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With the rise of urban gardening comes a need for suitable plants, pots and accessories. Interior designer Mark van der Geest recognized a gap in the market and recently opened Urban Green in Amsterdam. While regular garden centers have plenty to offer those with ‘real’ gardens, but not much for those of us limited to tiny plots and shady balconies, Urban Green is entirely focused on the challenges of city gardening. The store sells greenery that thrives in containers, and plenty of shade-loving plants, since building density means that urban gardens get less sun than their suburban counterparts. Also on offer are foldable and stackable chairs and tables to help maximize space. For roof decks, Urban Green offers lightweight containers like the ones we’ve featured, and it also partners with companies that install green roofs and vertical gardens. In addition to its tailormade offerings, the store’s Amsterdam location also saves consumers from having to trek out to big garden centers on the outskirts of the city. Van der Geest hopes he’ll be able to encourage people to make their cities greener and ideally grow their own food on balconies and rooftops. Urban Green aims to open 15 stores in other Dutch cities over the next five years. We think it’s an innovative, on-trend retail concept that should do well around the world. (Related: Five new business ideas for urban gardeningGrocer launches rooftop garden for hyperlocal produceTriscuit-sponsored site taps urban gardening trendUrban beekeeping kit for honey loversUrban fruit-picking project aims to minimize waste.) If the global brain can bring fresh capabilities to industries as diverse as car design and publishing, then it stands to reason audio production could benefit too. That’s the premise behind Finnish AudioDraft, which recently launched a platform for collaboration and crowdsourcing of audio work. Now in beta, AudioDraft aims to help audio producers find new people to work with and new projects to work on. Companies in need of audio productions begin by creating a contest on the site, including selecting a license for the work, setting a prize amount and describing what they need. AudioDraft charges a listing fee of USD 99 as well as 10 percent of the set prize amount; everything but the listing fee is refundable if no winner gets picked. Audio producers around the globe, meanwhile, can collaborate on entries using AudioDraft’s “Social Audio Sketching Tool,” which is a multiuser, multitrack recorder and arrangement tool that works in the browser. Clients can rate, comment on and eliminate entries as they come in, ultimately picking one or more winners after the contest’s close. Prize money is then automatically transferred to the winner(s) while the chosen audio files go to the client. A video on YouTube explains AudioDraft’s concept. Is there any creative realm where the crowds can’t outshine the few? We think not. How has *your* brand tapped the global brain lately…? (Related: ‘Elite’ crowdsourcing service taps an invitation-only crowdGreeting-card maker pays for top crowdsourced designsCrowdsourcing business documentsCrowdsourcing of graphic design goes localCrowdsourcing economic solutions for IrelandCrowdsourcing the sales forceCrowdsourcing product improvements.) Spotted by: John Greene A sense of personal connection often plays a key role in motivating charitable donations, as nonprofits are increasingly recognizing. Much the way DonorsChoose lets philanthropists choose a particular school classroom to help with a donation of specific learning supplies, so Belgian YouBridge aims to create a more personally connected version of One Laptop Per Child. YouBridge seeks to help close the digital divide by offering a transparent online platform whereby donors are connected and involved with the specifics of their computer donation. Potential donors begin by choosing from among more than 100 financially disadvantaged students currently profiled on the site; student locations include Bangladesh, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Once donors select one to help, they use YouBridge to pay EUR 190 to donate a netbook, which normally would have a selling price of EUR 350, the organization says. YouBridge has partnered with Close the Gap for distribution to universities overseas; universities pay EUR 25 per netbook and then distribute the computers to students, who may use them until they graduate. Meanwhile, recipient students and donors immediately connect online to “share information, ideas and dreams,” in the site’s own words — participating university partners even offer a typing course for help with that, where necessary. Charitable organizations have long employed letter-writing as a way to connect donors and recipients, but the immediacy and ongoing nature of a direct online link is bound to increase that sense of connection to new heights. How long before this becomes a standard part of the world of giving…? (Related: P2P student loans for the developing worldFighting poverty through microloan guaranteesMicrocharity uses tangibility to target young donors.) Spotted by: Jeroen Corthout No end in sight to the “random acts of kindness” trend, which has now apparently struck Spanish clothing brand Desigual. Rather than trying