Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

A while back, we spotted Bizzyboard, which helps families keep track of what parents and kids are doing each week by means of a giant whiteboard. New to the calendar game is YearMadeForMe, enabling customers to create a personalized wall planner. Customers use YearMadeForMe’s simple website to select a title, colour and start date for their calendar. Special events, like birthdays or exam dates, can be added, and users can then preview the planner before they order. The customized chart displays a year in advance in 39×19 inch format, providing a helicopter view of twelve months. Each planner is USD 27 and ships in three days by standard US post. A simple product made interesting through personalization, YearMadeForMe could easily target niche (gift) audiences, such as first-year university students in need of motivation, families expecting a new member nine months down the road, or athletes preparing for a year of competitive sports. Spotted by: Jonathan New York’s water-toting crowd has a convenient new way to be sustainable while staying hydrated, as a tap water refilling service officially launches in the city. TapIt is a community program that enables people to refill their water bottles at participating cafés, completely free of charge. TapIt aims to help people stay healthy and hydrated without relying on single-use plastic bottles. Any restaurant or café with a soda dispenser or tap that gives clean drinking water can sign up as a partner. Thirsty consumers can find taps online or via TapIt’s iPhone app, and are provided with information on the type of water that’s available, telling discerning customers whether the water’s filtered or non-filtered, room temperature or chilled. TapIt is better for the environment, better for people’s wallets, and helps businesses connect with new customers at almost zero cost. The initiative is currently only up and running in New York, where it now has over 100 locations after a year of soft-launching. But it intends to extend its bottle-less initiative further afield. In the meantime, there’s no reason why councils or community organisations can’t get inspired and help TapIt launch in their own town. Spotted by: Jonas Cords When we wrote about pingg a little over a year ago, we noted that it was aiming to provide the upper echelon of online invitations, with an ad-free approach and premium design capabilities. Proving once again that there’s rarely a limit to such upgrade possibilities, Paperless Post has ratcheted up the category even more with a custom invitation service that aims to emulate the beauty and thoughtfulness of traditional cardstock. Now in beta, Paperless Post allows members to design, deliver and manage custom online invitations that strive to capture the care and formality of old-fashioned mailings from days gone by. Six categories of card styles are available for users to choose from, including both modern and classic options for formal, casual and holiday events. From there, members select a paper design—the site’s e-papers closely mimic the texture and weight of real paper—a motif and the wording style. Invitations are delivered in personalized envelopes to guests’ inboxes, where a simple click causes them to open. Ad-free Paperless Post allows members to monitor the invitations they send and track replies, as well as follow up with guests and manage events, both personal and ticketed. Past invitations—both sent and received—can even be archived in the manner of a virtual scrapbook. Pricing begins at USD 5 for “stamps” to send 60 invitations, and Paperless Post charges a commission on all ticketed events: 2.5 percent on tickets to for-profit events, or 2 percent on those for charity. Based in New York, Paperless Post has already handled 60,000 invitations since the beginning of this year, according to a report in the New York Times, and 150,000 since its launch last fall. Besides providing an interesting twist in the crowded online invitation market, it also gives us another welcome opportunity to repeat our very favourite refrain: everything can be upgraded! 😉 Spotted by: Kimberley Mosher Much the way consumers can solicit feedback on their own appearance through checkyourimage.com, marketers can now get early thoughts on new designs and concepts through a community of peers at Concept Feedback. Currently in beta, Concept Feedback is designed specifically for marketers, graphic designers and web developers to provide a simple tool for getting free, sincere feedback from like-minded professionals. Website designs, ads, logos, videos, presentations and more can all be uploaded to the site and submitted for review by other members; the person posting the material keeps all rights. Using a standard review template for consistency, professionals participating on the site can then offer their constructive advice, which gets automatically collected and archived for the submitting member. A system of reputation scores, meanwhile, keeps members honest and helps interpret their advice. The result, according to Concept Feedback, can be that any design problems are caught earlier, ensuring that only high-quality ideas make it into launch. Andrew Follett, the company’s founder and CEO, explains: “Most small business marketers and freelancers lack the budget and resources it requires to obtain useful feedback on marketing concepts. A third-party point of view can be critical to launching a website, advertising campaign or concept that is clear, concise and effective.” Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes, and in June Concept Feedback was already approaching 500 users. There’s no doubt other professions could benefit from something similar–how about applying this to the industry of your choice? (Related: ‘Open-mic nights’ for business ideasProfessional feedback, instant and peer-to-peer.) Spotted by: Stas Zlobinski When heading out to their local watering hole for a drink, some customers prefer to serve themselves. We’ve highlighted Amsterdam’s Minibar and the table-top taps of Pilsen’s Unique Bars. Offering a self-service system that can be retrofitted anywhere is the TableTender by TableTap. The TableTender system, available in Britain and the United States, is designed and built for each specific venue. There’s a tap (or several) located at each table, which allows patrons to pour at their leisure—to a point. The system is designed to comply with drinking regulations, shutting off after dispensing around 11 pints of beer and only resuming once a waiter has checked the table. The amount dispensed is displayed on a meter at the table, as well as recorded on the proprietor’s database to monitor sales and consumption by hour, day, month and table. Like