Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

It was back in 2003 that we began covering nethoods, as our sister site calls them, and since then GPS and mobile technologies have greatly increased locally focused possibilities. BlockChalk is a new site that aims to provide the online equivalent of a neighbourhood bulletin board where residents can use their mobile phones to leave location-based messages for other people in their community. Billed as “the voice of your neighbourhood,” BlockChalk lets mobile phone users leave messages (“chalks,” as the service calls them) on their block, their street, at the coffee shop or anywhere they happen to be. Neighbourhood tips, restaurant recommendations, pothole alerts or even lost pets are all perfect candidates for location-tagged message topics that can be left on BlockChalk, which allows other users of the service in the same area to reply either publicly or privately. No signup is required to use the service, and BlockChalk never reveals a user’s identity or exact location unless they specifically request it. The mobile application is now available for iPhone, Palm Pre and Android-based handsets, with Blackberry and Nokia support coming soon. Launched early this year, BlockChalk is now used in more than 114 countries, 8,700 cities and 13,700 or so neighborhoods. The Bay Area startup is also in the process of integrating its service with Twitter’s new geo-enabled API, it says. Besides helping to connect neighbours with each other and with a wealth of hyperlocal information, BlockChalk also promises a world of advertising opportunities for local businesses; for developers, an API is already available. One to partner with in your neck of the location-based woods…? (Related: Connecting neighbours and landlords onlineMore neighbourhood problem-solving: SeeClickFix.) Spotted by: Judy McRae Earlier this month we wrote about Givv.org, a non-profit that allows donors to support all their favourite organisations from a single location and with a single monthly payment. Launched in January by GlobalGiving.co.uk, the Thousand Pound Club also facilitates one-stop giving, but is exclusively for donors willing to commit at least GBP 1,000 to support a personalised portfolio of well-vetted international charity projects. Those wishing to join the Thousand Pound Club complete an online questionnaire detailing their interests, passions and charitable preferences. GlobalGiving then proposes a set of charitable projects to be supported through the applicant’s “Giving Portfolio”. Applicants review the portfolio, make changes to the selection if desired, and then activate it by sending in their donation cheque. Members of the Thousand Pound Club can log in to their account to read regular email updates on the progress of their projects and find out exactly what a difference their donations are making. One to get involved in, or to emulate for a new model of major giving in your part of the world? Much the way Kiva matches investors with entrepreneurs in the developing world, so Grow VC brings a crowdfunding platform to mobile and web startups around the globe. Launched earlier this month, Hong Kong-based Grow VC aims to bring the first truly transparent, global, community-based approach to early-stage funding. Focusing on startup funding needs ranging from USD 10,000 to USD 1 million, Grow VC collects membership fees from its participants and pools 75 percent of them into a community fund. That fund then gets invested into promising member startups. Grow VC manages these investments, but members can control how their portion of the fund should be allocated, allowing them to focus on the startups they feel have the most potential. Grow VC users can follow each other in Twitter-like fashion, while reputation statistics reflect their track records. When a startup fails, the community fund covers its own losses. But when one does well, 75 percent of the returns are paid as commissions to top-ranked members. The company explains: “We’re here to fix the traditional opaque and mysterious startup funding system. Grow VC offers the platform and tools so the process from idea to launch can be managed and communicated with a more structured manner, while at the same time enabling the race to success to start much earlier.” Fees depend on the amount to be raised or invested. Startup and funder pricing starts at USD 20 per month. Others, such as experts, certified partners and business sponsors pay more. Grow VC spent several months in beta, and by January had already gained more than 700 registered users. One to get in on early…? (Related: Twitter for entrepreneurs“Open-mic nights” for business ideas.) Spotted by: John Greene Toddlers and young children are notorious for their desire to grab whatever might be dangerous for them, and hot beverages are no exception. In fact, some 100,000 children each year are scalded by hot drinks and foods in the United States alone, according to the American Burn Association. Enter the MummyMug, a new innovation that uses a lip-activated lid to prevent drinks from spilling. Parents simply fill the MummyMug with their favourite hot drink, secure the screw-on lid, and start sipping. The pressure of the drinker’s top lip against the top of the lid causes the valve to open. It automatically closes up after every sip, ensuring that the MummyMug remains safe if accidentally knocked over. Made from a material that gives the look and feel of ceramics but with shatterproof durability, the patent-pending mug is recyclable and guaranteed BPA-free. The Swedish-made MummyMug, sold by the Dutch company of the same name, will hit European stores this autumn. There’s no word yet on pricing. Parenting and baby retailers around the world: better sign up now … We’ve seen a few different efforts to help travellers share rides to and from airports, most recently Virgin Atlantic’s Taxi2. Now one of our spotters has alerted us to another, Ridepenguin, which is currently in beta at Seattle’s Sea-Tac and Las Vegas’s McCarran airports. Ridepenguin helps travellers reduce costs and emissions by sharing taxi rides to or from the airport. Users start off on the free service by indicating which airport they’re going to, when, and from what part of town. Ridepenguin then estimates how much money and emissions would be saved if the traveller shared a ride, and invites them to broadcast their journey share request. If Ridepenguin finds a match, it informs users by SMS. From there, the individuals concerned can exchange messages or phone numbers to coordinate the pickup. The service is available both for desktop computers and for smartphones running a mobile browser. Ridepenguin is the brainchild of Seattle software company