Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Toy rental is a concept we’ve already seen implemented on more than one occasion, including one in Texas and one in France. Just recently, however, we came across another contender in Canada that targets not just consumers but also businesses that keep toys in their waiting rooms. Serving Vancouver, B.C., Lucky Duck Toy Box provides a wide assortment of toys for kids aged newborn through five years old. Parents or grandparents simply choose a subscription plan–ranging from CAD 24 to CAD 69 per month for 3 to 12 toys–and pick out which toys they’d like to start with. Lucky Duck then delivers those within days. A month later, customers login once more to choose their next set; when their delivery date arrives, Lucky Duck swaps the old ones for the new ones. For businesses, Lucky Duck Toy Box offers a like-minded solution to the problem of old, dirty, worn out toys in waiting rooms. Instead, it delivers a fresh assortment of sanitized playthings to keep businesses’ youngest customers safe and entertained. All toys are lead-tested, inspected and cleaned with environmentally friendly products. Weekly and custom delivery plans are also available. Whether for transumers or for businesses that cater to kids, toy rental seems to be an idea whose time has come. Something to emulate for all the pediatricians, kids’ dentists and other toy-laden professional offices near you…? Spotted by: Melanie McIntosh There’s no doubt sports matches and other large events offer advertisers the potential of an engaged, enthusiastic crowd of consumers; how to make the most of that potential, however, is much less clear. Finnish Uplause has developed a series of social games for use on giant stadium screens that aim to entertain and engage participants while conveying positive brand impressions. Uplause games can be shown on-screen during breaks in the action at any game or large event. Shouting, waves and other crowd favorites are included among the games on offer, as are games that challenge the audience to battle for a better score in volume, rhythm and more. One game, for example, requires the audience to clap together at specific times in order to match the rhythm of the song, “We will rock you.” At least as important as the entertainment value, however, is that sponsorship can be inserted in a matter of minutes, Uplause says. The technology’s in-game ad system lets event organizers earn additional revenues by selling product placement to partners and sponsors. The games can also be used to move large crowds of people, such as over to the bar, Uplause says. Operated for event organizers by the Uplause team, the system was already used in Finland’s SM-Liiga Ice Hockey Play-Offs this spring; a YouTube video demonstrates the technology in action. There’s little doubt that content has become far more effective than advertising when it comes to engaging individual consumers, so it only makes sense that the same would be true on a crowd level. Uplause aims to expand internationally with its licensing-based business model, according to a report in ArcticStartup; one to partner with toward that end…? Spotted by: Jan Ameri We’ve seen numerous examples of pop-up restaurants in recent years, including the Müvbox, the Yellow Treehouse and Charlie’s Burgers. Recently one of our spotters alerted us to a monthly event in Paris, however, that starts with a community brunch and offers a whole day of eco-minded activities. Founded by Nadege Winter—who, incidentally, is affiliated with Wool and the Gang, which is no stranger to our pagesBrunchBazar is a series of community get-togethers that take place on the first Sunday of every month at the Comptoir General in Paris. The last one, for example, took place on May 2, running from noon to 7 p.m. Organic catering was provided by Cococook, as was a series of cooking workshops throughout the day. Creative workshops for kids were provided by PetitHOOD, while Wool and the Gang served up something similar for knitters. Also on hand were a fashion swap sponsored by Good Storage, dance classes by I Could Never Be a Dancer, music from Big Festival, eco-minded education from Winter’s online magazine Greenkiss, and more. The price of admission was EUR 3—50 cents of which went to the World Wildlife Fund—with small additional fees for some of the workshops. Besides the obvious attraction for consumers and benefits for the community, BrunchBazar clearly has much to offer local vendors and brands as well—namely, a way to get close to customers in a relaxed setting that’s focused on education and entertainment rather than making a sale. (Related: Pop-up cafe is a (straw) monument to sustainability.) Spotted by: Elisabeth Dien Tolstoy said “music is the shorthand of emotion” and, as marketing gurus insist, people buy emotionally. With an audience that extends to just about everyone, the music business can be a great source for new business ideas. Here are five we spotted recently: 1. MOOD TRAXXER — Traxx.fm’s Mood Traxxer aims help users find music to match their mood by getting them to describe their current state of mind, activity, needs and ‘drug’, and then serving them tunes according to those choices. Options include moods such as “Darth Vader on a Bad Hair Day”. Stereomood is based on the same concept. 