Create the Future. Today

Much the way DesignYourDorm gives college students 3D modelling tools to customize and shop for their dorm rooms, so RoomsByYou aims to bring such capabilities to the rest of us. The California-based company goes well beyond simply allowing consumers to mix and match existing products, however; instead, it offers a combination of customization tools and build-to-order, on-demand manufacturing capabilities to give consumers a way to personalize the textiles used in their room. Beginning with baby rooms, the site lets consumers customize quilts, baby blankets, changing pads, pillows, crib bedding, diaper stackers and more using its assorted fabrics made of cotton, linen or polyester—silk and organics are coming soon. Consumers begin by choosing whether they want a classic or contemporary room. From there, they can mix and match fabric styles created by the site’s participating designers, or they can upload artwork of their own for use in creating a new design. A retail calculator keeps track of the running total cost, and rooms can be shared, tagged or used to create a registry. An assortment of precustomized rooms are also available. All items from RoomsByYou are hand-assembled on demand in the San Francisco area. Coming soon are options for designing rooms for kids, teens and others as well. Similar in many ways to DesignMyRoom—which unfortunately got repurposed since we covered it last year—RoomsByYou is further proof that when it comes to customization, there’s no such thing as too much. Keep the design-your-own innovations coming! (Related: Design-your-own duvetsMore design-your-own fabric.) While recent interest in sustainable building has spurred the creation of eco-minded materials like Greensulate and Cow Dung Bricks, drywall is one building component that has remained e ssentially the same over the past 100 or so years. That’s about to change, however, thanks to EcoRock, a new drywall material that’s made of 80 percent recycled materials. Due to become available from California-based Serious Materials next year, EcoRock is used the same way as traditional gypsum-based drywall, but it’s made of recycled industrial materials and uses 80 percent less energy to produce. The termite-resistant material also generates 60 percent less dust than traditional drywall and is 50 percent more resistant to mold. Perhaps best of all, EcoRock is fully recyclable, and can be used as a pH additive for soil or as a raw material in the production of new EcoRock and other building materials. Using EcoRock in a building project can contribute up to 8 LEED credits, Serious Materials says. EcoRock won a Popular Science Green Tech Grand Award last year and is priced about the same as high-end drywall, Popular Science reported, at USD 14 to USD 20 per 4-by-8-ft. sheet. Distribution of EcoRock will begin on the West Coast of the U.S.; one to partner with on availability in other parts of the world…? (Related: Library of green building materials.) Carvertising has been around for years—both the kind focused on rental cars, which we’ve covered several times, and the kind that lets sellsumers earn a little extra cash wrapping their own cars in ads. Setting its sights on the latter, cashURwheels is an Australian firm that serves as an online marketplace connecting drivers directly with companies interested in vehicle-based ads. Whereas carvertising agencies ask drivers to register their vehicles in the hopes of eventually being one of the few selected to be part of a large campaign, cashURwheels connects drivers directly with potential advertisers. Drivers begin by creating an online account and then browsing the available opportunities. They can create a profile including photos along with information about their driving habits and commute patterns, and then bid on ad campaigns or request contact with advertisers directly. Auctions for advertisers include a deadline, the number of vehicles required, and a reserve price, if any. Upon winning a bid, drivers and advertisers communicate to work out the details. Ad campaigns are conducted via car wraps—large vinyl ads applied to cars on a temporary basis, similar in many ways to the sticky car art we’ve covered before—that transform them, temporarily, into four-wheeled promotions. Currently, participation for both drivers and advertisers on cashURwheels is free. Now serving Australia, cashURwheels aims to expand globally soon. One to emulate or partner with regionally? And since the system will likely appeal to small and medium businesses with small and medium advertising budgets, it can’t hurt to throw some crowd-sourced graphic design into the mix 😉 Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Once popular in Europe, folding campers have come to struggle with a bit of an image problem. They’re practical and make for cheap travel, but have as much sex appeal as an orthopedic shoe. Aiming to change that is Opera, a foldout trailer that’s as eyecatching and luxurious as it is convenient. Designed by Axel Enthoven, who has led the department of Man & Mobility at Eindhoven’s Design Academy since 1989, the Opera’s overlapping