets, wear branded clothing or target particular areas of the city. (Ecocabs are also available to act as a dedicated or on-demand shuttle service for customers, clients and employees, as well as at product launches, photo-shoots, trade-fairs, public sporting events, etc.) Current sponsors of the vehicles include 7Up, Yoplait and KPMG. Ecocabs have also been seen offering free rides on the streets of Toronto, and full-fare versions exist in numerous other cities. In Ireland, meanwhile, Ecocab is seeking franchise operators in Cork and Belfast. Time to start serving up some pedal-powered free love of your own….? (Related: Whispering billboards, talkative cab drivers and Cargo bikes for greener business deliveries in congested cities.) Spotted by: Keetsa via RK So-called dark restaurants, where sighted customers are literally thrown into utter darkness and served by blind waiters, have been around for nearly a decade. Since a seated meal goes only so far in giving people a sense of what it’s like to live without vision, Lisboa Sensorial organizes blindfolded walking tours of Lisbon. Developed by Cabracega, a new local creative agency, the walking tours take place in Alfama, which is Lisbon’s oldest district. After being securely blindfolded, participants are steered through Alfama’s narrow streets by a blind guide from the ACAPO (Portuguese Association for the Visually Impaired). The guide shares how he experiences his surroundings, and encourages participants to fully explore their altered perception of “the narrow streets, the smell of grilled sardines, the sound of a Fado that can be heard from afar.” A guide with historical knowledge of the area also accompanies each group. Cabracega explain that their project has two main goals: to provide participants with a new sensorial experience of their surroundings through the stimuli of smell, touch, taste and hearing, and the absence of vision. Secondly, they aim to make sighted people more aware of how the visually impaired experience the world, from a decidedly positive angle. Instead of focusing on perceived limitations, the tours allow blind people to take the visually unimpaired on an exploration of their alternate domains of stimuli, codes and references. Tours cost EUR 20 per person, all of which goes to ACAPO. The first tours took place earlier this month and were fully booked, and Lisboa Sensorial will be back with new sessions in September. Like the aforementioned dark restaurants—which spread from Zurich to London, Amsterdam, Montreal and beyond—this seems like a concept that’s worth copying to other cities. As if new parents don’t have enough on their hands, keeping friends and family updated on their little one’s weekly developments can feel like a full-time job. Enter Kidmondo, an online baby journal and organizer designed to help parents chronicle and share their child’s most important moments in a safe, secure and streamlined way. Launched in May, New York-based Kidmondo gives parents a central place to record their child’s milestones and share images with loved ones far and wide. Tools on the site include an “about” page with an evolving profile for the child; an online diary for sharing stories and milestones; a photo and video gallery; growth charts; medical and food journals; and an interactive timeline. Kidmondo can even provide an RSS feed or send e-mail updates for relations who desire the most up-to-the-minute information. Using the basic Kidmondo service with ads is free for up to three children and 25Mb of storage. Ad-free pricing is USD 5 monthly for up to 5 children and 100Mb of storage or USD 10 monthly for unlimited children and 500Mb for storage. Kidmondo is presented in English with US users in mind, but there are, of course, countless grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in need of baby updates all around the world. One to adapt to the local customs and language near you! Update: Kidmondo informed us that they hope to launch Spanish, Italian and French versions in the near future. We’ve featured examples of printing on demand for consumers who’d like to publish their own books, through services like Blurb. Instead of letting them print their own work, renowned British publishing house Faber & Faber now lets readers order books that have gone out of print. Faber Finds is starting off with a selection of 100 titles that have fallen off the backlist, including works by prominent 20th century novelists P.H. Newby and Angus Wilson. The venture uses specially designed software to generate print-ready covers that will be unique for every title, without requiring the (expensive) intervention of graphic designers. For more on the development of their clever design system, read the developer’s notes. Sold at prices comparable to regular trade paperbacks—slightly higher in some cases—Faber Finds titles have a production and delivery time of up to two weeks, and consumers can place orders online or through their local bookstore. Faber Finds will be adding more titles soon, planning to offer as many as 1,000 in four genres: fiction, non-fiction, art and poetry. (In the Telegraph, the list’s editor points out: “There will be no room for celebrity memoirs, ‘chick lit’ or pornography, but, otherwise the watchword is inclusion.”) It’s an inspiring example of ‘old media’ using digital technology and online retail to profit from niche markets. As is, of course, detailed in Chris Anderson’s theory of the Long Tail: “In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.” More publishers to follow Faber & Faber’s lead? Spotted by: Matthew De Ville On August 31st, the streets of Shoreditch, London, will be overrun by adults on kids’ tricycles as part of a new annual race to benefit local charities and social entrepreneurs. Thirty teams of up to three adults each will be invited to compete in the Shoreditch Grand Prix, based on the level of sponsorship they can raise by Aug. 14 on behalf of a charity or social project. Using supplied vehicles, they’ll then race to be first to complete the 5-lap course through the city streets some two weeks later. In the words of the event’s sponsors, “it’s a pedal powered race of epic proportions, mixing the glamour of Monaco, the endurance of Le Mans and the idiocy of adults attempting a street race on children’s toy tricycles.” 