Last Friday I had an experience many of you may share: wandering around the optical shop after an eye exam, eyes blurry and cartoonishly dilated, looking at potential glasses for the first time. Though I could barely see, I saw something was extremely off: the prices of the glasses themselves. A basic level pair was going to run me $300! I wisely decided to wait until vision cleared enough to go search online for glasses and ask for recommendations on Twitter.
Many suggestions came, but one stood out. Warby Parker. Why? Whereas most others make a point to crow about their massive selection, designer brands, and low prices that fluctuate widely depending on style and options included, Warby Parker takes an entirely different approach: it has a relatively small selection of glasses all at one price, $95, all including the three elements typically priced separately: frame, lens, and anti glare/scratch coating.
Something happened on April 5th that may mark a seismic shift in how start-ups get funded. The JOBS Act will legitimize crowdfunding.
Up until now, crowdfunders could only legally accept “thank-you gifts” for their “donations.” Under JOBS, actual ownership and financial returns will be available to the broader public, not just accredited investors, VCs and the like. The implications for new business development, and job creation as a result, are enormous. The SEC has 270 days to shape exactly what that will look like, but companies are already jumping to take advantage of the opportunity.
For those that become the dominant players, it’s a potentially lucrative space to be in. Since the market is opening up fast, it’s mostly been a matter of creating an attractive platform to allow would-be entrepreneurs to make their pitch to the public. Since the site can take a percentage of what’s raised, there’s a business opportunity right there.
In everyone’s closet, there’s a handful of items that have been around far too long. Worn out but well loved t-shirts. Their lucky jeans. That shirt with a strong tie to an amazing life experience. What if they could be remade into something that would once again be allowed to be seen in public? What if it provided fair wages domestically?
That’s the idea behind Project Repat.
Project Repat takes the concept of upcycling and makes it much more personal. While TerraCycle connects people to the waste stream by using trash to create new products, Project Repat takes it a step further, using materials you choose, to make a garment for you.
Did you know that your normal, reasonable expectations are the source of a tremendous amount of waste? That expectation is that store shelves at supermarkets be fully stocked, all the time. Why? Inevitably, not all date-sensitive, perishable items will be sold on time. Depending on local law or the willingness of the store to expend the effort to donate to food banks, the majority of that food is simply thrown out.
This is a tremendous waste of resources, both in the actual items being disposed of, and the time spent by staff clearing it off shelves and readying for it to be thrown out. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In the past year or so, crowdfunding via sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo has been generating tremendous buzz, and rightly so. They’ve proven to be a viable way to raise funds, gauge consumer interest, and refine the offering per their feedback. To have dozens, if not hundreds of people who have put money towards your product and are likely to be vocal supporters of it in their communities is no doubt quite helpful. It means a built in foundation of customers once your product launches.
But what if that’s not enough? Where does this product get sold? How do people who are casually interested that heard about it via a tweet months back find you? For all but those who are savvy with marketing and have the means/ability to build an attractive site, their innovative creation may languish in obscurity, falling far short of its potential.
TinyLightBulbs aims to be a remedy to this problem, serving as a hub for crowd and independent funded products. It makes intuitive sense:
Have you ever been out at a cafe, its wifi on the fritz, and looked longingly at the 13 other networks with little lock icons next to them? For most networks, only a fraction of their capacity is ever put to use, leaving a lot of excess capacity untapped.
The emerging collaborative consumption movement frequently utlizes the internet to enabling connections and exchanges. Never has access to the internet itself been the focus of a business. Until KeyWifi.
As KeyWifi puts it on its IndieGogo project page,
KeyWifi is the world’s first web-based, peer-to-peer internet access platform, allowing individuals and small businesses to safely rent out their Wifi, opening up previously unavailable hotspots and turning our whole world into a potential “Wifi zone.”
That one phrase, “safely rent out their wifi,” could be all it takes to unlock people’s willingness to do such a thing. In an age of phishing, viruses, high profile hacking, giving people the security to share their unused bandwidth with confidence, at a profit, is enormous.
Here again, KeyWifi nails the larger benefit of their service:
In this world of increasingly instant gratification, what could possibly be the appeal of the shipment of your company’s products taking much longer than usual? A lot, if it’s via New Dawn Traders. The environmental impact of shipping and flying by plane have long received dramatic headlines. But shipping by boat? Not so much. Yet it should, as the 15 largest ships in the world produce as much sulphur oxide pollution as all the cars in the world combined. And that’s just the start.
Environmentalist Jamie Pike is currently sailing on an alternative: Irene, a vintage ketch that was once part of the British Merchant fleet. Intended as a way to draw attention to the impact of typical shipping and to become a viable option itself, the New Dawn Traders are currently on a 5 month journey around the world. They just loaded a cargo of olive oil in Spain, to be delivered in South America, next stop Canary Islands. It’s ironic that this ship, the last of its kind from a bygone era, is being used as a vehicle to point towards the future of shipping. Slow shipping.
The New Dawn Traders are looking beyond their solitary ship and into what’s possible after this.