domed tent is unabashedly inspired by the Sydney Opera House. It folds out of the trailer in minutes, revealing a sleek interior that includes hot and cold running water, a toilet, a simple stove, a wine cabinet and an espresso bar. As well as two luxury beds that slide together at the push of a button. And an enclosed teak veranda. More compact than a full-sized recreational vehicle, the Opera allows travelers further off the beaten track, which is why it’s being marketed as “your suite in nature”. The concept will no doubt appeal to a new breed of nomads who want the feeling of roughing it out in the bush, without the actual roughness. Pricing hasn’t yet been announced—Opera will be officially launched in December and taken into production in 2010—but it’s safe to say that the company is targeting the high end of the market. (Related: Pop-up cabins designed for stargazingUpscale camping at summer music festivalsFarm camping in cottage-style tents.) Anyone who’s ever owned a home has probably either heard or experienced their own horror stories involving less-than-entirely-honest building contractors and the havoc they can wreak. Aiming to put an end to the uncertainty involved in such situations, Florida-based BidABuilder now offers a way for homeowners to solicit bids from only the most carefully prescreened contractors. Homeowners with work to be done on their property simply post a project for free on BidABuilder’s site, giving listed contractors an opportunity to bid for the work. Not just any contractor can participate on the site, however—to be included, they must provide photo ID, license and insurance info, as well as submit to a criminal background check revealing all infractions. Those who pass BidABuilder’s stringent requirements are notified of new projects in real time via email, mobile and the web; from there, they can submit bids or request site inspections. After a one-time setup fee of USD 29.95, contractors pay bid prices based on the estimated value of the project, starting at USD 4. Once all the bids are in, the homeowner then chooses the contractor he or she would like to do the work. After the work is done, the homeowner can then rate the contractor to help guide other users of the site. A forthcoming reward-point system, meanwhile, will offer homeowners discounts and prizes for frequent use. In a world that’s positively flooded with directories and bidding boards for construction jobs—but little in the way of formal evaluation—BidABuilder’s focus on prescreening is a smart strategy that offers considerable benefits for both contractors and for homeowners. Currently, however, the site serves only US users; one to partner with or emulate in other parts of the world? (Related: Handywomen take on construction.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Along with yoga’s rise in popularity has come a raft of DVD and online classes offering a potentially less expensive and more convenient alternative to live, scheduled instruction. Such prerecorded offerings often focus on the fittest and most photogenic yogis, however—without the real-world masses—which may be good for education, but can be demoralizing for those who are less than perfectly toned and proficient. Enter YogaVibes, a site that offers recordings of real-world yoga classes, complete with fellow classmates in all shapes and sizes. North Carolina-based YogaVibes offers a wide variety of online classes of varying lengths and difficulty levels, taught by actual yoga instructors from top studios around the world. Rather than situating those instructors against breathtaking backdrops for glossy, fully staged productions, however, the classes featured are real ones with real students of all ability levels. The site explains: “Our classes are authentic. With few exceptions, we film real students, who come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. We know they’ll inspire your yoga practice, both on and off the mat.” A series of free vignettes are available on YogaVibes, as are an assortment of paid classes, which are typically priced at USD 10 for 14-day access. Alternatively, a Class Pass offers five full-length online classes for 30 days for USD 20. YogaVibes gives five percent of its class fees to charities including yogaHOPE, Yoga Bear and Street Yoga. It seems reasonable that just as consumers value the opinions of twinsumers when making purchase decisions, so they value the inclusion of others at—and even below—their own ability level when learning something new. The lesson to be learned? Co-consumers can remain a critical part of the equation, even in an online setting; remove them, and you may just remove part of your service’s value. Spotted by: Sarah Anne Jackson Rather than wait for customers to come to her, Wink Eyewear‘s Michele Bayle takes her entire eyewear ‘store’ to their workplace. Toting a collection of four hundred frames, Bayle offers personal consultations to find a flattering fit. The visits aren’t just about convenience; they also allow customers to get feedback from friends and coworkers, helping them pick a pair of glasses that everyone will approve