EverythingIsTheBest, which hopes to expand coverage to other airports in the future. One to partner with to help make that happen? (Related: Londoners share lifts to Luton airportFacilitating cab shares to the airport.) Spotted by: Susanna Haynie It wasn’t long ago that we saw the launch of Growth Bridge’s subscription service for razor blades, and recently we came across a like-minded approach to men’s skin care. Aiming to simplify the purchase process as much as possible, Canadian Bread & Butter offers skincare by yearly subscription with everything most men’s skin needs in two seasonal kits. Bread & Butter’s 6-piece Winter Kit offers two tubes of both facial cleanser and moisturizer along with one tube of lip balm and one tube of body moisturizer. The 5-piece Summer Kit, on the other hand, includes two tubes of face cleanser, two tubes of SPF 15 facial moisturizer and one tube of shaving gel. All products included meet airline carry-on regulations. Kits can be ordered individually or by yearly subscription for a 12-month supply, with delivery in June and December. Pricing is CDN 49.99 to ship one kit or CDN 84.99 to ship both within Canada; equivalent orders to the U.S. cost CDN 64.99 and CDN 106.99, respectively. All products are Canadian-made and come with a free 60-day return guarantee. Within Toronto, Bread & Butter even accepts the empty tubes back as part of its cradle-to-cradle recycling program. Whether it’s razors, skincare products or household necessities, opportunity awaits those who can relieve consumers of the burden of making routine purchases. Bread & Butter, however, delivers only within the U.S. and Canada—one to bring to shopping-averse men in *your* neck of the woods…? (Related: Clothes shopping for men, no store visits required.) Spotted by: Stephanie Pirishis Much the way Spot Runner and Spotzer aim to make local television advertising easy and affordable, so PlaceLocal strives to deliver a similar result on the web. The PlaceLocal platform, from Connecticut-based advertising technology company PaperG, allows online publishers to automate local ad creation, sales and management. Aspiring advertisers need only type in their business name, and PlaceLocal will automatically search the web for relevant information—including logos, photos, reviews, awards and other information—and then use it to create a customised online advert. Advertisers aren’t required to have their own website in order to create an advert—in fact, if they don’t have one, PlaceLocal will create one for them. Once generated, the ad is fully editable by the user. The ads can then be booked to appear on partner websites in the same geographic location. In addition to the obvious benefits for advertisers, PlaceLocal can also be used by publishing sales reps to increase new advertising opportunities, PaperG says. Publishers can bill their clients directly or use PaperG’s credit card billing system, and a PlaceLocal account provides real-time stats for any ad. (Related: Local TV advertising made easyMarketplace for custom advertising images.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann As the popularity of bikes for transporting people and products grows, innovative pedal-powered designs continue to pop up. Our latest spotting? Vrachtfiets, a new concept by two students at the Delft University of Technology. Primarily created to help people move house without renting a van, the Vrachtfiets is a two-person vehicle. As explained by the bike’s designers, moving furniture usually isn’t a solo effort, so why not have two people work the pedals, too? The bike also includes an electrical assist, which will be solar-powered in upcoming versions. Having worked on Vrachtfiets for two years, Onno Sminia and Louis Pierre Geerinckx recently presented their final design to their first customer, the city of Delft. Quiet, emission-free and capable of hauling substantial loads, cargo bikes like Vrachtfiets will no doubt become increasingly popular for short-haul urban transport. One to get in on now? (Related: Waitrose using bicycles & carts for greener grocery deliveriesFrench cargo bikes embark on international expansion.) Spotted by: Martijn Turkenburg One of the keys to e-commerce success is to ensure that customers know exactly what they’re ordering. That has been an elusive goal for florists, thanks to fluctuations in flowers’ appearance and availability; the result is that customers must typically take it on faith that they’ll get something similar to what they saw online. In an effort to bring new transparency to the process, New Zealand florist Roses Are Red emails their customers a digital photo of the very bouquet they ordered, so the purchaser can see exactly what was delivered. The Auckland-based company delivers flowers, plants and gifts throughout New Zealand, with a full 99 percent of deliveries dispatched directly from its offices. If a customer isn’t satisfied with what they see in the photograph, Roses Are Red offers a full replacement guarantee. Roses Are Red has been offering this digital photo service since they went online back in 2001, but few other florists have followed their lead. Nevertheless it’s a safe bet that others will be compelled to do so soon, since consumers are increasingly demanding unprecedented transparency in everything from ski slopes to real estate agents. Could you be the first to enjoy transparency triumph in your area? Back in 2007 we covered Jott, a voice-to-text dictation service available from any cell phone. Since then, Jott has expanded their service offerings to include Jott Voicemail, which allows users to receive their voicemail as email and text messages; Jott for Salesforce, which allows business managers to call and update their salesforce from the road; and a voice-to-text conversion iPhone app. However, Jott isn’t alone in this field. UK-based transcription company dictate2us last month launched their d2u Transcriber app, a fully integrated digital transcription system for iPhones and iPod touch. The d2u app allows its users to dictate notes directly into their device and upload the audio to d2u’s team of typists, who then transcribe it. Transcriptions are returned by email as Microsoft Word documents, normally within the hour for files less than five minutes long. The app is free to download from Apple iTunes stores. Users are charged GBP 1.50 per recorded minute for the transcription from audio to text. These apps are shining examples of the opportunities that the iPhone provides as a mobile computing device, and also of the possibilities for adding revenue-driving services to mobile applications. As consumers live increasingly mobile lifestyles, what on-the-go productivity services will we see next?