Thinking Ahead – Smart Business Ideas

Thinking Ahead – Smart Business Ideas


Entrepreneur’s expert

Zach George is the COO for U-Start Africa, a global advisory firm that connects entrepreneurs with international investors.

Business Idea 1

Hi-tech bone-mending

Hi---Tech-Bone-Mending-High Tech Business Ideas

Anyone who’s broken a bone knows how frustrating a cast can be. It’s bulky, you get itches you can’t scratch and it must be kept dry for six weeks. But with 3D printing, a new age of bone-mending is here. Jake Evill, New Zealand inventor of the Cortex Exoskeletal Cast has created a 3mm thick 500 gram 3D printed nylon plastic cast. A limb is x-rayed for injury, then 3D scanned for exact limb dimensions. A cast is computer generated with optimal support, to the exact size and fit, and with durable fasteners. It’s thin, strong, breathable, hygienic, cool-looking, eco-friendly – and it takes three hours to print a cast.

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Our Expert Says

Although Cortex is just a concept at this point, the product feature will address the growing issue of medical waste and rising numbers of fractures and breaks. 3D printing is increasingly being turned to for one-off and highly customised production jobs and if this idea can be integrated into medical practices, the major advantage to patients is that the cast is waterproof – while also being slim enough that a regular shirt sleeve will fit over it.

And the three-hour printing time is far less than existing casts that need up to three days to set fully solid.  A few words of caution though – with hinges on the cast, patient non-compliance is bound to be abundant. An open design also leaves the limb open to further injury. This is a cool idea, but needs more development to become practical.

Business Idea 2

Automating agriculture


Science boffs at Blue River Technology, US, are fine-tuning a clever piece of tech for the organic farming industry. Their Lettuce Bot takes away the labour-intensive activities of weeding, crop thinning, and the need for chemical fertilizers. Their tractor mounted prototype uses scanners and software to detect and segment individual plants, and thin overcrowding by using hot oil. The bot can complete the job in the same time it would take 20 workers, freeing them up to do other tasks on the farm. In field studies the bot is saving organic farmers $1 000 an acre in hand-weeding, and in the US, $25 billion is spent on herbicides a year.

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Our Expert Says

I think this is a brilliant idea – both from an innovation and a community development perspective. It’s not something new though. Many sectors in US agriculture have slowly been mechanised. But, the vast majority of fresh-market fruit is still harvested by hand. Another company, Vision Robotics, is developing a similar lettuce thinner as well as a pruner for wine grapes. Fresh fruit harvesting will be a big challenge, in my opinion. Machines have proved clumsy and inadequate in selecting ripe produce.

Machines to date struggle with deciphering colour and feel and distinguishing produce from leaves and branches. And matching the dexterity and speed of farm-workers has proved elusive. Experts say it will take at least ten years for harvesters to be available commercially for most fresh-market fruit.

Business Idea 3

Cheat gardening

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Many of us would love to grow our own herbs and veggies but lack the space, time and skills. So what if it became virtually foolproof? The answer could lie in a vertical gardening system using aeroponics (spraying roots with a nutrient solution) to grow fresh, organic produce at home with no soil or pests. Vertical gardening uses 10% of the traditional land required, and 10% of the water needed. Plus, with pests and weather removed from the equation, yields are much quicker and higher. Complete systems for home use already exist internationally, such as The Tower Garden and AeroGrow, but prices start at $150 to $500.

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Our Expert Says

Both TowerGarden and AeroGrow look like interesting products. You can grow lots of vegetables with little time, maintenance and space. The question is: Are they really less likely to have pest problems; and are they worth the initial investment for many would-be counter-top gardeners?

The only pests you would avoid are soil born pests. Aerogardens work by growing plants aeroponically – without dirt in a high-humidity, highly oxygenated growing compartment. One could re-create the concept of an aerogarden with an aquarium pump, a plastic storage bin, some PVC piping, a rubber hose and some tape at a fraction of the cost! But if you are looking to scale up to a business as a local fresh producer supplying the surrounding community and/or restaurants, an investment into aerogardens might just be worth it.

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Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.