2. THE COOL TV — Ever come out of a great gig and wished you could relive the experience straight away? As part of its hyper-localised strategy, digital music TV network The Cool TV is selling recordings of concerts as soon as they finish—both online and as CDs and DVDs available outside the venue. 3. CORONA HOTEL — Rock fans at the Rock in Rio event in Madrid next month will get a taste of an unusual promotion from beermaker Corona: a branded, pop-up hotel. Winners of an international contest get flights and tickets to the festival and will stay in purpose-built, luxury accommodation at the festival site. Of course, there’s complementary Corona beer for all guests. 4. MIXMATCHMUSIC — MixMatchMusic is a music community featuring a suite of tools that emphasise and facilitate musical collaboration. Content creators upload individual tracks which can be mixed online by fellow musicians and remixed by fans. Royalties are shared by all those involved. 5. CHARTFIXER — Those who habitually complain that the charts are fixed may derive some grim satisfaction from the advent of Chart Fixer in Australia—a service that pledges to get a single into the charts for those who can afford it … and to do so legally. By paying private individuals to download tracks (and taking a cut) the website promises to generate a buzz that may even lead to what it calls ‘natural sales. Spotters: Murtaza Ali Patel, Jim Stewart, Leticia Pérez Prieto, Jake Bishop For architects, engineers, surveyors and others who depend on computer-aided design, working remotely typically means gathering data offsite by hand and then bringing it back to the office for input and use with the CAD software installed there. SitePAD is a new iPhone app that aims to change all that by allowing users to create, manage and exchange CAD files on the go. Launched in March by UK-based Fresh Design Base, SitePAD bills itself as the first truly mobile CAD solution. Rather than having to re-draw hand sketches back at the office, for example, users can employ SitePAD offsite to capture information in a format that integrates directly into their desktop solution. Capabilities included in Release 1 of the software are line, arc, polyline, circle, rectangle, freehand, move, copy, rotate, mirror, offset, trim, extend, group, ungroup, snaps, orthos, numeric input, pan and zoom, among others, with many more coming soon. When accompanied by a SitePAD online account, meanwhile, users don’t even have to wait to get back to the office themselves; rather, they can send their drawings ahead as soon as they’ve finished them, allowing colleagues to begin work on them instantaneously. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, SitePAD is priced at GBP 5.99 in the iTunes store. An online account ranges from GBP 7 to GBP 15 per month, depending on requirements, according to an interview on eggtea.com, but Fresh Design Base is currently offering a free 30-day trial. For all those in design professions, this could be one to try out. For all others: how could you bring some new mobility to professionals in the industry closest to *your* heart…? (Related: iPad app delivers real-time trend forecasts.) Spotted by: Liv Slack We’ve already seen a few uses of interactive technology in bars—both at the Adour Wine Bar in New York and in iBar installations around the globe—but until recently, we hadn’t yet come across a bar that incorporates an online component in its patrons’ interactions. That’s exactly what South Africa’s MiWorld does, however, with a website, a digital wall and touchscreen tables that facilitate both digital and real-world conversation. To participate in MiWorld, consumers must be invited and given a secret code, which allows them to register online. Then, when they’re ready to head out, they can choose one of two bricks-and-mortar locations in Johannesburg: MiBar Martini, a contemporary cocktail bar in the Design District of Rosebank, or MiLounge Martini, a sophisticated cocktail, champagne and wine bar with a lounge atmosphere in Melrose’s Blu Bird Shopping Centre. In August, a third option—MiCafe—will launch in Rosebank, and there are occasional pop-up “MiEvents” at varying locations as well. Whichever locale they choose, members must first log in at the door. Then, once inside, they can order off the interactive MiTables, e-chat with patrons at neighbouring tables and even different MiLocations, sign into Facebook, view the menu and access the MiWorld network to view exclusive content and special offers. MiWorld is the brainchild of South African LiquidChefs. We’ve been writing about what our sister site calls the off=on trend for a while now, but this is surely one of the clearest illustrations we’ve seen. Hospitality entrepreneurs around the globe: time to infuse some online oxygen into your own offerings? (Related: Hotel helps guests connect onlineAirline’s social networks connect frequent flyersShopping by invitation.) Spotted by: Jordan Wainer For most expectant parents, travel is something to be minimized during the final weeks of pregnancy so as to increase the chances of giving birth close to home. For “birth tourists,” on the other hand, delivering on foreign soil is the ultimate goal—primarily to obtain foreign citizenship for the newborn. Therein lies both a controversial topic from an immigration point of view and an opportunity for hospitality providers in that foreign land. Thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, children born on U.S. soil automatically become U.S. citizens, regardless of where their parents hail from. Hence the phenomenon of U.S. birth