Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

London karaoke bar Lucky Voice has already appeared on our pages once before, but we’re compelled to mention it again for an initiative it recently announced on one of our favourite themes. Specifically, through its new “Worthy Worker Mondays” program, Lucky Voice is offering two hours of free karaoke singing to registered charity workers, nurses, doctors and others “who dedicate their lives to the greater good.” Teachers, firefighters, police officers, prison officers and social workers are also included, though the list of qualifying occupations isn’t strictly limited, the company says, and not everyone in a party need qualify—just the person making the reservation. The offer is available for all room sizes between 5pm and 1am every Monday at Lucky Voice Soho and Lucky Voice Islington. A special cocktail will also be created each month and priced at just GBP 5. The Worthy Worker Mondays program is an ongoing one, with no planned end date, the company says. On a side note, Lucky Voice has apparently been busy cooking up ideas lately, and is actually also in the midst of an effort that taps right into another longtime Springwise theme with a pop-up karaoke offering in a shop in London’s Newburgh Quarter by Carnaby Street. Free singing will be available there every day from 12pm to 7pm through April 5. Both programs are nice examples of free love, of course, but the Worthy Worker Mondays initiative adds a dash of sympathy and is a shining illustration of the corporate generosity that’s increasingly valued—nay, demanded—by members of today’s Generation G. How can *your* company give something back to the unsung heroes of the world? Spotted by: Naomi There’s no doubt the internet has transformed the way people communicate; what’s less clear is that people are willing to let the old methods disappear. We’ve already seen companies that transform emails into paper letters; now, an Australian contender has resurrected none other than the classic telegram. Focusing on the role telegrams have long played as historical records documenting significant events, Telegram Stop provides novelty telegrams with a classic look and feel that’s designed for posterity. Users simply type their message online—up to 400 characters are allowed—and then preview the resulting telegram, which includes the traditional “stop” in place of periods. Both domestic and international service is available for a single, set price of USD 4.70; delivery takes 4 to 6 business days. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as they say—particularly when consumers are willing to pay a price for nostalgia. One to emulate on a niche basis, such as birth announcements or wedding invitations….? Spotted by: Craig Winkler Helping consumers be prepared, SurvivalStraps are paracords disguised as bracelets, belts, watch straps, key fobs, anklets and dog collars. In an emergency, a bracelet can be unraveled to up to 26 feet of military grade nylon cord, while belts contain up to 200 feet of cord. The parachute cord can be used for anything from pulling someone out of a river to building a makeshift shelter. Once used, the cord (along with the story of how it was used) can be sent to the manufacturer to be rewound into the original accessory. Manufactured by Tough Gear Inc, a small family-run company in Florida, the accessories come in 900 different color combinations, with a choice of plastic side-release buckle or marine grade stainless steel shackle. In the few years since Tough Gear went into business, the company has grown from selling directly to a few friends to a customer base in the thousands. Products that enhance preparedness in case of emergency can provide consumers with a feeling of safety, addressing a general unease caused by economic crises, war, floods and environmental concerns. Want to get in on the action? Figure out how to embed prepared-for-anything features in your own products or services, give them a survival-chic spin, and don’t forget the all-important status skills and story elements. Spotted by: Sofia Larsson We’ve written about urban bikes stations before, and are happy to see the concept popping up in other parts of the world. Spotted in Brisbane: Cycle2City, which claims to be the first full-service facility for bicycle commuters in Australia. Brisbane City Council and Queensland Transport teamed up to fund construction of the facility, which gives cyclists a place to store their bikes and change into business attire. Since opening last June, Cycle2City has signed up 400 members who have access to secure bike parking, air-conditioned locker rooms, showers, laundry service and free bike maintenance classes at the in-house maintenance and repair workshop. Members are encouraged to commit to using the facilities five days a week (at AUD 120.00 for one month or AUD 660.00 for six months), but three-day-per-week ‘permanent casual’ memberships and daily use options are also available. Cycle2City is just one element of Brisbane’s commitment to encouraging citizens to replace driving with cycling—the city’s mayor has also announced that AUD 100 million will be spent on new bikeways over the next four years. As the number of cycling commuters grows around the world, so will the need for products and services that help make a smooth transition from four wheels to two. Bike-loving entrepreneurs—get going! Spotted by: Brenton Nicholls When it’s time to make an important decision, technology can help consumers on the research end, but it’s humans they typically turn to for practical advice. There’s no substitute for a trusted advisor familiar with one’s tastes and preferences—or, at least, there wasn’t until recently. Led in part by Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake, Hunch is a brand-new decision-making tool that gets to know the user first and then offers customised suggestions. Users of the site—which just opened its doors to the public on Friday—can ask its help in making any decision, whether it’s “what dinner recipe should I make?” or “should I send my kids to private school?”