Food packaging, especially single serving, is a major contributor to landfill waste. About 76 tons in the US annually. Frequently difficult to recycle, and otherwise not top of mind for people to think of as recyclable, it has seemed like a necessary evil, as people aren’t about to stop consuming such products.
We are on the cusp of that figure being radically reduced.
Monosol and WikiCells are two contenders in the soon-to-emerge edible packaging market. Monosol is closer to market, as it’s already being used in detergent, pesticide and clothing applications, and has begun talks with food companies. However, its method of dispersal is getting wet, which precludes it being used in liquid applications, a sector where much of food packaging waste originates from. WikiCells has no such problem.
Monosol’s materials are biodegradable, but there may be a psychological barrier to overcome, as the example shared in Fast Company shows:
You would think, given it’s been two decades since Nike’s very public issues with labor conditions, that it wouldn’t take massive public outcry to get Apple to pay attention to labor issues in their suppliers’ factories. One can only imagine what’s happening at companies of a lesser public profile.
Things have certainly improved in terms of supply chain transparency, and yet, clearly not enough is happening, given the current reality. With the increased scrutiny has come increased gaming of the system by factory owners and companies that turn a blind eye. Factory owners are frequently tipped off in advance of inspections allowing them to sanitize the floor of unsafe labor conditions and underage workers.
A simple solution to all of this is beginning to emerge: The telephone.
LaborVoices is a company that aims to use the most ubiquitous of devices, the telephone, to bring much greater transparency to working conditions throughout the world.
Mobile devices have become a deeply embedded part of many of our lives, and along with it, there’s a cumulatively large amount of energy used to recharge the batteries. Personal scale solar chargers have been around for years, each making sunny promises of a more sustainable future. But there’s one thing: They all require that you and your device be out in the sun or near a sunny window to do it, which renders it useless if you happen to need to be inside and away from natural light.
Changers new setup has done something brilliant: decoupled obtaining the energy with charging the device, added a competitive aspect, plus tangible real world rewards for using the device.
One of the poster children of this is Skillshare, a site that allows people to connect with others to teach classes in their area around just about any type of skill. But there’s one problem: most of the courses are located near the Skillshare HQ in NYC, limiting who can participate, when classes can happen, and ultimately, the growth potential of this service. It tethers it to an older education paradigm, operating much like the Learning Annex, but with better site design and without online class options.
Skilio takes the potential here and has created something quite amazing: a social-network-connected portal to exchange skills of all sorts, with video, chat, and file exchange available, and unlimited participants. Even better, the participants decide on the terms of the exchange for themselves.
Notice I didn’t say Skilio is for teaching classes. It certainly can be used for that, but as Skilio puts it,
In a time of increasing weather-induced natural disasters, viable, affordable, durable shelter options are becoming vitally important. Additionally, as entirely new cities spring up, a greener building option is crucial to minimize use of resources and overall lifetime impact.
Dwell Earth has high aspirations for a humble building material: Dirt. Compressed Earth Bricks are an impressively simple modern interpretation of a building material that’s been perfected over the centuries by many indigenous populations. They are the ultimate locally sourced material, more energy efficient to heat and cool than wood or concrete based structures, do not offgas VOCs, and are able to provide a source of employment and pride in developing countries.
Did you know Bank of America donated around $200 million last year to charitable causes? It sounds impressive, until you find out that that’s 0.02% of deposits. With all the consumer uproar around banks adding new fees, and the huge success Bank Transfer Day had getting people to move their money to a local credit union, it’s clear people want more and better from their banks.
AbleBanking may prove to be just the thing people are seeking:
Over the past year, the reputation of corporations has been dragged through the mud, with the global Occupy movement casting a skeptical, antagonistic view of such entities, and rightly so, in many cases. But quietly, a new, broader world-benefitting form of corporation has been emerging during the past several years - the B Corp, and more recently, Benefit Corporation status.
With last week’s headline-capturing news that Patagonia’s founder, Yvonne Chouinard, was literally the first in line to file for Benefit Corporation status in California, many other companies are likely now giving greater attention to this status. However, if you mix up Benefit Corporation and B Corp status, which are not the same, you are in good company.
Up until recently, there hasn’t been a single resource available to get yourself up to speed on what it all means, how they differ, what other options are out there and answer questions. With the creation of the Benefit Corporations Information Center, the path is cleared for many more companies to confidently pursue the route that works best for them.
2011 was the year that crowdfunding came of age, with Kickstarter leading the way, along with IndieGoGo and others, presenting an appealing idea: support an innovative new product, service, creative project, or cause, and in return get a reward depending on your level of money pledged. Though the models vary, they each provide effective incentive to get even the shiest of self promoters to get out there connecting with the world, creatively building awareness about what it is they’re up to.
In doing so, many entrepreneurs discover that their initial asks were modest, with outpourings of support offering a clear indication that they are on the path to solving a market need.
2012 sees the arrival of a compelling mix of crowdfunding and people’s desire to support local businesses with Lucky Ant.