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Innovation

3D Printing

Industrial revolution in your back yard.

Nicholas Haralambous

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3D printing is one of those things that feels like an overnight trend but actually took decades to reach us. The first 3D printer was invented in 1984. That’s 29 years ago, so there is nothing overnight about the success of 3D printing. It’s an odd thing to try and explain because people invariably think of printing in the traditional ‘ink on paper’ sense, but as of right now we’ve printed limbs, vehicles, parts for cars, planes, guns, jewellery and almost anything you can imagine.

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from a digital design.

That’s the simplest way to explain it. An object is scanned and then created in real life by adding successive layers of a material on top of one another. It’s different from traditional manufacturing, which is subtractive and involves drilling or cutting to create an object and leaves a lot of wastage.

The types of material at your disposal include rubber, plastics, metal, paper and what seems to be an ever-growing list of others. Nike has debuted a football boot, hearing aids have been created and even dresses worn by Dita von Teese, so the possibilities are limited by your mind and access to a printer and materials.

Previously the only way to make things was to put in an order at a massive manufacturer with big machines and long, drawn-out turnaround times.

Now, with the advent of 3D printing and commercialising of the technology, almost anyone can own their own production line without needing to mass produce a product.

Idea 1

Individual creation

It’s not what large corporates have been doing with the technology for two decades that makes 3D printing so interesting right now. The fact that 3D printers have become affordable to individuals makes this space one to watch.

The possibility exists that every home will have a 3D printer as a standard accessory to make plastic spoons, toys for kids and other necessary household items within three years. All we’ll need is the design files that we’re already able to download from the Internet (Turbosquid.com).

This means that the potential is massive for individuals and small business owners to capitalise now and begin to plan for the next three to five years when the boom will really hit.

Learn your trade, figure out which printer works for you and which material you’ll want to work with. Become a master crafter and you’ll put yourself ahead of this game.

Businesses have the chance to leapfrog their competitors and build up a war chest of printers and experience. There are companies in New York that have bought hundreds of 3D printers and are starting their own production lines that are taking on stalwarts of industry.

By visiting online resources like Turbosquid, you’ll be able to choose available designs to download and make yourself. This means you don’t need to have an engineering degree or be qualified at all to produce real-world objects.

Pick something simple and undercut the market leaders with your new technology and fast turnaround times.

The big ideas exist too. If you can stomach the risk and find the funding, you might want to invest in or create a 3D printing vending machine that dispenses a predefined list of products that someone might need on the go. That might be a very futuristic sounding concept but rest assured: Someone will do it, it may as well be you.

Idea 2

Problem solver

Capitalising on the 3D movement may be as simple as disrupting existing industries. There’s a niche around every corner and perhaps this will become your ideal market: The neighbourhood and corner shop. The Greeks built empires from the back of a corner shop and maybe it’s time that you did too.

Individuals can now purchase 3D printers for well under $1 500 (R14 000). That is a relatively small outlay for a printer that could change your neighbourhood and life forever.

Once you’ve got your hands on one of these little bad boys (start your search here www.3d-printer.co.za and here www.rapid3d.co.za) you can start to find out what people need and want.

Are they in need of cheaper nails, hosepipe connectors, curtain hooks? You can simply make these and sell them to your immediate community. Become a problem solver and you could elevate the handyman to an entirely new level.

Idea 3

Market platforms

Turning your hobby into a viable business is no longer just a dream. The toy-maker, amateur jeweller or model airplane maker inside you will be giddy with excitement at the idea of owning your own 3D printer. You’ll be able to design and develop your own range of toys, jewellery or models. Jay Leno uses his 3D printer to create parts for his antique cars that no longer exist.

All you’ll need to do is design the product, put it into prototyping and see if anyone actually wants to buy it. The Internet and the 3D printer were made for each other.

You can rapidly prototype your designs, test them to see if they work and feel the market out online. If people don’t like what you’re making, move onto the next thing.

The key issue here isn’t going to be what to make, but where to sell the things you make. For this you either need a high-traffic online store or to list your product with online shops like Sculpteo.com or Shapeways.com. Using Shapeways means you’ll have to create your products using their platform.

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Green Ambition. Why you should be paying attention to green business ideas.

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Nicholas Haralambous is the founder of the style company, Nicharry.com. He is an entrepreneur, speaker and writer who likes to tell the honest, brutal truth at every possible opportunity.

Innovation

Innovate For Change – Think Like A Social Entrepreneur

Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?

Nation Builder

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Social entrepreneurship is an exciting business arena that finds new, sustainable business solutions to long-standing problems. Social entrepreneurs see social challenges (such as poverty, homelessness, poor infrastructure or lack of quality education) as an opportunity for change.

This approach brings together the best that business practices offer and blends it with the best that civil society offers (a social mission, broader stakeholders involvement and the engagement of the community). By generating income from business activities and reinvesting its profits back into driving its mission, this approach generates both social value and economic value simultaneously.

Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?

