Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Bringing the online and offline worlds together is a rich source of opportunity for publishers, combining the tangible benefits and convenience of physical ownership with the opportunity to deliver up-to-the-minute content. Bringing this concept to the restaurant guide, Italian 2Spaghi.it has launched the SpagoGuida 2011, a physical directory of restaurants that links to online reviews. The guide is available from the company’s website for EUR 15.90, and offers listings of over 1,000 restaurants throughout Italy. Each listing is provided with a QR code, which — when scanned by a smartphone with the appropriate software — links to that restaurant’s page on the 2Spaghi.it website. These pages are populated with user-generated content, providing the reader with the latest opinions from the 2Spaghi.it community and allowing them to provide feedback on their own experience. There are over 50,000 restaurants listed on 2Spaghi.it — a fact that highlights the limitations of printing a traditional guidebook. However, rather than focusing on the limitations of the format, the challenge for the creators of SpagoGuida will be to offer their users the best of both worlds… Spotted by: Deanna Lawrence The choice of electric vehicles continues to grow, while charging networks are popping up everywhere from McDonald’s to Austrian phone booths. Now, bringing innovation to the sale and distribution of electric vehicles, Mitsubishi has partnered with Japanese appliance chain Yamada Denki to sell its i-MiEV electric vehicle from 17 stores within the Tokyo area. Mitsubishi has sold 3,000 i-MiEVs in Japan since sales began in April 2010, but is hoping to boost these figures by taking the vehicle in-store. Sales are supported by staff specialising in electric vehicles, while Yamada Denki is planning to introduce test drive events. In addition, a broader range of services are reportedly lined up, including the installation of solar energy systems and charging stations. This initiative comes as part of Yamada Denki’s “smart-house business” campaign — aiming to address environmental issues through the sale of eco-friendly products. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi will gain access to a new audience, educating consumers about the benefits of electric vehicles and enjoying the resulting sales. Before too long, we expect to see similar deals emerging in eco-aware markets around the world. Spotted by: Mark Much the way KiosKiosk offers free pop-up space to London’s creative startups, so YesPleaseMore does something similar for Denver’s local creative economy through a pop-up store, free co-working space, networking opportunities and grants for creative entrepreneurship. Working in partnership with the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, YesPleaseMore aims to provide an economic development platform that gives participating creatives funding for new innovations, the opportunity to sell their wares, and a nurturing environment for creative entrepreneurial culture. Its pop-up souvenir shop in a vacant retail space within the Denver Pavilions, for example, features goods exclusively designed in Colorado by local craftspeople, including furniture, paper goods, clothing, jewelry, prints and art. A full 70 percent of sales at the store directly benefits local creatives, while 20 percent goes to YesPleaseMore operations and 10 percent funds programs and the group’s USD 500 starter grants, which are awarded to applicants whose projects get the most public votes. Also available from YesPleaseMore are a wifi-equipped co-working space and exhibitions and events. YesPleaseMore’s store will reportedly close up shop later this winter, but the group will continue working with local artists and organizations to nurture the city’s creative industry, which was recently named one of the top five economic producers in the state. A model to emulate in other communities! Spotted by: Brian We may all know that eating our “five a day” is important for good health, but achieving that goal can be another matter. The Innocent smoothie brand has already offered one solution to that problem — namely, its pop-up 5 for 5 Café in London — but German Tomarni GmbH takes a different approach. Tomarni’s Lebepur is a powdered shake mix that’s made from nothing but finely ground fruits and vegetables. Available in both vegetable and fruit-vegetable formulations, Lebepur mixes include a combination of dried strawberries, cabbage, parsnip, broccoli, bananas, tomatoes, kale, mango, plums, lentils, cauliflower and spinach. Both varieties come in powdered form, ready for mixing with water into a healthy shake. Both are also rich in phytochemicals and important secondary metabolites. One 450 gram bag — enough for 30 shakes — contains the equivalent of 3,000 grams of fresh fruits and vegetables, Tomarni says, offering a convenient way to consume more produce without having to worry about seasonality or spoilage. Priced at EUR 9.90 for a bag of vegetable mix or EUR 14.90 for the fruit-vegetable variety, Lebepur keeps for two years without any preservatives. Worldwide shipping is available. With compelling benefits for consumers in just about every walk of life, Lebepur could be a good addition to any retail store, health-focused or otherwise. The benefits of music as a therapeutic tool are widely acknowledged, but actually creating music has traditionally required more dexterity and skill than many handicapped people have at their command. Not so the Skoog, a brand-new musical instrument that can be played by anyone. Designed specifically to empower those unable to play traditional instruments, the Skoog is a soft, squeezable object that plugs into a computer’s USB port. Once that’s done, users can simply touch, press, squash, twist or tap the Skoog to play a wide range of instruments intuitively. With five colour-coded, touch-sensitive sides, the Skoog offers access to the full dynamic characteristics of a real flute or xylophone, for example, without requiring mastery on the part of the player. Any part of the body can be used to play the Skoog in a variety of ways, such as squeezing it for flute sounds or tapping it to strike a xylophone. And because the Skoog uses physical modelling synthesis — not just sampling, midi or wavetable synthesis — it responds directly to the player’s movements, so that variations in touch directly affect the sound produced. Twelve brass, woodwind, percussion and string instruments can be played using the Skoog, which can also be customized through sensitivity and skill settings. Pricing is GBP 625 for a Skoog Personal Edition, or GBP 500 in educational settings. Currently sold by Scottish Skoogmusic — a spinoff from the University of Edinburgh, where it was developed — the Skoog is already in use in schools across the UK and beyond. Spotted by: Jane Strachan Back in 2007 we covered Life Trackers, a site that let consumers create an ongoing record of their lives by forwarding significant comments, photos