Innovation That Matters

Top 10 business ideas & opportunities for 2014


We’ve selected 10 new business ideas that will provide entrepreneurs with plenty of inspiration in 2014. Spotted from countries all around the world, these businesses offer a taste of what’s to come in the year ahead.

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. Swedish invisible bike helmet, now available to buy

Cycling take-up by city dwellers varies around the world — almost one quarter of all journeys taken in Malmö, Sweden, are made by bike, while air pollution and rise of automotive traffic make Beijing a cyclist’s nightmare. It’s no surprise then that Swedish innovators are behind some of the most impressive tech solutions to increase bicycle uptake, such as the Hövding helmet. Typical helmets can be uncomfortable and there is continuing debate about whether they actually protect wearers, meaning that some cyclists don’t even bother. The Hövding is essentially an airbag that is packed away and stored around the neck when cycling. In the event of a crash, the airbag is activated and covers a much larger area around the head than a regular helmet would.

The Hövding provides greater protection and comfort for the increasing numbers of cyclists on urban roads, as well as helping to encourage more people to take up the green mode of transport in their own city.

Read more about the Hövding »

2. From Finland, platform enables consumers to pay with their face

This year, Uniqul has shown that streamlining product purchases using digital and web technology is not just limited to online shopping. The Finland-based company launched physical checkouts that automatically load customers’ payment details by recognizing their face. Not only can the platform reduce high street checkout times to around five seconds, but it also offers a more personalized service with huge data collecting capabilities. Although reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Minority Report, Uniqul is working to turn the system into a reality and is currently preparing to launch in Helsinki.

Uniqul falls into a more general growing trend for using facial recognition tech in the retail space, which this year also saw the UK’s OptimEyes develop digital ads that collect information about the demographics that notice them, and Russia’s Synqera create an emotion-detecting platform that offers shoppers discounts depending on their mood.

Read more about Uniqul »

3. Shopping cart-mounted tablet detects nearby items and offers recipes in real time

Continuing the theme of supermarkets becoming smarter, this year saw Hellmann’s Brazil return with another novel marketing campaign. Having leveraged receipts to print personalized recipes depending on shopper’s baskets in 2012, the mayonnaise brand teamed up with creative agency CUBOCC to fit shopping trolleys with NFC-enabled tablet devices. As customers made their way around the store, the displays offered different recipes — all featuring mayonnaise — depending on the products they were near to. The ads acted as a call to action, using tech to target consumers in the moment of their decision making.

This tactic was also utilized in another innovative bit of marketing courtesy of Microsoft, which launched a print ad in Forbes magazine which could be used to connect to free wifi as a way to demonstrate the ubiquity of the cloud, a key feature of its Office 365 software.

Read more about the Recipe Cart »

4. In Japan, web search 3D-prints results for visually impaired

One of the major buzzwords for 2013 was 3D printing, however, the concept is more than just a fad and we’ve seen more businesses truly integrate the idea into their services this year than ever before. Our favorite? Yahoo! Japan’s Hands On Search gave children at the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired a tactile experience of the web by printing out 3D models of search results. The project shows how 3D printing can move beyond its obvious use for modeling and prototyping, and can create objects on-demand with genuine utility. Similarly, iLab Haiti is also using 3D printing to provide emergency and medical workers with the equipment that is sometimes lacking, exactly when they need it.

While few homes and businesses currently have their own 3D printers, 2014 could see this change significantly with the concept becoming an industry in itself. Ideas like 2013’s Filabot, which enables users to turn their recyclable plastics into 3D printing filament, will set out to prove this to be the case.

Read more about Hands On Search »

5. Real-time translator could be the end of awkward foreign language interactions

One problem with Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village” is that not everyone is on an equal footing in terms of communication — while English has become the de facto language of the internet, the world is still multilingual. However, there are companies striving to provide a seamless link between businesses and consumers who speak different tongues. One product making moves to solve this problem this year was SIGMO, a palm-sized device that translates speech into 25 different languages and relays it as audio, enabling real-time two-way communication between users of different nationalities. SIGMO broke its Indiegogo funding target in spectacular style in October, eventually raising just shy of USD 250,000 from an initial aim of USD 15,000.

While instant translation tools are useful for consumers of all kinds, ELSA is another device that uses remote human translators to provide on-demand translations for emergency services dealing with immigrants and other diaspora. Both SIGMO and ELSA could help real-time translation go big in 2014.

