An idea without a plan is just a dream. And while an idea is the first point of departure in starting your own business, you’ve got to ensure that it’s got legs – not every cool idea can be translated into a sustainable and profitable business.
Each month we bring you three varied, cool business ideas. Some ideas are existing businesses overseas; others are the kind born around a Saturday afternoon braai after a few beers. The aim is to get you thinking entrepreneurially by demonstrating that where there’s a market, there’s a potential business.
More importantly, we get our business experts to give their two cents worth evaluating the business idea. While the ideas are fun and interesting on their own, the most value can be gleaned from what the expert has to say. They’re not emotionally invested in the idea, so their criticisms, advice and food for thought can help you stress test your own golden idea before you get started.
Business idea 1
US puppeteer Ivan Owen and South African collaborator and carpenter Richard van As have used 3D printing to make an inexpensive and functional prosthetic hand, posting the video and instructions online for free.
The design uses wrist movements to control cable tension allowing the fingers to open and close. Leon McCarthy is a 12 year old boy benefiting from the invention as his father can print the prosthetic for around $10 using their local school’s 3D printer facilities, saving the family tens of thousands of dollars in traditional prosthetics.
What’s more, the lowering price of 3D printers and materials mean father and son are able to experiment with better designs and, snapping together like Lego, new prosthetics can be printed and put together in under an hour. Visit 3ders.org for more information.
This concept is a practical and innovative use of new technology, and will be valuable in areas where Internet access and 3D printing facilities exist. The innovators have published their designs and instructions at no charge.
Entrepreneurial business opportunities flowing from this should follow the model of software developers who offer software on free download but make money by soliciting donations or by offering an enhanced version of the software at a moderate price. I see the possibilities of offering an upgraded prosthetic with additional functionality or improved cosmetic appearance at a moderate price.
The concept could be extended to other prosthetics too. The entrepreneur would have to find ways to deliver and fit prosthetics inexpensively, and manage the risk of having others use their designs.
Business idea 2
The Recycled Orchestra
For children in a Paraguayan slum, staying away from drugs, gangs and crime was difficult until music entered their lives. A local musician and garbage picker knew that orchestral instruments cost tens of thousands, and so collaborated with conductor Favio Chavez to create the Recycled Orchestra.
As the name suggests, instruments are made from discarded materials like oil drums, forks, water pipes and packing crates. The unlikely orchestra sounds surprisingly authentic, encourages musical talent, and teaches local children discipline.
“The world sends us garbage, we send back music,” says Chavez. The initiative was so successful that the unlikely orchestra took to Kickstarter and raised over $200 000 to film a documentary of their journey. Give them a listen by searching Landfill Harmonics on upworthy.com.
This sounds like fun. Although this is an NGO initiative there are clear opportunities to make commercial music and musical instruments for sale. South Africa has a rich and very long tradition of making instruments from waste, going back to the original ‘ramkiekie’ oil can guitar and the tea box bass.
Entrepreneurial opportunities have been developed in South Africa. For example Waterfront Music makes electric guitars from oil cans and many NGOs and universities have developed musical talent and published and sold music using instruments made from waste materials.
Turning these opportunities into substantial businesses could be done if there was wide public interest, in the way the vuvuzela and the penny whistle have caught the imagination of different generations of South Africans.
Business idea 3
Fired clay bricks contribute 800 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, but biological cements like the kind found in coral is equally high-strength without the negative environmental impact.
US company bioMASON has developed clever tech using sporosarcina pasteurii bacteria, yeast extract and urea to produce bio-cement that bonds aggregate into bio bricks. The inputs are inexpensive, globally abundant and can be sourced from waste byproducts, plus the bacteria take less than five days at ambient temperature to produce pre-cast material. bioMason also uses a closed-loop system to recycle water used in the manufacturing process.
In recent tests it’s even been successful with seawater. The idea is so promising bioMason won 500 000 euros in the Green Challenge 2013. For more information see biomason.com.
Ed Hatton says
This is an appealing green idea because of its use of waste materials like urea and yeast extract. To commercialise this idea an entrepreneur would have to address some challenges: Would the ‘green’ credentials be enough to motivate buying decisions in preference to widely available, reliable and relatively inexpensive clay or cement bricks?
An even bigger challenge would be manufacturing the brick economically. Although many ingredients are found in waste, they would have to be extracted and transported to the manufacturing site.
Just as an example, South Africa imports urea, even though it is abundant in waste water. Economics rule. I suspect the five days cure time may also be an issue, a huge area would be required to cure any reasonable quantity of bricks.
Recommended Reading: Futuristic Business Ideas for the Modern Entrepreneur