Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Ever since transportation authorities placed rigorous limits on the amount of liquids allowed on flights, travellers have had to figure out how to both pack their favourite toiletries and comply with those regulations. Helping consumers avoid bag-check charges or confiscation of their non-compliant toiletries and cosmetics, New York-based 3floz is an online boutique that sells beauty and grooming products in TSA-approved sizes only. Launched in February, 3floz offers a range of luxury skin and hair care products for men and women, all in travel-friendly sizes of 3 fluid ounces (100 ml) or less. 3floz is also marketing itself as a sample site, catering to consumers who want to try out high-end beauty products without committing to pricey full-sized versions. (As they put it, “for those who travel, those who are curious and those who can’t commit”). Items can be purchased individually or in kits. Individual product prices start from USD 3 and kits start from USD 30. International shipping is available, including delivery direct to hotels, as well as a same-day courier delivery service within Manhattan. 3floz offers customers an upgrade to overnight shipping for the price of ground if they provide a flight itinerary showing travel within three days. The company has plans for travel-sized baby products and travel-friendly beauty and grooming tools. While 3floz fills a gap in the beauty market, there’s still plenty of room in this space for additional contenders to bring miniature versions of other brand favourites to travellers and product samplers around the globe. (Related: More cosmetics tryvertising by mailWine by the trial-sized tubeRemote wardrobe service for travelling luggage-freeShop-ahead service for hotel guests.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Emergency rooms and health clinics are notorious for the long waits visits typically entail. That’s why InQuickER—which we covered last year—emerged to let patients reserve a spot ahead of time, and it’s also apparently why Singapore’s Ministry of Health has developed a service to give citizens a real-time view from home of how crowded clinics are likely to be. Part of the Ministry of Health’s eCitizen effort, Queue Watch is designed to provide health patients with timely information to plan their visit to any of Singapore’s many health clinics. A map on the site marks each of those clinics with two symbols—a red circle and a yellow triangle. Clicking on the red circle for any given clinic reveals not just the number of patients waiting for registration and consultation, but also live webcam images showing the waiting areas for registration, consultation and pharmacy/payment. Webcam images are intentionally out of focus to protect patients’ confidentiality, the site notes. Clicking on the yellow triangle for a clinic, meanwhile, brings up information about its peak and non-peak periods. By giving patients the information they need to plan which clinic to visit and when, Queue Watch promises to help them minimize the time they’ll have to wait—and, at least as important—the frustration they’ll experience. Time to bring that type of transparency to clinics and government offices all over the world! Spotted by: Sharon Sng “Googling” oneself may be a common pastime for active participants of the wired world, but search is also used with increasing frequency by recruiters and others with more than just idle curiosity. Aiming to give individuals more control over the results that come up when someone Googles their name, Vizibility has created a new tool that lets users shape the optimal Google search for themselves based on their name, employment history and relevant keywords. Vizibility gives each user a unique, personalized “PreSearch” URL and an accompanying “SearchMe” button. Users begin by answering three questions about themselves: their name, where they’ve worked and what information they’d like included in their search results. Vizibility then provides them with a personal, tiny URL that links to the custom search result they requested; irrelevant keywords and inaccurate search results can also be excluded. That URL and its linked “SearchMe” button can be placed on any online profile, web page, email, resume, business card, stationery or other place where personal information is shared. Whereas the URL and SearchMe button are free from Vizibility, a monthly fee of USD 2.95 per month causes Vizibility to let users know when their approved search results have changed; an annual fee of USD 29.95 ensures that Vizibility will send the user an email and/or text message when someone clicks their SearchMe button or PreSearch URL. Analytics of those searches are also available. James Alexander, founder of New York-based Vizibility, explains: “Today’s resume is an online profile in conjunction with the first few pages of a Google search. Having a personalized search result ensures that a career professional can present the results they want others to see first while saving executive recruiters, business partners and others valuable time sifting through pages and pages of irrelevant and erroneous results.” Now in beta, the service has already been integrated into RealMatch.com, giving job-seekers a new way to differentiate themselves. For the 86 or so percent of executive recruiters who use search engines to validate candidates, meanwhile, it can help pinpoint the most important results. Then, too, there are the possibilities for companies and brands to shape the results of searches on their names. Corporate accounts and the ability to purchase packs of