. They begin by telling Hunch a little bit about themselves through an introductory set of questions—”Where is your home located?,” for example (suburbs, rural or city), and “Do you like bumper cars?”. Then, when it comes time to make a decision, a core algorithm based on machine learning asks the user up to 10 structured questions on the topic, any of which can be skipped at the user’s request. Using those answers—along with what it already knows about the user’s particular preferences—the system proposes a customised solution. Accompanying each decision is an explanation of how Hunch arrived at it, and users can vote on whether they agree with the result, as well as suggesting new topics and questions. In that way, the system gets smarter over time—almost Wikipedia-style—reflecting the corrections and suggestions of users. Contributions to the site earn credibility points in the form of “banjos” and badges for users. Meanwhile, as it learns more about each individual user’s personality and preferences, Hunch also further refines its decision results for that person. “It’s like a friend getting to know someone’s taste and preferences over time, so they can provide sound and trusted advice,” as the site puts it. Overall, “our long-term goal is for a user to be able to come to Hunch with any decision she is pondering, and after answering a handful of questions, get as good a decision as if she had interviewed a group of knowledgeable people or done hours of careful research online.” Some Hunch decision result pages include links to external commerce sites, in which case the site earns referral fees from the linked merchants—but such links have no effect on the decision results, the site says. Some 500 decision topics, 5,000 follow-up questions and more than 30,000 possible decision outcomes are already available on Hunch, with new ones being added every day. And while the New York-based site is currently available only to people who request an invitation and create an account, that requirement will be lifted in May. It’s early days on this one, but the potential is compelling—one to try out, partner with, or otherwise get involved in…? (Related: Private Klusters help groups make decisions.) There’s nothing like a sudden flurry of like-minded contenders to suggest an idea is a good one. Case in point: The proverbial ink had barely dried on our story last week about Spareground, the site that helps UK consumers rent out unused space, when we were alerted to not one but two similar services. Los Angeles-based Homstie, for example, bills itself as a community marketplace for storage space. Launched by a team of UCLA students, Homstie aims to provide an alternative to the USD 22 billion storage industry and its rental fees of USD 700 per month or more. Listing and searching for space on Homstie are both free; the only fees the company charges are for making listings featured or highlighted—priced at USD 3 and USD 2, respectively—and for a custom lease agreement, which is priced at USD 19. Homstie does not facilitate rental payments, but it does offer member profiles, identity verification and a feedback system. Users of ad-supported Homstie can browse for listings by proximity to major California universities or by region across the United States. Store at My House, meanwhile, also serves US consumers with listings of parking and storage space nationwide. Users can search the ad-supported site by ZIP code for the space they need; if they can’t find it, they can also create a request. Reputation ratings for space providers on the site, meanwhile, help ensure safety. Enough said? The economy doesn’t look to be making any dramatic improvements anytime soon, so there’s still plenty of opportunity to spread this concept around the globe. So far, just the US and the UK seem to be covered; one to bring to cash-strapped consumers in a market near you? Spotted by: May Almero-Cruz and Susannah Haynie When we wrote about RFID-enabled pokens last month, we noted that business professionals might prefer something slightly less cute than pandas on their keychains for exchanging digital contact details. As if on cue, Virginia-based Mingle360 recently launched the MingleStick, a small, sleek keychain device that serves as an electronic business card. The MingleStick is a single-button device with an infrared sensor on one end and a capped USB connector on the other. When two users meet, they both point their MingleSticks at each other and click the button to create a successful connection, which is indicated by a small green light. At the end of the day, they can each plug their device into their computer; the Mingle360 website automatically launches and they can log into their account to view the connections they made that day. Address book, calendar, messaging, group organization and content sharing features are all available through the company’s MingleManager application, as are privacy controls that let the user decide how much information to share with each new acquaintance. Currently, the MingleStick is aimed at organizers of trade shows and other events. Service pricing includes a setup fee, security deposit and per-device rental fee that begins at USD 20 but is negotiable based on volume and other factors. Branding opportunities are also available. The MingleStick has already been used at multiple trade shows, conventions and singles events, and provides yet another excellent example of the digital lifestyle lubricants that are