tourism, which appears to be a growing trend. Enter New York City’s Marmara Manhattan hotel, a Turkish-owned enterprise on the Upper East Side that emphasizes extended stays through packages such as its Suddenly Splitsville option for the newly divorced. For pregnant mothers, “what we offer is simply a one-bedroom suite accommodation for USD 7,750, plus taxes, for a month, with airport transfer, baby cradle and a gift set for the mother,” Marmara Hotel spokeswoman Alexandra Ballantine told abcnews.go.com. The hotel estimates the total cost of the package at USD 45,000; most women stay for two months, and they pay for their own medical care, with hospital costs approaching USD 30,000, the site reported. The compensation for that hefty price tag? U.S. citizenship for the child, with the ability to travel freely to and from the U.S. Some, in fact, view the children of birth tourists as “anchor babies,” since they can help bring about the eventual immigration of an entire family. The practice is by no means without its opponents. On the other hand, it also presents an opportunity for hotels and other accommodation providers in the U.S. and other like-minded nations. One to mull over for your own hospitality enterprise? (Related: Global directory lets medical tourists find & review clinics.) Spotted by: Parul Rohatgi British high-end chocolate maker and retailer Hotel Chocolat, which currently operates over 40 stores in the UK, the Middle East and the US, wants to expand even further. But rather than turning to banks or big investors for money, they’re inviting customer to buy bonds. Bonds that will pay chocolate returns. Two values of Chocolate Bond will be issued: both with the return paid in monthly Tasting Boxes. Holders of a GBP 2,000 Chocolate Bond will receive six free tasting boxes a year worth GBP 107.70 per year, and those holding a GBP 4,000 bond will receive thirteen boxes, worth GBP 233.35 per year. Which comes down to a 5.38% return. After an initial term of three years, and on every anniversary thereafter, bond holders can redeem their bond for a full return of their investment. If they decide to continue to hold the bond, the monthly boxes will keep on coming. The company doesn’t have to worry about the logistics of interest payment in kind; it already operates a tasting club with home delivery to over 100,000 members, and the bond holders will neatly slot into that distribution system. Hotel Chocolat explains that the money will be used to expand their factory in Britain, to build out their plantation in Saint Lucia, and to open new stores in various parts of the world. (Related: Crowdfunding for creative endeavoursShares in New Zealand beehives help protect Manuka trees.) There’s nothing like a global recession to spur the launch of countless low-price innovations, and photography seems to be no exception. First we saw the arrival of We Shoot Bottles and sister site We Shoot Cans; then, just recently, we came across USD 79 profile photo shoots from Minnesota photographer Noah Wolf. The latest spotting? Studio-quality product shots from New York photographer Mariano Pastor for USD 112. Pastor is best known for his work for Town & Country, W, Lancome, Givenchy and more, but his new ViaU! service aims to bring the same high quality to smaller businesses. Clients begin by visiting the ViaU! site and choosing a background and layout for their still-life product shot. They then send their product to ViaU! — the service handles only those less than 18 inches in size — and within 24 hours Pastor will photograph it, post the results for review and then return the product free of charge. Customers can then download their high-resolution photo for a flat fee of USD 112, which includes unlimited usage rights. Pastor explains: “If Isaac Mizrahi can create a successful line for Target, I thought there must be a way I can similarly extend my brand to include an affordable price point option. So, using a Netflix-esque business model, I invented ViaU! for photographing most small consumer products — toys, wine glasses, laundry detergent, chainsaws, diamond jewelry, soccer balls, lipstick — you name it.” Photographers around the globe: how could you expand *your* brand similarly…? The quest for a better coffee cup continues apace. Even as participants in the Betacup contest wrack their brains for a paradigm-busting alternative, Australian Planetware has quietly proposed its own solution: a fully compostable cup and lid. PLAnet cups are not just made using forest-friendly paper, they’re also lined with biofilm instead of petroleum-based plastic. That biofilm is made from renewable plant material; in part as a result, the cups comply with the harmonised European standard EN 13432 and are 100 percent compostable in commercial facilities. PLAnet cup lids, meanwhile, are also made from biodegradable plant-derived material and are fully compostable as well. All printing on PLAnet cups is done with water-based inks to reduce the number of chemicals used. Planetware is also in the process of seeking FSC accreditation from its suppliers. PLAnet cups are white to allow for brand stamps by small businesses; for an additional setup fee, orders of 25,000 or more can have their own logo automatically printed. Coffee shops, restaurants and other purveyors of hot beverages: one to try out on your own ethically minded consumers…? (Related: From pressed leaves, disposable dishes.) Spotted by: Shannon Barry