PreSearch URLs are coming soon, Vizibility says. Spotted by: Dagmar Gaede It’s not uncommon for spas and salons to offer their clients beverages and even snacks during the course of a treatment or service. London’s Percy and Reed, however, is taking that a step further by letting clients preorder the breakfast items of their choice for enjoyment during a morning appointment. Croissants, bagels, granola and even porridge and hot sandwiches are all on the menu for Percy and Reed’s Breakfast Club clients, as are coffee, tea, orange juice and the newspaper of their choosing. Clients simply select the options they like when they make their appointment online ahead of time; the cost is added to their bill. Pricing ranges from GBP 1.25 for a plain butter croissant to GBP 3.25 for Villandry Granola, yoghurt and honey. When your business is all about pampering, pushing the concept further with an offering like this is a relatively easy way to stand out from the crowd. What little extras—paid or otherwise—can *your* service offer to keep clients coming back for more? (Related: Hair salon offers Skype consultations.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann When consumers band together, their collective ‘crowd clout‘ makes for hefty purchasing power. An example that recently came to our attention is San Francisco-based One Block Off the Grid, or 1BOG, which facilitates the group purchase of residential solar installations. How it works? 1BOG launches campaigns in various cities, each lasting a few months, during which they negotiate group discounts with carefully selected solar installers and offer local consumers access to the discounted rates via the 1BOG website. Homeowners can enter their address on the site, select their roof from an aerial view of Google maps and outline where they want the panels located. They can also view detailed information on costs, leasing options, local rebates and how long the panels will take to pay for themselves. On average, 1BOG saves customers around 15 percent, and receives referral fees from installers. To date, 1BOG has signed up over 600 homeowners across 11 US cities. In February, the company secured a USD 5 million venture capital investment which will accelerate its nationwide expansion. Studies from the International Energy Agency indicate that market penetration for solar today is less than one percent in the US. As electricity becomes more expensive and solar becomes more affordable, the demand for solar is sure to rise worldwide. One to tap into! (Related: Farmers barter produce for solar panel fundingNeighbourhood approach to renewable energyGroup buying for new parents.) Key Resources: www.understandsolar.com Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Hotels are not uncommonly among the early adopters of new technologies, as we’ve already seen in Sheraton’s use of interactive tables, Mama Shelter’s installation of iMacs in every room, the Algonquin’s use of Kindles and the Townhouse Hotel’s emphasis on Twitter. Now continuing along that well-trodden technological path comes InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, which recently announced that it is equipping its concierges with Apple’s new iPad. As part of a global pilot at InterContinental New York Barclay, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, InterContinental London Park Lane and InterContinental Hong Kong, travellers can now look forward to receiving enhanced local destination advice from hotel concierge teams using the mobile, multi-touch, content-rich iPad. Rather than jot directions on a foldable paper map, for example, concierge teams can now provide exact directions through interactive maps on the device with high-resolution satellite imagery, close-up street views and detailed walking routes. Local recommendations can come to life in InterContinental’s unique destination-specific videos, while bookings can be made and confirmed instantly by e-mail. Simon Scoot, the company’s vice president of global brand management, explains: “We have an amazing team of concierges worldwide, and our concierges are already engaging with our guests with useful information such as pre-stay e-mails, destination-specific concierge websites, interactive maps and concierge videos. We are also preparing to pilot state-of-the-art Google Maps technology as well as other enhancements, and the Apple iPad will be a revolutionary way of showcasing some of these features.” The hospitality arena is nothing if not competitive, so putting new technologies to work makes good sense as a means for differentiation. Other hotels, airports and restaurants around the globe: what about you…? Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Much has been written about declining honeybee populations and the danger this could have for the rest of our ecosystem, including food production. One solution is to support beekeepers, which is where Heimathonig comes in. Launched in Germany earlier this year, it’s a directory that helps consumers find and buy from local beekeepers. According to Heimathonig, there are over 85,000 beekeepers in Germany, most of whom are too small to build and maintain their own website. On Heimathonig, they can create a profile that includes information about their bees, the flowers they gather nectar from, where they’re based, etc. Beekeepers can use Heimathonig to sell their products online, and can also link to their own website if they have one. The company charges an annual listing fee of EUR 60. Honey is a deeply local product, inherently connected to the plants and meadows surrounding a colony’s hive. Yet only 20 percent