increasingly blurring the lines between online and off. It’s also the first we’ve seen offered on a rental basis for events, sidestepping entirely the problem of achieving the critical mass that would otherwise be necessary to make the devices useful. One to try out, partner with or otherwise get involved in early….? (Related: Connecting online and off with RFID for the massesRFID collar tag helps dog owners meet new friendsShopping by invitation onlyDating cards fuse physical and virtual connections.) Much like the build-your-own-magazine concept from HSBC that we covered last year, a brand-new initiative from Lexus, Time and American Express Publishing is giving consumers a new way to create their own personalised magazine. Dubbed “mine,” the free magazine invites readers to choose editorial content from five of eight select Time and American Express Publishing brands: Time, Sports Illustrated, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Money, InStyle, Golf, and Travel + Leisure. Participants can choose to receive their magazine either in a limited-edition print format or online—some 31,000 copies of each print issue and 200,000 electronic copies are available, and readers receive a new issue every two weeks for 10 weeks. Each issue is 36 pages, with advertising tailored for each recipient based on geographic location and taste, as determined by their answers to four initial questions. Since Lexus’s participation is to help mark the launch of its new Lexus 2010 RX, four single-page ads for the vehicle are included in each issue as well. Readers can also receive news and entertainment alerts through a customised widget or mobile application via RSS. The program ends June 15. In addition to providing yet another illustration of the world’s increasing customisability, such an offering could also prove to be an excellent perk to deliver to Lexus customers—as we noted in the HSBC case as well. It’s good to give customers free love, but letting them choose what form that love takes is even better. Customisation and perkonomics—go forth and multiply! 😉 (Related: Personalised music mag.) Update: This New York Times article is worth reading for its background details on Mine’s launch, including a few operational glitches. Some interesting data on uptake, too: “Through its website, Time Inc. made 200,000 digital versions and 31,000 print versions available. So far almost all the print editions have been claimed, while fewer than 30,000 digital versions have been ordered, Lexus said.” The deadline for the Best Job in the World may have passed weeks ago, but those looking for a contest-based change of career needn’t fear: a new one was just announced that promises the chance to become an airplane pilot. Malaysian airline AirAsia recently launched the “So You Wanna Be a Pilot?” contest, by which it’s offering 10 people the chance to become a pilot. No experience or training is necessary; all contestants must do is submit a blog entry between 1 April and 15 May explaining why they deserve the opportunity. They must also meet a set of minimum requirements, such as being aged 18 to 28, having a good command of both English and Bahasa Malaysia, and having a minimum height of 163 cm. Ten winners will be selected, entitling them to attend the first round of selection for AirAsia’s new pilot intake program and spend a day with a select group of pilots at AirAsia Academy. A place in the pilot training program is not guaranteed, but applicants will have a chance to dig further into the profession and maybe even have a go at computer pilot simulation series. “The road after this is yours and yours alone,” the site explains. “We will pave the way but you have to do the running till the end.” Whereas the Best Job in the World was designed to focus attention on the Great Barrier Reef Islands, AirAsia’s program is more of a fresh twist on the traditional recruitment process. And if that twist can work for hiring new pilots, what’s to say it couldn’t be used—with varying degrees of modification—to find your next blogger, marketing manager or sysadmin? Be inspired! Spotted by: Judy McRae Frozen yoghurt is a topic we’ve already covered on a few different occasions: first the Korean-style frozen yoghurt trend, as exemplified by shops like Pinkberry and Red Mango, and then the arrival of self-serve contender Yogurtland. Now adding further differentiation to the industry is Sno:la, a Beverly Hills-based shop that bills itself as a socially conscious alternative. Sno:la’s shops—it just opened one in Kyoto as well, with another due to launch in Santa Monica soon—are designed to be eco-minded and plastic-free. All containers are biodegradable and compostable, with yoghurt cups made of sugar cane, verrine cups made of corn, and spoons made from wood and potatoes. Sno:la’s countertops are crafted from recycled computer chips, and tabletops are based on eucalyptus, a fast-growing and sustainable tree. Wall decorations are made from recycled wood, and the concrete floors are soy-painted. Then too there’s Sno:la’s support of social causes: It gives 1 percent of its gross proceeds to Slow Food USA, which supports sustainable farming, and 1 percent of proceeds from its Chocolate Cremita flavour to the United Nations World Food Program, which helps children worldwide. All that on top of a range of seasonally flavoured yoghurt treats made with organic dairy products, “sweetened only by nature” and accompanied by a choice of some 40 toppings. Need further proof that the frozen yoghurt industry is maturing? Red Mango recently launched Club Mango, a loyalty program that rewards customers for their purchases. Make no mistake: the era of differentiation has begun. Something to keep in mind for your own next big, yoghurty venture….? Spotted by: PSFK via Raymond Kollau