Top 10 business ideas & opportunities for 2012
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We hope that you’ll find these concepts as inspiring as we do, and that they spark even more innovation in the year to come!
1. Thermodynamic ‘stones’ help keep coffee at the right temperature
We are always excited to see a dose of genuinely new product innovation, and this idea from the US struck us with the simplicity and elegance of its solution. Aiming to help keep coffee at the ideal temperature for longer, Coffee Joulies are small stone-like devices that can be immersed in hot drinks — cooling them while they’re too hot, and then heating them as they cool down. Coffee Joulies launched as a project on Kickstarter, quickly earned its target funding goal, and they now on sale via the website.
2. In Rwanda, clean-burning cookstoves use crowdsourced biofuel
We have seen a wide range of social enterprises that offer inspiration for 2012. Rwandan Inyenyeri is one of these, using an innovative model to deliver a solution to those in need. Inyenyeri hopes to provide an alternative to polluting and forest-destroying brush-fueled cook fires by bringing carbon-negative stoves into the majority of Rwandan homes at zero cost to rural users.
Inyenyeri plan to give away clean-burning LuciaStoves to rural Rwandans while selling them to those in cities. At the same time, they accept recyclable biomass from rural consumers, using this to produce fuel pellets and rewarding donors with free pellets. Urban consumers, meanwhile, buy their fuel pellets, thus generating the bulk of Inyenyeri’s revenues.
3. App for drivers detects and reports potholes automatically
We’ve seen the rise of crowdsourcing initiatives driving innovation for a number of years now, but it takes something extra to make this crowdsourcing process automatic, rather than an active effort for those participating. In use in Boston, Street Bump takes a crowdsourced approach to the problem of potholes. The app takes advantage of the sensors on smartphones to report potholes automatically while users are driving the streets. Developed in partnership with a local professor, the Android app uses the accelerometers and GPS technology in users’ phones to register when and where the user’s car has experienced a pothole — allowing local authorities to map issues and take action more effectively.
4. New font designed for readers with dyslexia
Dutch design firm StudioStudio has created a typeface that can be read by dyslexics more easily and with fewer errors. Recognizing that dyslexics tend to rotate letters as well as mix them up, Dyslexie incorporates numerous features to help keep such problems from occurring. Letters are made to look heavier at the bottom by virtue of thicker lines, for instance, making it easier to recognize their true orientation. With so much design work focusing on creating aesthetically pleasing results, it’s often easy to forget the power of design to help with accessibility for those with difficulties such as dyslexia.
5. Minimalist 10-piece wardrobe designed to span a year
There’s no shortage of ideas aimed at satisfying the “fast fashion” mindset that’s become so common today. Aiming squarely at the opposite end of the sustainability spectrum, the Malaysian ULTRA fashion label has launched an eco-minded 10-piece women’s wardrobe set that’s designed to offer — through mixing and matching — enough outfits to last a whole year. An included 3-in-1 coat, for example, turns into both a shirt and a skirt; a 2-in-1 jacket converts into a vest. Pieces can be sent back to ULTRA at any time for mending or upcycling, and at the end of a year’s wearing, the ULTRA 10 set can be returned for a fresh supply at discounted prices.
6. Mobile app scans for melanoma and maps the results globally
Among the huge range of smartphone apps that we see, it is particularly inspiring to see smartphone technology put to use as a medical tool. Skin Scan is an iPhone app that can be used to analyze and monitor moles so that users can be quickly alerted to any potential danger. The app calculates the fractal dimension of the mole and surrounding skin and builds a structural map that reveals the different growth patterns of the tissues involved, thereby helping to identify any abnormal development. The brainchild of Romanian Cronian Labs, Skin Scan helps users analyze and keep an archive of moles on their own skin or that of family members for later review and comparison.
7. All-in-one kits for growing vegetables at home
We see an ever-broadening array of products to make urban gardening easier, and with these urban populations growing faster than ever before, this is a huge market for potential innovation. We spotted a compelling example in the all-in-one “Grow Your Own” boxes from UK-based Allotinabox. The company sells limited-edition Grow Your Own boxes, filled with organic seeds and a variety of accompanying products for growing vegetables at home. Premium seed packs include carrot, spring onion, leek, spinach and chives, and a Grow Wheel Guide tells consumers when to sow and harvest, among other information. Also included are twine and plant tags. The whole assortment is packaged in a mailbox-friendly 23.3-by-16.5-by-2.5-cm box.
8. iPhone users get paid for small, location-based tasks
As apps become more sophisticated, it’s rare to find an example that integrates all the available functionality to create something as useful as Roamler in The Netherlands and Gigwalk in the US. Roamler lets companies create an instant mobile workforce on-demand, consisting of people who are already close to where the tasks need to be done. Roamler’s clients make their requests with the company, and Roamler offers the work to its users based on their location. In exchange, they earn between EUR 2 and EUR 4 and gain points; the higher their resulting status, the more challenging assignments they get and the more money they earn. There’s plenty here to inspire app-based innovation — targeting smartphone users wherever you find them!
9. A Mexican soccer team managed by its fans
The Murcielagos FC soccer team takes a thoroughly innovative approach to decision-making by having no coach or trainer; instead, it’s managed entirely by its fans. Participating in the Mexican second division, Murcielagos FC outsources all key decisions directly to the fans, with choices posted for supporters to vote on. The fans can vote online or via text message on everything from game tactics and team configuration, to player selection and in-game substitutions. They can even vote to decide which players will be awarded bonuses. We’ve seen initiatives that employ this principle before, but never taken to this extent.
10. Snap a photo of a bill, then click to pay
Aiming to make banking more convenient than ever, Danish Danske Bank now lets consumers snap a photo of their bill and then simply click to pay. Danske Bank customers begin by downloading the bank’s mobile app, they can use their phone’s built-in camera to avoid having to enter their details. All customers need do is photograph the relevant section of their bill and then click to pay it. It’s great to see a big brand offering creative solutions to their customers, and it’s a reminder that innovation has the potential to transform every business in 2012.
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