of. Much like the mobile restaurants and small food delivery companies we’ve been featuring, Wink Eyewear offers its founder a clear advantage: the opportunity to start a business without investing in a retail location. By keeping things mobile, fledgling entrepreneurs can avoid overhead costs that can make a new business hard to sustain. Traveling salespeople are hardly new, of course, but were generally part of larger organizations. By contrast, the current entrants are small independents making the most of a new infrastructure: portable payment solutions, mobile broadband, shared workspaces and the low-cost marketing power of social media. Whether it’s to keep costs low, try out a business for size or work around jobs and families, there’s no doubt that this model can work for other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially if the outcome offers customers added convenience and personal service. One to consider! (Related: Doctor 2.0 uses IM and sticks to house calls.) Contact: 206-676-2624 Spotted by: Andrea Ballard Much like Club Bounce, which we just wrote about, Nomad Wheelchairs grew out of an entrepreneur’s personal need. After spending over a decade in a variety of wheelchairs, director Mark Owen decided it was time to create a product he’d actually be proud to use. Launched just six months ago, the company’s first product is the mrk1. Consumers’ increased interest in—and knowledge of—design is influencing manufacturers in every product category, and mobility products are no exception. The mrk1’s minimalist appearance, customizable upholstery and careful finishing create an aesthetically pleasing product. Adjustable brakes and axle, improved caster arm and limited number of moving parts, meanwhile, ensure a better functioning chair that is lightweight and durable, with as smooth a ride as possible. Given the fact that some people spend most of their waking hours in a wheelchair, it’s only logical that both its looks and function should make for a pleasurable experience. Long overdue, there’s a growing interest in improving that aspect of the health industry, which in turn creates sound opportunities for entrepreneurs. Spotted by: Jay Parkinson Located in Long Beach, California, Club Bounce is a nightclub for plus-size men and women. Or, as Bounce puts it, for “BBW (big beautiful women), BHM (big handsome men) and those who admire us”. Fat or skinny, everyone is welcome, but its nightly revellers are definitely of a larger size than those beyond the velvet rope at, say, New York’s Boom Boom Room. We’re surprised we haven’t spotted it sooner, since Club Bounce has been around since 2004. It was founded by Lisa Marie Garbo, who’s something of a spokesperson for full-figured people. The idea for the club grew out of her own desire to be able to go out and enjoy herself without feeling unwelcome or discriminated against. Garbo recently opened a second club in Phoenix, Arizona, and is looking to add a third. Club nights for BBWs are also organized in some other cities. While some organizations are worried that venues catering to fat people will prevent them from changing unhealthy lifestyles, size activists protest the notion that bigger is necessarily less healthy. And one could argue that a fat person dancing the night away is engaging in a healthier activity than a thinner person at home on the couch 😉 It’s no secret that entrepreneurs find lucrative opportunities by catering to niche audiences, and those gaps in the market are often found by creating a product or service that fulfills a personal need. One to replicate in other size-ist parts of the world? (Related: Baby loves disco, and so does mommyWeeknight clubbing for the 9–5 crowd.) Ireland has been particularly hard-hit by the current economic recession, spurring initiatives like the recent iQ Prize, whereby Dublin internet consultancy iQ Content awarded EUR 10,000 to a promising young Irish startup as a way to help kick-start the country’s recovery. Proving once again that there are few things as contagious as a good idea, Outvesting has now launched a similar effort, only this time it’s a grassroots one that’s using a crowdfunding approach via Twitter. Outvesting aims to give EUR 5,000 with no strings attached to an Irish startup. To make that possible, it’s using Twitter to invite interested participants to contribute EUR 50 each towards the effort. Once EUR 5,000 has been raised—last week it was already up to EUR 4,500—Outvesting will announce how startups can apply. Those who donate to the fund, meanwhile, will get more than just good karma in return—they’ll also get the chance to vote on which startup wins the money. There’s no arguing with corporate donations like iQ Content’s, but those tend to be limited in number; crowdfunding approaches, on the other hand, are virtually limitless in what they can achieve. Combine the power of the crowds with the reach of Twitter, and there’s no telling how far an effort can go. One to replicate in a recession-weary community near you…? (Related: Free Chinese lessons for the IrishCrowdsourcing economic solutions for Ireland.) Spotted by: AJ O’Flaherty