Read more about SIGMO »

6. From Switzerland, Lego-like blocks enable plug-and-play smart homes

Many home electronics companies in the past 12 months have been scrambling to ensure their products are now as smart as the phones in consumers’ pockets. However, almost anything can be connected to the web, a fact realized by companies such as Switzerland’s digitalSTROM and China’s Plugaway. Both are solutions to retrofit smart capabilities to any existing home device that’s connected to mains power. Not only do these systems provide remote control from smartphone apps, homeowners can also monitor their energy use and other data about their property.

We’ve seen a plethora of new products in 2013 that include these capabilties — August, DoorBot and Greenbox to name a few — but both digitalSTROM and Plugaway are making this tech available to consumers in all income brackets right now.

Read more about digitalSTROM »

7. In South Korea, ‘smart hospital’ offers services through smartphones

The healthcare industry has long relied on innovators and risk-takers to come up with new ways to tackle diseases and improve hospital conditions across the board. Some are going further than others in embracing digital, however, such as Seoul National University Bundang Hospital in South Korea. This year, it released its own Patient Guide app, using electronic medical records to deliver information about scheduled appointments, expected waiting times and healthcare costs whenever they need it. Its RFID-enabled patient tags also hold information about inpatients for doctors, as well as enabling guests to log into a personalized entertainment system during their stay.

The smart systems developed for the hospital offer a taste of how consumer tech will help to improve citizen experience at hospitals and other government facilities through the coming year.

Read more about the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital »

8. In London, customers design and print fashion items live in-store

Personalized services are helping consumers become more demanding in terms of what they want from businesses. In the fashion sector, consumer creativity is at its most evident and YrStore was one project to fully embrace customers calling the shots. The pop-up store enabled visitors to design their own garments before having them printed live in store. Located on London’s Carnaby Street, the outlet offered a completely different vibe to the typical image of dead-eyed crowds sifting through shelves of garments, and instead saw them get hands-on with design software to create fashions that more faithfully expressed their personalities.

Although a temporary project, the principles underpinned by YrStore offer a taste of greater customer involvement in the creation of the products they consume, and ideas such as Spain’s Fabrican spray-on clothing hint that in the future they won’t even need to head to a shop to do it.

Read more about YrStore »

9. Blog feeds turned into personalized TV show

2013 may have ushered in the death of one of the most popular news feed aggregators — Google Reader — but the reaction to its closure offered a great insight into the way many now receive information — from multiple and widespread corners of the web. Its organization therefore is of great importance, something recognized by Guide, a platform that takes news from users’ favorite blogs, news sites and social network feeds and presents it as their own personalized TV news channel.

This reorganization and repackaging of the web’s growing content is another example of consumers demanding new ways to customize their daily experience, and has already been picked up by platforms such as Wibbitz, which boils down news articles into visual, bitesize chunks. Given the popularity of services like Feedly and Flipboard, expect to see more personalization from these services in the coming year.

Read more about Guide »

10. At Rio carnival, beer cans recycled in exchange for train rides

Telling consumers to commit to more environmentally-friendly actions without offering any tangible incentive cannot be the way forward. Promoters of green practices must offer something in return, without canceling out their good work. This was exhibited in fine style this year by Brazil’s AlmapBBDO, with its Beer Turnstile campaign. Operating at the famous Rio Carnival, revelers were encouraged to hold onto their empty Antarctica beer cans, rather than throwing them into the street. The reward? A free ride home on the Rio metro system if they handed the cans into waste collectors who made sure the trash was properly recycled. Not only did the campaign ensure 1,000 cans per hour were recycled, rather than sent to landfill, they also saw an increase in the number of people taking public transport rather than their cars, reducing drink driving in the process.

Also offering incentives for eco behavior with similar success, Austria’s BIOMAT restaurant gave customers discounts if they brought in food waste from their homes, which was processed and turned into biogas to power the eatery’s kitchen. And finally, customers of Germany’s AOTERRA‘s cloud service had the company’s servers installed into their homes, using their excess heat to warm up the property in an eco-friendly way while also saving them money.

These disparate examples should provide plenty of inspiration for companies hoping to encourage consumers to go green in the next year.

Read more about the Beer Turnstile »

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