1. Seeing social challenges as opportunities

South Africa’s social and structural challenges, from our poor ranking in health and education to the high level of unemployment, provide a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurs that are willing to roll up their sleeves and work to build a better future.

The recent winner of the recent Nation Builder Social Innovation Challenge, Lungi Tyali, is a great example of this mindset.

Across Africa, there is a dire lack of provision for the electrification needs of the majority of the population, especially in rural communities. In South Africa, at present, there are 3.4-million households without a formal, metered electricity supply; 2.2-million in formal and 1.2-million in informal households. Lungi Tyali is the CEO of Solar Turtle who, with her business partner, James van der Walt, created a solar energy solution for rural and off-grid areas. Solar Turtle provides a solar-powered kiosk in a container that serves as a hub for renewable electricity. During the day, the solar panels are open to collect sunlight and at night they are enclosed and locked securely into the container.

Related: How To Be A Social Entrepreneur

2. Social entrepreneurship has low barriers to entry

Many of the most successful social enterprises start off small with an enterprising individual seeing an opportunity in their local community and building from this small beginning. There is no prerequisite for a university degree of formal training. Growing social enterprises can thus also offer employment opportunities to unskilled workers and youth without experience, addressing South Africa’s high level of unemployment.

One such story is that of Nonhlanhla Joye, the founder and facilitator of Umgibe Farming, Organics and Training Institute. Ma’ Joye, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and as a result, could not work to provide food for her family. She decided to grow organic vegetables in her backyard to feed her family. Unfortunately, the chickens ate all her vegetables and she had to come up with a solution.

She innovated a growing system using plastic bags. Before long Ma Joye was teaching other community members to use her growing system. A platform was born where poor communities started growing vegetables to feed themselves and collectively sell their surplus produce.

3. Corporate Social Investment, with purpose

Social enterprises also offer individuals and companies the opportunity to invest in lasting social change. Unlike traditional philanthropy, the impact of social enterprises has the potential to be much more lasting by directly providing affordable social goods and services, as well as employment opportunities.

Nation Builder, for example, is a platform* that brings like-minded businesses and civil society together in order to learn from each other and partner together for the greatest possible impact through wise and responsible social investing.

Related: Miss Teen Social Entrepreneur SA Is Making Its Mark

4. Personal actualisation

Perhaps the most rewarding advantage of being a social entrepreneur is the impact you can have on society, but this model also offers several personal benefits:

  • working to solve issues you care about
  • freedom to explore and create innovative solutions that can inspire change
  • the opportunity to turn passion into profit
  • working as your own boss.

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Innovation

Having The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough To Keep You In Business

The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.

Matthew Mordi

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There is a small bakery operates in my neighbourhood. It bakes bread; no cakes or other confectionaries. The best home-made bread that has your palates yearning for more. This is in sharp contrast with the bread produced by bigger bakeries. They also supply bread to the neighbourhood.

The bigger bakeries operate a model that is largely automated to the point that they lose a very important ingredient beyond flour, yeast and whatever goes into making bread. They lack the personal touch that gives it the home-made feel. This is why the neighbourhood bakery is preferred despite being pricier.

The small bakery isn’t without its flaws; avoidable flaws that may, sadly, sink the business. My view is more on the certainty of the demise of the business as observers would’ve noticed a slow yet steady decline in the output of the business. These flaws aren’t unique to the bakery, several other small businesses have share the same flaws.

Why would a customer who is willing to pay more for a product suddenly cease patronising the business. What other factor apart from higher price, in the absence of a drop in purchasing power, would make a customer buy bread of supposed inferior quality from the competition.

A couple of years ago when I moved to the neighbourhood the business was doing great. Even during a biting recession the shelves were always stacked with freshly baked bread of different varieties. Despite the excellent product on display, there was an unsatisfactory trend in the operation of the business.

For one, the sales personnel are rude. Having the right staff is necessary to grow any business, but when this very fundamental issue isn’t gotten right it will be fatal to the business. After all for how long would customers put up with poor service delivery in the face of stiff competition from bigger rivals.

Small business owners must realise that proper training of staff is as important as sourcing for capital and shouldn’t be overlooked as the survival of the business also rests on it. Bigger businesses in this regard always come out tops in comparison with their smaller counterparts.

Related: Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

Annually, big businesses spend billions of dollars on staff training for the simple recognition of the fact that having disgruntled customers, on account of poor service by personnel, is dangerous for business. Despite their size, big businesses tend to understand better the importance of the single customer. Also, how the discontent of a few customers can translate into poor sales which is detrimental to the business.

The mindset of a small business shouldn’t be different. Investing in staff shouldn’t be treated with levity to ensure the business not only stays afloat, but also grow it. Growing a business is in itself tough work, small business owners shouldn’t make it tougher by providing terrible service.

The neighbourhood bakery lacks this important feature and it’s been responsible for the steady decline in sales. I didn’t know the poor service rendered by the attendants had attained much notoriety until I was having a conversation with a group of individuals at a religious gathering and the issue came up. It’s a sad realisation.