and other content to a central email address. Now tapping similarly into the life-caching trend is Moment Garden, which aims to let parents securely save and share the important moments of their young children’s lives. Each user of Moment Garden’s free service is given a custom email address to which stories, photos and other updates can be sent from any internet-connected device. Friends and family can contribute updates and comments as well, making the “garden” of contributed special “moments” a collaborative effort. Parents can show off the result with an interactive timeline and slideshow; at the same time, however, it’s completely up to them to decide who can see that final product. There’s clearly no end in sight to consumers’ desire to document their lives. How else might parents or others want to record and preserve their — or their children’s — life experiences…? (Related: Clipped over the ear, tiny video camera records continuouslyAuto-snapping camera documents its wearer’s lifeCrowdsourced tagging tool makes photos searchable.) Thalys, the high-speed train that connects Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne, is targeting business travellers with a new seating option in first class. Starting next month, the rail company will offer a meeting room for four people located at the front of the train. The meeting space, dubbed ‘Le Salon’, is a private room with four comfortable chairs and a conference table, plus standard first class amenities like complimentary wifi, meals and newspapers. Travellers need to book Le Salon in advance, with prices around 10% higher than four individually purchased full-rate first class tickets. Le Salon will no doubt appeal to small teams preparing for business meetings and conferences, as well as leisure travellers willing to pay a premium for guaranteed privacy, peace and quiet. In addition to helping customers make the best possible use of their time on board, Thalys recently launched carpooling-thalys.com for passengers interested in carpooling before or after their journey. (Related: Global business network with workspaces for membersSocial network for Air France-KLM travellersMeeting rooms, upgradedBarcelona Hilton hotel reserves rooms for a siesta.) Cardboard boxes have been the focus of numerous innovations already featured on our virtual pages, including eBay’s initiative to reuse them. Continuing the eco-friendly, reusable theme, Boxsmart offers a central place for companies to buy and sell used and surplus boxes. For companies with boxes to get rid of, Arizona-based Boxsmart will sort and process each load by hand, carefully inspecting them and separating the good ones from the bad. Unusable ones get recycled, while Boxsmart resells the good ones. The companies unloading the boxes, meanwhile, earn 50 to 100 percent more from Boxsmart than traditional recycling efforts would bring in, it says, and without requiring the purchase of any new equipment. For companies in need of boxes, Boxsmart carries a huge inventory of deeply discounted obsolete and surplus boxes as well as used shipping and bulk boxes. With an inventory of more than 3 million boxes in more than 800 sizes, Boxsmart offers savings of between 25 and 50 percent over the prices of traditional stock or custom corrugated boxes, it says. While the traditional recycling model focuses on baling scrap corrugated for export to foreign markets for reprocessing, Boxsmart takes a greener approach with no reprocessing and no exporting. It also employs more than 500 physically and mentally challenged adults throughout the US. Currently, Boxsmart operates several US warehouses and serves the United States, Canada and Mexico. One to partner with or emulate in your area….? (Related: Boxes made of cardboard laden with seedsMatching buyers and sellers of cardboard boxes.) Spotted by: Michael Sarlitt DJs, promoters, label reps and ‘professional party people’ from the Netherlands have persuaded Dutch airline KLM to add an extra flight to its roster. In a new twist on crowd-buying, the initiators of Fly2Miami made a bet with KLM on Twitter to organize a non-stop flight from Amsterdam to Miami. If Fly2Miami could get 351 seats reserved before December 6th, KLM would add a flight to its schedule on 21 March 2011, specifically for people attending the Ultra Music Festival and related parties. The initiative was prompted by a Dutch filmmaker tweeting about the lack of a direct flight from Amsterdam to Miami, a query that the airline’s Twitter team rapidly responded to with a wager. Exceeding everyone’s expectations, the flight was fully booked within five hours. “We can rightly call it a first — the first time KLM will deploy an aircraft following a request on Twitter”, said Martijn van der Zee, vice president of e-commerce at KLM. “Social media are becoming more and more important to KLM to offer information and service to our customers.” From Carrotmob‘s crowds rewarding positive environmental change, to Groupon’s daily deals for groups, crowd clout — turbo-charged by social media — provides companies across industries with new opportunities to empower consumers while improving their bottom line, or at the very least, their brand image. (Related: Furniture shopping with the crowdsBroker creates local groups for collective solar purchasingTravel agents bid on consumers’ dream tripsCrowd clout for social and political change.) We’ve already featured numerous writing-focused sites over the years, including several that aim to help authors get early feedback on their work. Page 99 Test is one recent example, but Figment serves a broader purpose by allowing writers and readers alike to share, discover and connect. New York-based Figment is a free community where users can share their writing, connect with other readers and discover new stories and authors. Covering everything from sonnets to mysteries, sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, the site enables those using it to “heart” a piece of writing, offer comments and follow the authors they like. Writers can choose to make their stories public, private or available only to select people; early access codes can even be shared with trusted readers for advance feedback. Writing, reviewing and entering contests all earn participants badges on the site, which can also be used via a mobile version. Android and iPhone apps are coming soon, as are SMS capabilities. Figment reminds us in many ways of Instant Encore, a like-minded site in the music world that not only fosters connections between fans and performers of classical music but enables online sales and donations as well. Who will partner with or emulate Figment to bring similar capabilities into the mix? (Related: Free e-book streaming and sharing with ad supportA curated marketplace for self-published booksLeanpub encourages authors to publish early & edit oftenCrowdsourcing site helps publishers find new authorsHarperCollins hopes crowds will spot next bestsellerSelling books by the chapter.) Spotted by: Mike Westdijk