to inspire kindness through cards, umbrellas or t-shirts, however, Desigual has launched an effort to reward its fans for being kind to bloggers online. Desigual fans interested in participating begin by signing up with its “Happy Hunters” site and indicating which item from the Desigual line they’d like to be rewarded with. They then wait for Desigual to alert them to a particular blog post to target with their cheerful comments — those selected are not Desigual’s own blogs, but rather its favourites from across the web. Once that happens, Happy Hunter members post their positive comments on the blog in question, and the first 100 to get a reply from the blogger win the clothing item they picked. All Happy Hunter members also get a discount of 20 percent on Desigual.com. With free love for fans and bloggers alike — not to mention a heaping helping of good karma coming back to Desigual itself — the Happy Hunter initiative just may achieve for the brand what no traditional ad ever could. Time to usher in a kinder, gentler era for your generous brand…? Spotted by: Leticia Pérez Prieto It’s a frustrating fact of life for any parent of young children that a) kids are naturally drawn to computers, and yet b) most of the content online is not suitable for kids. Aiming to provide “a safe online place for kids,” in the site’s own words, is UK-based Smories, which features a broad assortment of short videos featuring kids reading stories for kids aloud. Users of the Smories site can search for new video stories by age group — stories range in suitability from the 3-to-4 age group up to those who are 7 or 8 — or by category, including fairy tales, Aesop’s fables and nursery rhymes. Smories are a maximum of 10 minutes long, and they are accessible online via PC as well as iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Authors of new smories can even submit their unpublished stories as a sort of market test, read either by themselves or by children; all copyrights remain with the writer. If the person reading the story is under 17, however, the smory will have its own unique address rather than being publicly viewable through Smories.com. A new, free story is published on Smories.com every day, the site says. Whether parents like it or not, kids and technology appear to be a match made in heaven; why not help provide a safe place for story-telling? Currently, Smories.com accepts only stories told in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Afrikaans; one to partner with or emulate for kids in other parts of the world? (Related: Recordable charm for kids plays back a loved one’s voice‘Huggable’ case keeps iPhones safe from kidsRemote (grand)parents read bedtime stories by web videoColour ebook reader for kidsOnline platform for long-distance bedtime storiesPersonalized books starring a child’s favourite toyPersonalized e-stories for kids on iPhone and KindleiPhone app narrates stories for young kidsiPhone game gets kids into the (hidden) parkNarrate-your-own storybook videos.) Spotted by: Murray Orange Kiva has appeared on our pages numerous times over the years, but we can’t resist sharing news that brought the microloan platform to our attention once more. Just last week, Visa announced that it is donating USD 1 million toward Kiva’s loans to U.S. small businesses. The Kiva-Visa partnership will focus on expanding Kiva’s existing model to better serve small businesses within the United States. Specific initiatives that will result include a collaborative effort to drive awareness and understanding of microfinance for small businesses, building Kiva’s microlending platform to increase capacity to support U.S. small businesses, as well as a joint study to address gaps in research in the marketplace. William Sheedy, Visa group executive for the Americas, explains: “This partnership advances a shared mission of both Visa and Kiva: helping small businesses grow and ultimately create jobs. For many small business owners, a microloan can have an immediate impact and be a critical catalyst for their long-term success.” Visa’s donation coincides with a major Kiva expansion in the Gulf Coast through the addition of ACCION Texas-Louisiana, the largest microfinance institution in the country, to the Kiva Field Partners network. Perhaps best-known for its microlending efforts overseas, Kiva has already facilitated more than USD 1 million in loans within the United States. Visa, meanwhile, is no stranger to the role of brand butler for consumers, and this continues that strategy on the SMB side. Either way, a new source to tap when your small business needs an injection of funds…? (Related: Matching program doubles Kiva loans.) Spotted by: Business Opportunities When a well-loved pair of jeans shows the tell-tale signs of aging, one option is to call upon Denim Therapy for restoration. Alternatively, another route now available is to send in a back pocket from said ailing jeans and get a one-of-a-kind smartphone pocket in return. Dutch Deadjeans accepts the back pockets of beloved denim pants from all over the world. In return, it will fashion those pockets with felt lining and convert them into unique smartphone holders. Consumers need only carefully remove the pocket they have in mind — it must be at least 14cm high by 9cm wide — and mark the front and back