Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

For supercar fans, there’s already écurie25. Private jet users have long had NetJets. Now high-end motorcycle aficionados have a fractional ownership club of their own through Columbus Club, based in Cannes, France. In exchange for an annual membership fee, Columbus International’s Columbus Club provides priority access to a “dream garage of exceptional motorbikes.” Members need not worry about depreciation, insurance, servicing, maintenance or storage—the company takes care of all that. Rather, they simply pick a membership level and enjoy riding a variety of high-end bikes. Three membership levels cost EUR 2,000, 3,000 and 5,000 per year, respectively. In exchange, members are granted a corresponding number of credits for use on riding the bikes of their choice. A variety of models are available–all less than a year old, including the Ducati, BMW, Triumph and Hollister’s brands–with daily rates ranging from EUR 195 off-season to EUR 385 during the peak of the summer. Cannes-based Columbus also offers chauffeur service to and from Nice airport, camera-equipped helmets and personal guided riding tours, among other extras. With its focus on transumers—who would rather experience products than own them—Columbus Club’s concept is one that could do well in any temperate, motorcycle-friendly part of the world. One to partner with or emulate on the scenic highways and byways near you…? (Related: Motorcycle hearses offer a (life)stylish final ride.) The world may be waiting in breathless anticipation for the arrival of Apple’s widely hyped iPad, but Taiwanese AIPTEK has come up with a device that may well be a better choice for children. Its Story Book inColor lets kids enjoy a variety of illustrated audio stories without the risks or distractions of an internet connection. With a book-like form factor including fold-back cover, Story Book inColor comes preloaded with 20 built-in stories including both illustrations and narration. A bookcase metaphor on the device simulates the feeling of choosing a book from a shelf, and page transitions mimic the experience of reading a real book. Many more stories for Story Book inColor are also available on AIPTEK’s site, including English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese contents as well as motion formats. The device’s 1GB of internal memory can store up to 45 titles, and more can be saved to SD/SDHC, MMC, MS pro and USB storage. After 20 minutes of reading, Story Book inColor even pops up an icon to remind children to give their eyes a rest. When not in use as an ebook reader, the device can serve as a digital photo frame. Pricing on Story Book inColor’s books ranges from USD 4.99 to USD 9.99. The device itself is available at a variety of Chinese retailers for TWD 6,900. In the U.S. it’s available online for USD 179.99. AIPTEK plans to develop stores in the US and Europe, according to an article in the Taipei Times; one to partner with in your neck of the tablet-crazed woods…? (Related: Online platform for long-distance bedtime storiesPersonalized e-stories for kids on iPhone and KindleiPhone app narrates stories for young kids.) Spotted by: Satyamadhav Mohapatra The average person uses between 2,400 and 3,000 paper towels each year just at work, so it’s no real surprise that more than 3,000 tons of paper towel waste are produced every day in the U.S. alone. Hoping to tame that mountain of methane-producing trash, PeopleTowels has developed a very simple solution: personal hand towels that can be reused again and again. The Japanese (amongst others) have been using personal hand towels for decades, and now California-based PeopleTowels hopes to spread the habit worldwide. In November it launched its pocket-sized, quick-drying hand towels made from 100 percent organic Fair Trade cotton. A variety of eco-chic designs in environmentally friendly dyes embellish the towels, which also feature hang tags for easy attachment to a purse or a backpack. Several of those designs, in fact, are the result of a crowdsourced design contest that just concluded, with another one planned for this summer. Pricing on PeopleTowels is USD 8 for a single towel or USD 21 for a 3-towel set; one percent of PeopleTowels’ sales profits go to 1% for The Planet. Branding and private-label options are also available. By switching to its towels for one year, each consumer can save one-quarter of a tree, reduce landfill waste by 23 lbs. and conserve 250 gallons of water, PeopleTowels says. Green-minded companies around the world: hard to imagine a better, more eco-iconic perk or promotional giveaway for your target audience! (Related: Reusable lunch box napkins.) The latest example of the blending of offline and online worlds is Kwedit, a new payment service in the United States that enables consumers over the age of 13 to make cash payments for their online purchases at participating offline retail stores. (Despite being castigated by Stephen Colbert for getting kids