For financial reasons small businesses aren’t known for recruiting the best personnel. Most employ the services of family members. While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s important to ensure such person is the best fit for the business. Employing family members may lead to a myriad of problems for the business. Therefore it will be in the best interest of the business not to employ an incompetent family member than have him ruin the business. This is a risky way of running the business.

The feeling of the customer towards the goods or services businesses provide is key to its success or failure. This is because customers can have the most unbiased assessment of the business rather than management and staff. Despite the poor service the bakery openly had on display, no one seemed to have bothered complaining to the owner of the business. So it may seem.

It will be in the best interest of a small business owner to leave an open channel for feedbacks from customers. This isn’t the case with the bakery and some other businesses face this challenge too which may lead to further problems.

The inability to provide an avenue for customers to channel their complaint to the proper individual creates a problem of inaccessibility. Accessibility happens to be an area of strength for small businesses because of their size. In larger businesses, despite creating channels for complaints there is usually no personal relationship between the owners and their customers. This is an area a small business shouldn’t be found wanting.

One would imagine that as a small business, the owner of the bakery should be easily accessible to interact with customers to in order to obtain feedbacks pertaining service and staff performance. This isn’t the case as the business clearly takes this important factor for granted. A lot of customers don’t know the owner of the bakery despite patronising it for years.

On paper the size of small businesses translates to easy accessibility. A closer look will reveal that the owners of small businesses tend to take a lot of things for granted. They fail to realise that they have to be consciously open to the idea and cultivate the habit of seeking feedbacks from customers. A small scale business has to maximise its potential for dynamism and flexibility. If it can’t take advantage of its unique qualities then it’s doomed.

There has been a reduction in the variety of bread baked and in addition to this is the equal reduction in the amount of bread on display generally. From observation it’s clear that patronage has taking a massive hit.

It’s painful witnessing the slow demise of a business with a good product due to its own failures. Having the perfect product won’t on its own keep the small business in business. The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.

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Company Posts

Customers Are The Heart Of Innovative Businesses

Keep your customer at the heart of your business.

Viga Interactive

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One of the main reasons start-ups fail is because they don’t create solutions that meet their customers’ needs. Failure is avoidable. Businesses that understand their customers feelings, challenges, expectations and motivations make themselves indispensable in highly competitive markets because they recognise that true innovation is led by customer insight.

An incredible example of a business that believes in innovation driven by insight is Netflix. They revolutionised the way people watch video content by listening to their customer’s needs. You’ve probably heard the story before: after paying a $40 overdue DVD fee, Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix. He was simply too busy to return his DVD. He recognised that this experience wasn’t exclusive to him, but that it was a problem that many people faced. He saw a gap in the market for receiving and returning videos more effectively, and that is how the $150 billion business was born.

If your start-up doesn’t fulfil a human need, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not enough to have a cool idea. Ask yourself, “What is the market need behind the offering?” and then test ways of delivering your offering in the most user-friendly manner. Talk to your consumers, understand their likes and dislikes and establish your business purpose before haphazardly allocating funds to R&D.

Related: How Netflix Is Now Disrupting The Film Industry By Embracing Short-Term Chaos

You can’t go from being a California based DVD-by-mail provider, to becoming the world’s largest online video streaming service without a business plan. It’s important to recognise the step-by-step process of success. Netflix didn’t go from delivering DVD’s to pouring capital into the production of video content within six months. That sort of development would have bankrupt the company almost immediately. It took 21 years for the business to become content creators.

  • In 1999, the company became a subscription service because they found that customers preferred paying a monthly fee rather than making a once off purchase.
  • Then, in 2009, the company used investor capital to expand their DVD collection because their clients wanted a larger selection of movies.
  • In 2010, the business expanded internationally because they saw a gap in the market across various countries.
  • Finally, in 2013, Netflix created its first original content series because customers craved fascinating content beyond the overused Hollywood archetype.

The point is: Progress didn’t happen overnight. The business had to set goals and objectives. They then had to fund their growth by presenting market opportunities, backed by customer insights, to their investors. Establish your start-up one step at a time and make sure every progression isn’t innovation for innovations sake – it must be inspired by a human need.

13-reasons-whyNetflix was founded by a computer scientist and a marketing director. While one partner focused on Netflix’ service development, the other focused on sales. Since the company’s origin, collaboration and balance have been the cornerstones of the business’ success.

Netflix is currently composed of a diverse team of tech-professionals and designers. They understand the importance of combining technology and design to offer customer-inspired user-experiences.

After conducting consumer research, Netflix discovered that series and movie artwork influences viewing decisions by 82%. This has resulted in the creation of more descriptive and provocative designs. Netflix is known for leveraging human-behaviour to revolutionise their service offering.

As an entrepreneur, you can increase your ROI by partnering with the experts that understand human-based innovation.

Keep your customer at the heart of your business.

Related: What These 5 Digital KPIs Say About Your Business

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