In its annual 100 Brilliant Companies feature, the June issue of Entrepreneur magazine sifts through its files to identify 100 businesses that are revolutionizing their industries with new technologies and good ideas.
The list runs the gamut, from cutting-edge tech (3D printing of animal products!) to the banal (the Lulu app lets girls rate and review guys they know). Overall, however, the list is a good reminder of the sheer volume of market niches with problems that still need to be solved. So it’s a great”idea book” for entrepreneurs looking for inspiration and new products, services or solutions.
To get your synapses snapping, here’s a look at some of my favorites on the Brilliant Companies list.
- In response to research saying that only 3% of people recycle their used cell phones, sending toxic materials into landfills or incinerators, San Diego-based ecoATM has created a fully mechanized machine that dispenses instant cash for turning in your old device. The average seller gets back about $25. ecoATM cashes in by selling 75% of the devices to refurbishers.
- Organic Transit makes teeny-tiny cars, smaller than Smartcars, driven by a combination of pedal power and solar energy.
- Root3 Technologies helps schools, hospitals and other big energy users reduce power consumption by using web-based software that creates hourly performance reports for boilers, chillers and other HVAC equipment.
- SunRun is making solar power more affordable by leasing solar panels to customers to reduce the up-front costs.
- LikeBright is a matchmaking service that connects you to single friends of your friends on Facebook.
- In case that doesn’t work out, KillSwitch is an app that erases all traces of your exes from your Facebook newsfeed.
- NanoSatisfi is “democratizing” space exploration by renting out space on its small satellites ($250 a week) so you can perform your own out-of-this-world research.
- The Everpurse can recharge your phone or mobile device. No more excuses!
- LiquiGlide is a new material invented at MIT that makes surfaces super-slippery. Applications could range from easier ketchup-squeezing to more efficient oil pipelines.
- Modern Meadow combines 3D printing and tissue engineering to “print” animal products , starting with leather, and later moving on to beef. From the father-and-son cofounders of Organovo, which makes human tissue for pharmaceutical research.
- Another device that could revolutionize farming: The Full Monty is a self-propelled, solar-powered chicken coop. It moves around the yard to provide the chickens with fresh foraging, while they thumb their beaks at potential predators.
- Here’s a problem you didn’t know needs solving: WikiCell is an edible “nutritional skin” that could replace the packaging currently used for milk, yogurt and ice cream.
You can also be a brilliant company without being a technology whiz. Just identify a new market and serve it better than anyone else. A few examples:
- IvaJean is a new line of clothing for women who bike to work.
- For those who loves surprises and treats, but still like to eat healthy, NatureBox is a monthly-subscription snack-food box brimming with nutritious snacks.
- For no-compromise cycling, the InterLock is a bike lock that hides inside your seat post while you’re on the road.
If nothing else, a list like this proves that every social change or technological advance spins off a new ecosystem of entrepreneurial opportunities. Ask yourself – how can we use this new technology? How can we make life easier for our customers? Then maybe one day your firm will be named a Brilliant Company, too.
Rick Spence is president of Canadian Entrepreneur Communications, a Toronto-based business writer, speaker and consultant dedicated to entrepreneurship and helping businesses grow.