hooked on credit, Kwedit is focused on teens and adults who don’t have credit cards.) Launched in February, Kwedit offers two payment models: Kwedit Direct and Kwedit Promise. Kwedit Direct users print a payment slip after making an online purchase or have a corresponding barcode sent to their mobile phone, and take either one to a Kwedit retail partner to make payment. They can also mail cash or ask someone to pay on their behalf through a social payment network called Pass the Duck. Kwedit Promise enables consumers to receive digital content and virtual goods immediately in exchange for a promise to pay later, using Kwedit Direct. Kwedit issues users with a “Kwedit Score” which measures how reliably they pay when using Kwedit. The higher the user’s Kwedit Score, the more they can spend using Kwedit Promise. Kwedit takes a small percentage of each transaction, as do participating retailers. Kwedit forged a nationwide partnership with 7-Eleven to create 5,800 payment outlets, and is currently developing additional retail partnerships. Retailers: time to partner with Kwedit and cash in on all that online-generated foot traffic? Or perhaps this is one worth emulating for credit-hungry online consumers hailing from your neck of the offline woods? (Related: Credit card alternative for teensReal gifts for virtual friends.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann The latest reinvention of traditional book publishing comes from California-based start-up Vook, which integrates text, video and social networking to deliver a new entertainment experience. Available both online and as a mobile application, “vooks” are book-video hybrids that feature short video clips—produced exclusively for each title—interspersed throughout the digital text. The videos are designed to enhance the story, advance the plot in fiction titles and add depth to practical information offered by non-fiction publications, offering visual how-to’s such as cooking demonstrations. The online Vook Reader allows readers to interact with each other via inbuilt social media functions. Vook launched in October with four debut titles, published in partnership with Simon and Schuster. They have since formed additional publishing relationships with Hachette Filipacchi Media and HarperCollins, and now offer twenty-five Vooks, ranging from romance and thriller novels to instructional non-fiction books, priced between USD 2.99 and USD 16.99. The company recently introduced MotherVook, a platform that allows publishers to independently create mixed-media versions of their books. It’s also partnering with online video company (and Springwise alumnus) TurnHere to increase video capacity and speed up production of new titles. One to watch! (Related: Spillproof cooking coach: a touchpad made for kitchens.) Spotted by: Murtaza Ali Patel Social shopping is something we’ve been seeing more and more of lately, including sites like Blippy and Estonian The latest spotting?, which adds geolocation and an augmented reality twist. Users of Canadian can take photos of their purchases, share them with their friends through Facebook and Twitter, and comment on the purchases others have made. Google Maps integration allows users to find local friends and deals, while a point system recognizes those who contribute most to the site. A free iPhone app is already available, with versions for Android and Blackberry coming soon. Perhaps most interesting of all, in fact, is that the Android version will include an augmented reality app that lets users walk into a store and see what others on the site have already purchased, the company says. Ultimately, hopes to forge partnerships with online retailers to enable tweets on the site whenever consumers buy something, according to a report on Mashable. Take one part social shopping, one part mapmania and one part nowism—and add a splash of augmented reality—and you just might have a winning mix. One more to watch! Spotted by: Sara Taking a local approach to candy bars, Nestlé recently launched 19 new Kit Kat flavours in Japan that reflect food specialities of specific districts. Each flavour is sold exclusively in the region for which it was created, making the limited edition Kit Kats popular souvenirs for travellers. The uniquely Japanese Kit Kat varieties include yubari melon and baked corn from Hokkaido island; strawberry cheesecake from Yokohama; cherries from Yamagata Prefecture; and sweet potato, blueberry and soybean from the Kanto region. Other varieties include wasabi, green tea, apple, green beans, chilli and miso. Tapping in to the Japanese tradition of sending students good luck wishes before their exams, Nestlé also launched a marketing campaign with Japan’s postal service to create “Kit Kat Mail,” a postcard-like product sold only at the post office. Developing an intimate understanding of the local market and targeting it creatively has earned Kit Kat the position of number one confectionery brand in Japan. How else could your brand zero in on