😉 The race is the brainchild of UnLtd, a charity that helps nearly 1,000 budding social entrepreneurs each year with a mix of cash, development support and networking, as well as creative agency Thin Martian and UnLtdWorld.com, a social network for social entrepreneurs. The aim is to run the event on a yearly basis in London, and then replicate it across the UK and eventually license the format globally, its organizers say. Corporate entry packages for the race start at GBP 1,000. An additional five trikes designed by artists will also be auctioned on eBay, which is one of the event’s sponsors. Whereas most fundraising events are tailored to established charities, the Shoreditch Grand Prix takes a different twist—and a refreshingly lighthearted approach—by focusing its efforts on diverse social entrepreneurs, social businesses and individuals running community projects. It’s a localized way to support the efforts of those working for local social change—one that can be licensed and copied in communities around the world. (Related: New brand for a new sport.) When we wrote about crowdsourcing product-improvement site RedesignMe late last year, we wondered how ideas generated by users of the site would get translated into real-world products. Well, now we have an answer: last week the Dutch company announced a new program by which users of the site get paid for their input on new products. How it works: product manufacturers pay RedesignMe to establish “RDM Challenges,” through which a new product concept is presented and the site’s 1,000 or so active members are asked to react to it. Currently on the site, for instance, is one from the international DECT Forum, a group of wireless communications companies that are seeking product ideas based on CAT-iq (short for Cordless Advanced Technology – Internet and Quality). Beginning with an initial proposed concept, users are free to modify the current design or upload their own ideas, using any combination of comments, sketches, pictures, mood-boards, movies, prototypes or total redesigns. In exchange, they are rewarded with RDMs—RedesignMe’s online currency, which is convertible into products in the online RDM Shop such as mp3-players, game consoles and gift cards. RDM Challenges can be open to all users or only a select few. Ideas generated on the site are then used as input by the manufacturer’s R&D team or professional designers, who decide on the final concept. Ultimately, the companies hope, the result will be products that are better aligned with what consumers really want. RedesignMe founder Maxim Schram explains: “In response to the launch of our website last year, a lot of manufacturers called us to ask if we could help them get input from consumers. They wanted to ask the community questions and were willing to pay for it. A couple of months later we did a pilot with Vodafone Group where we asked our members to redesign a mobile portal. The results were spectacular. Back then we gave away prizes for the best designs, but now with the RDMs we can reward even the slightest creative input.” This is where Generation C(ontent) becomes Generation C(ash), and it’s where crowdsourcing will reach its true potential. Companies benefit from the wisdom of the crowds, the crowds benefit with rewards and better products—and sites like RedesignMe benefit from facilitating it all. One to emulate on a niche or localized basis! Last year, we wrote about a Dutch collective of wind turbine owners, mostly farmers, who operate turbines as an extra source of income and sell the energy they produce directly to consumers. One of our spotters pointed out another venture that has consumers directly involved with farmers and sustainable energy. This time, however, the farmers aren’t producing energy to sell to others, but to power their own business. BoerENbuur (FarmerANDneighbour) is a network promoting alliances between farmers and their non-farming neighbours. One of the projects they’ve recently launched is buurZOEKTbuurvoorZONNEPANELEN—farmer seeks neighbour for solar panels. Since not every farmer can afford to buy a wind turbine, and some believe they would disfigure their part of the Dutch landscape, the project is asking individuals to buy shares of EUR 250 that will help participating farmers install solar panels on their roofs. In return, per share they’ll receive EUR 50 worth of produce from the farm, every year for six years. Plus the feelgood dividends of helping a farm become climate-neutral. Fifteen farmers have signed up for the first run, and the solar panels will be installed by the end of 2009. While it obviously isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme for anyone involved, grassroots initiatives like this make for a welcome antidote to corporate greenwashing. One to copy to other agricultural regions? (Related: Neighbourhood approach to renewable energy.) Spotted by: Bart van der Aa Last year we wrote about Urban Gentry‘s specialist tours of London, which included guided expeditions through the city focusing on art, fashion, interiors or shopping. Now recently launched Insider London has added a new niche to the mix with a tour focusing on London’s green side. Insider London’s “Cutting-Edge Green Tour” uses walking and public transport to show participants the most exciting and innovative sustainable retail concepts, buildings and designs that London has to offer. From eco-minded shops to futuristic architecture to inspiring communities, the tour aims to highlight the many innovative ways that sustainability can be brought to life. Lasting three hours, the tour costs GBP 12.50, and is “also an excellent opportunity to meet and network with other keen greens,” the company notes. Led by green marketing strategist Cate Trotter, the Cutting-Edge Green Tour recently won the Love London Travel Award. Insider London’s other tour topics include interior design, architecture, shopping, gay London and the city’s quirky side. With the growing legions of eco-minded consumers out there, focusing a city tour on that niche makes perfect sense. Who will show off other cities’ own eco initiatives…? Perhaps more important, what eco company will be first to sponsor one?