of the honey consumed in Germany is produced locally. (The other 80 percent usually comes in jars proclaiming markedly un-local “mixed EU and non-EU origins”). Combined with consumer interest in local food, that sounds like a sweet opportunity for growth. Time to partner with Heimathonig and start connecting beekeepers with honey-lovers in your own country? (Related: Web developer focuses on farmsBritish supermarket builds bee hotels to help pollinate local cropsAn Etsy for artisanal food.) We’ve seen myriad variations on the travel-planning theme, but when it comes right down to it, most options still fall into one of two categories: DIY options involving the web or purchased services from a paid planner. OfferMeaTrip, on the other hand, aims to combine the best of both worlds with a service in which consumers dictate what they want and agents bid for their business. Users of London-based OfferMeaTrip begin by telling the service what kind of trip they’d like to take, including how much they want to spend over how long a time and what types of activities they enjoy. The company’s network of approved travel agents—it accepts only those who are ABTA / TTA and/or ATOL registered—can then choose to make offers on a corresponding trip. Offers are presented in the form of tailored, personalized on-line holiday brochures thanks to the site’s simple, online brochure creator. The consumer in question then chooses the offer that’s most appealing to them, and OfferMeaTrip helps them connect with the agent for booking and payment confirmation. Using OfferMeaTrip is free for travellers; for agents, it’s currently free as well through a special, pre-launch introductory offer. Providing yet another excellent example of an intention-based service, OfferMeaTrip currently appears to focus primarily on UK travellers and agents. One to partner with or emulate in other parts of the world…? (Related: In online auction, banks bid on consumer savingsIntention-based shipping brought to the UKBank helps clients buy homes that aren’t for sale.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann It’s been almost seven years since we covered Art*o*mats, the retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to sell art. We still think back on that concept fondly, so we were delighted recently to come upon something similar: candy machines repurposed to vend garden seeds. The brainchild of Los Angeles-based Common Studio, Greenaid aims to facilitate what it calls “guerrilla gardening” in the many forgotten grey spaces of the urban world, including sidewalk cracks, vacant lots and parking medians. Toward that end, it has reclaimed a series of old, quarter-operated candy machines and converted them instead for use selling seed bombs—mixtures of clay, compost and seeds that can be thrown anonymously into derelict urban sites to (temporarily) reclaim and transform them. Greenaid invites business owners, educators and concerned citizens to purchase a machine—pricing is about USD 400 each, with potential income generation of between USD 1,000 and USD 2,000 per year, Common Studio’s Daniel Phillips told Springwise. Greenaid will then develop a seed mix and a strategic neighborhood intervention plan in response to the unique ecologies of the particular area. The purchaser can then simply place the machine at a local bar, business, school, park or wherever it seems likely to have the greatest impact. Greenaid supplies all the seed bombs needed to support the ongoing success of the initiative. Common Studio explains: “Greenaid is equally an interactive public awareness campaign, a lucrative fundraising tool, and a beacon for small scale grass roots action that engages directly yet casually with local residents to both reveal and remedy issues of spatial inequity in their community.” Similar in many ways to Anthropologie’s recent initiative featuring seed bombs produced by Cincinatti studio VisuaLingal, Greenaid is currently focused on its hometown of LA. One to partner with or emulate in other parts of the urban world? Spotted by: Cory Wright Potholes, stray garbage, broken street lamps? Citizens of Eindhoven can now report local issues by iPhone, using the BuitenBeter app that was launched today. After spotting something that needs to be fixed, residents can use the app to take a picture, select an appropriate category and send their complaint directly through to the city council. A combination of GPS and maps lets users pinpoint the exact location of the problem, providing city workers with all the information they need to identify and resolve the problem. The application covers a wide range of familiar nuisances, from broken sidewalks to loitering youth (who will hopefully respond favourably to having their picture taken by concerned citizens). Compared with lodging a complaint by phone or in writing, BuitenBeter creates a nearly frictionless experience and will no doubt prompt a wider group of people to become active reporters of issues that need the city’s attention. Besides giving people an easy way to send through detailed reports, city officials also believe the concept will create shorter lines of communication, and will facilitate quicker feedback from local government to citizens. Developed by mobile solutions provider Yucat, the BuitenBeter app will soon be available for Android and Windows Mobile phones, too. Eindhoven has signed on for a twelve-month trial, and Yucat hopes to roll out the system to other cities in the near future. (Related: In San Francisco, civic complaints via TwitterNYC challenges developers to create apps using city dataTagging repairs for local government.)