of those pockets with stickers Deadjeans provides. They then send in the designated pocket and wait for Deadjeans to turn it into a smartphone holder; pricing including shipping is EUR 29.90. Currently, Deadjeans makes smartphone pockets for phones close in size to the iPhone 3G(s), the iPhone 4 and the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Countless beloved pairs of jeans around the world are wearing out right now, as we speak, ready to be upcycled when they’re no longer worn . Are you a crafty minipreneur who can turn them into something useful again…? (Related: Leather jackets remade into designer bagsLuxe upcycling: from cashmere sweaters to (very) soft toysFive businesses that turn trash into appealing new products.) If mobile gaming can turn the dreary to-do list from something we should do into something we want to do, then the possibilities are surely endless for other aspects of life that could use a like-minded dose of fun and motivation. Such as ride-sharing, for instance. As if on cue, Ridekicks is a UK-based site that turns carpooling into a social game with rewards for earth-friendly driving. Now in beta, Ridekicks aims to use fun to help change the way that people use cars. Toward that end, it awards points to users for every shared ride. Users planning a trip can post it on the site as well as promote it on their own social networks, while those hoping for a ride can search for opportunities to share. Drivers who want to charge passengers for the ride can even do so through the site; Ridekicks charges a 5 percent fee per transaction. In any case, every shared mile by either driver or passenger equates to one Ridekick point, allowing both sides of the equation to be rewarded. Points are also earned when those who share a ride put “stickers” on each other’s profiles, as well as when they complete reviews. Points are taken away, however, for those who are reviewed badly. In Foursquare-like fashion, the ultimate goal of the game is to become “The King of the Road,” or the highest-scoring participant; those who earn that title, however, only get to keep it as long as they keep sharing. There’s also the chance to become “The Hometown Hero” — the highest-scoring participant from any given city — or “Captain Planet,” the player who travels the most miles as a passenger. Ridekicks hasn’t yet decided on any reward scheme for accumulated points, but it’s open to suggestions. OK, so that’s two mundane aspects of life converted into games. All you developer-minded entrepreneurs out there: where else does the world need more fun? (Related: More airport ride matchingIn New Delhi, carpooling system rewards members for giving ridesMore social ride-sharing.) Spotted by: Richard Monk Last month came word of IKEA facilitating secondhand sales of its furniture. It turns out that IKEA isn’t the only Swedish retailer experimenting with used products — electronics chain Siba recently added a classifieds section to its website, enabling customers to sell and buy pre-owned products. Siba, which has 56 stores in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, launched secondhand.siba.se because it realized that sometimes customers specifically set out to buy a used product, for example when buying a TV for a holiday home. Meanwhile, others need a place to offload their camera or game console before upgrading to a new one. The company doesn’t charge listing fees, and hopes the service will attract visitors to its website, as well as garnering good will by helping consumers find what they’re looking for, be it new or used. (Related: Online marketplace for secondhand IKEA furnitureSwedish fashion brand launches its own secondhand store.) Spotted by: Robert Olzon Another week, another subscription model spotted! This time, the virtual ink was still drying on our story about Bonbon’s lip balms by monthly subscription when we got word of a like-minded effort applied to the lowly kitchen cleaning cloth. Far from homely, however, UK-based Jangneus Design‘s eco-friendly cleaning cloths offer a heaping helping of Swedish-inspired design with strong colours and eye-catching motifs. Jangneus Design’s kitchen cloths all feature a bright design against a white background; colours available for the designs are blue, turquoise, green, black, purple, yellow and red. Pricing is GBP 2.50 for one to three cloths, GBP 2 for four to nine cloths and GBP 1.75 for 10 or more; shipping within the UK is free. Fully biodegradable at the end of their useful lives, the cloths clearly offer yet another lovely illustration of our favourite “everything can be upgraded” theme. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is Jangneus’ subscription plan, whereby GBP 25 per year buys the subscriber a new cloth every month. Consumers can specify the colour of the cloths they receive, or they can opt for a mixed subscription whereby Jangneus chooses for them. Subscriptions are available only within the UK. Of course, beyond simply offering consumers a distinctive product without the hassle of having to shop for it multiple times per year, subscription models like Jangneus’ also offer startups a good way to gain traction. It’s the elusive win-win proposition, and a good reason to try subscriptions for the recurring purchases in your own company’s product line. Be inspired!