installation, pricing is bespoke, but for a ballpark figure: the first bar to install the system paid USD 110,000, excluding a monthly fee for maintenance and software licensing. While the upfront costs may be steep, ease of drinks purchase combined with lower costs for wait staff could make for a profitable addition to bars seeking to stand out from the competition. Remember the old proverb ‘none of us is as smart as all of us’? It’s something a small group of companies took to heart earlier this year, setting up GreenXchange for sharing of intellectual property for green product design. The initiative is hosted by Creative Commons, with Nike and Best Buy leading the way. With GreenXchange, companies can not only share research, innovation and design amongst themselves, but can also make patents available to the public. Each contributor to the exchange commits to a non-assertion pledge, which allows the patent to be used in other research for green product design. GreenXchange recognises that green innovations can be shared across a variety of industries, often with a different purpose, and will not necessarily pose a threat in terms of competition. If a company is concerned about sharing product design with competitors, they can opt to designate selected patents to be made available for sustainability uses. GreenXchange also aspires to use technologies that support networking and knowledge sharing to promote open innovation in the ‘digital commons’. If it works, the concept could greatly accelerate the development of green innovation, helping some of the world’s best brands work together toward the same goal, and start to think differently in terms of how they share ideas. (Related: Online library of green building materials.) Spotted by: Jenny Lau With cycling gaining ground as a regular mode of transportation, flat tires and broken chains are on the up, too. Which creates an opportunity for bike-loving entrepreneurs: mobile bike repair shops. In the Netherlands, for example, we’ve spotted companies like Fix Fiets and Bikemobiel, both of which do house calls in vans or trucks outfitted as mobile workshops. Service is even more mobile (and emission-free) in Cologne and Berlin, where stranded cyclists can call a ‘Radambulanz’—a cycling mechanic with a small trailer containing tools and spare parts for fixing flat tires and performing other common repairs. While some mobile repair services tack on a small trip charge for coming to a customer’s home or workplace, rates are generally comparable to those charged by brick and mortar bike shops. And although they’ve been popping up in Europe over the past few years, mobile services are far from commonplace. Time to launch a well-branded Geek Squad of bike fixers? (Related: Vending machines for bicycle partsIn the US, the AAA will be offering roadside assistance for cyclists in Oregon and Idaho.) Spotted by: Martina Meng — Raymond Kollau — Judy McRae For committed pet owners, the joy of holidays is often diminished by the guilt associated with leaving a faithful friend behind in strangers’ hands. Aiming to spare pets and their owners the anguish that can result, SwapaDog is a new network that helps dog owners in the same area connect and exchange pet care when they go out of town. With sites serving both the UK and the US, SwapaDog provides pet owners with a way to find other like-minded members in their area so that they can get to know each other and agree to exchange pet-sitting services when the need arises. Basic membership on the site—offering access to an array of dog-related tips, discounts, news and links—is free, while introductory pricing on a full membership, including access to other members, begins at GPB 9.97 or USD 17 for one year. (Ultimately, a full annual membership will cost GBP 25 or USD 47.) The result, SwapaDog says, is not just better pet care for the dog and less worry on owners’ part, but also savings of some GBP 200—or USD 370—per dog in kennel bills for a two-week stay. Beyond lending, peer-to-peer services have already extended to include mentoring, camping and shipping; why not pet care too? One to bring to the rest of the canine-friendly world…? (Related: Social networking for dogsRFID collar tag helps dog owners meet new friendsFlexible pet ownership.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Earlier this month, we spotted MyEex and Earth Aid, two initiatives that reward consumers for reducing household energy use. Taking a different approach is US-based Positive Energy, which compares households’ energy consumption, adding a social twist to being green. The company works with local utility companies, which use its software to add persuasive information to customer bills. Instead of just listing their own energy use, it adds information for households on the same street or block, showing how the consumer measures up in comparison to all of their neighbours, as well as to the energy efficient ones. Households with low energy use are encouraged with smiley faces beside their usage. Positive Energy’s approach combines technology, marketing and behavioural science, based on the idea that social pressure is more effective than enforced pressure from far-off governments and regulatory agencies. By changing the customer’s mindset, long-term changes in consumer behaviour are likely to be brought about, saving both energy and money. While MyEex and Earth Aid use money as motivation, Positive Energy works on a transformative level by comparing individual practices against normative values, making low energy use a societal norm. Utility companies in other parts of the world: time to add some Positive Energy to your billing process? (Related: Energy meters get tweeting.) Spotted by: Jenny Lau Aiming to connect advertisers with local sports teams, Sport Driven has created a platform where sport clubs, agencies and individual athletes can list commercial opportunities and find financial backing. For GBP 30 per year, teams and athletes can create a profile and list the individual sponsorship options they’re offering, like ‘match day’, ‘back of shirt’ or ‘calendar’, along with basic terms like price and duration. A premium membership of GBP 99 a year gives access to a few more bells and whistles, such as uploading images and maintaining a larger contact database. Advertisers can search the database to find local or national opportunities that best align with their budgets and marketing plans. Launched earlier this month, the British startup will have to sign up a significant number of teams and athletes before it becomes a one-stop-shop for advertisers and sponsors. If it does, it could be an indispensable tool for an industry that’s constantly exchanging visibility for financial backing. One to bring to your local market?