local specialties and traditions to drive deeper brand loyalty? (Related: Manchester sells holiday gift wrap designed for the city.) Spotted by: Judy McRae As same-sex marriages become increasingly common, so too do the opportunities to help make those weddings happen. Case in point: Equally Wed, a new online publication that gives gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples inspiration, ideas and trends for planning their engagements, weddings and honeymoons. Just launched this week, Equally Wed offers a wide variety of features and departments for same-sex couples. Among them, for instance, are articles and photo galleries spotlighting real weddings of GLBT couples; engagement ideas for the perfect proposal, including tales from readers in their own words; a Q&A section for expert advice on wedding etiquette; and a section on honeymoon destinations visited and researched by gay journalists. A community forum lets readers interact, while a vetted marketplace features gay-friendly wedding vendors throughout the United States. Coming soon is a section for “straight allies.” Equally Wed is a quarterly publication, with a new full issue every season; in the meantime, its Beauty & Grooming, Health & Fitness, Honeymoons, Etiquette and blog sections are updated weekly. With a buying power projected to exceed $835 billion by next year, there’s no denying the substantial Pink Profits potential for those who serve this market well. One to partner with or emulate in other parts of the world…? (Related: Ben & Jerry’s Hubby Hubby celebrates gay marriageBank targets gay LondonersWedding boutique for gay menTripAdvisor for gay travellers.) Spotted by: Roland Everest A truism among venture capitalists is that not only do they invest in promising business concepts; they also “invest in people.” Seeking to make that premise literally true, three social entrepreneurs recently united to form Thrust Fund, an online marketplace for personal investments. In an effort to generate growth capital for their social enterprises, the trio are using the site to offer up equity in their life’s earnings in exchange for an unrestricted upfront cash investment. Valuing themselves at USD 10M, Saul Garlick, founder of ThinkImpact, and Jon Gosier, founder of AppAfrica are each offering 3 percent of their future earnings in exchange for a USD 300,000 investment, while Kjerstin Erickson, founder of FORGE, is offering a 6 percent stake in her future earnings in exchange for USD 600,000. Investing in the individuals rather than in the organizations they founded, “Thrust Funders” do not acquire a portion of the entrepreneur’s venture; neither do they have any official say in how the investee uses the money. Thrust Fund aims to attract investors who are interested in meaningful opportunities that return both social and financial dividends. At a time when the transparency provided by social networking makes it easier for investors to examine people’s reputations, we expect to see more examples of the 1-to-1 investment model emerge in social enterprise and beyond. Regular Springwise readers may recall The Impossible Project, the Dutch / Austrian effort to bring back integral film for vintage Polaroid cameras. Now, just a little more than a year after we covered the project, its first films are ready for sale to enthusiastic Polaroid fans. To recap: Back in 2008 Impossible signed a 10-year lease on the last Polaroid production plant in Enschede, acquiring all the necessary machinery from Polaroid as well. With support from Ilford Photo, it then set out to modernize and bring back integral instant films. The first line it’s created is its PX Silver Shade, a series of monochrome instant films that combine the appearance, format, temperature sensitivity and manipulability of the old Polaroid films with the new appearance of silver-based, monochrome shades. Now, the first products in this line—Impossible’s PX 100 and PX 600 Silver Shade films—are available for EUR 18 each in a limited, “First Flush” edition from the company’s online store; retail partners will come on board soon. Also on the way this year are two colour films (100 and 600 ASA) as well as Silver Shade and color versions of the larger Integral Instant film format for usage in all Polaroid Image/Spectra/1200 cameras. In all, The Impossible Project plans to produce one million films in its first year, ramping up to 3 million annually beginning in 2011. Meanwhile, the project next month will open a combined shop and gallery at 425 Broadway in New York City, in part to host exemplary works of the artists who use its film. Along similar lines, it also recently placed a binding offer to purchase the International Polaroid Collection from the Musée de l‘Elysée in Lausanne. We’ve seen everything from out-of-print books to discontinued bath products made available again on demand, but The Impossible Project brings new scale to such efforts. Retailers worldwide: who will be the first on your block to offer the Impossible line…?