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10 best start-up ideas of 2011

Thursday, 22 December 2011 | By Michelle Hammond
Starting a business involves plenty of perspiration – so much so, in fact, that the moment of inspiration can seem like a dim and rather idyllic memory.


However, generating great ideas is essential if you are to build a differentiated business. Even if your first brainwave doesn’t quite work out, it’s likely you will learn enough to be able to give it a better crack second time around.


The ‘Eureka’ moment was alive and well in 2011, with plenty of weird and wonderful business ideas, from “man candles” and electronic flower pots to a bus shelter being turned into a giant oven in the name of advertising.


While some of these ideas are unlikely to get very far, there are also some truly ground-breaking concepts that hold plenty of promise. StartupSmart identifies the 10 best start-up ideas of 2011:


1. WeatherBill


Google is among a group of investors pumping $42 million into US tech start-up WeatherBill, now The Climate Corporation, which can calculate the chances of crops being ruined by weather.


WeatherBill aggregates weather data and runs large-scale simulations, letting farmers customise insurance policies to the amount of rain or season temperatures they need for fields to flourish.


Policies are paid out if the weather doesn’t measure up to specified standards.


WeatherBill co-founder David Friedberg says agriculture production – a global industry valued at more than $US3 trillion annually – is at risk from extreme weather conditions, citing the Queensland floods as an example.


He is touting WeatherBill as the first company to provide every farmer with a simple and effective solution for removing weather-related risk.


2. Mobile Harbour


South Korean researchers have showcased an invention they claim could transform the shipping industry – a harbour that goes out to ships.


The Mobile Harbour is intended to unload big container ships in open waters, eliminating costly delays that shippers face to use crowded ports.


It consists of a giant barge with a shallow draught and a stabilised crane. The harbour can also be used for salvage and rescue operations, and building offshore plants.


The system has a “smart” spreader system to grab containers safely in choppy seas, and a system for swing-free handling.


According to Professor Kim Kyung-Soo, of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the system has attracted interest in Brazil, Indonesia, the Middle East and Africa.


3. E-Nose


Indian researchers say they are close to developing an “electronic nose” to sniff out tuberculosis on the breath, offering rapid diagnosis that could save thousands of lives.


The “E-Nose” is a battery-operated handheld unit, similar to a police breathalyser used to catch drink drivers.


A patient blows into the device and sensors pick up TB signifiers in breath droplets, resulting in an almost instantaneous and highly accurate diagnosis.


The E-Nose is a collaboration between the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi and Next Dimension Technologies in California.

TB kills almost 1.7 million people every year, but the e-Nose could save 400,000 lives a year in developing countries through early diagnosis, treatment and reduced transmission.


4. Robotic harvester



Queensland farmer Ray Daniels has invented a robotic harvester capable of picking and sorting strawberries, which he hopes will eliminate hand-picking from his business altogether.


Along with business partner and agricultural engineer Rudi Bartels, Daniels has developed a mechanised harvesting system, complete with a mounted “seeing” robot.


The robot moves up and down the sides of growing trays stacked in a vertical, rotating system in a hydroponic shed. It scans the berries for ripeness, picks them, and then grades and sorts them.

Down the track, Daniels and Bartels hope to be able to integrate packing into the process, which would reduce their original labour costs by 95%.


“We are taking something that is already capital-intensive and increasing that intensity, but at the same time significantly reducing the production costs and taking the risks of production away for a consistent crop,” Bartels says.


5. Airdrop


Airdrop is an irrigation system that can pull liquid moisture out of dry desert air, designed as a low-cost, self-powered solution to growing crops in arid regions.


Airdrop creator Edward Linacre, a former Swinburne University student, drew inspiration from the desert-dwelling Namib beetle, which survives by consuming the dew it collects on its back.


Airdrop uses the same concept, working on the principle that even the driest air contains water molecules that can be extracted by lowering the air’s temperature to the point of condensation.


It pumps air through a network of underground pipes to cool it to the point at which the water condensates, delivering water directly to the roots of plants.


“It’s basically a response to the devastating effects of drought… There are water-harvesting technologies out there but there’s very few low-tech solutions,” Linacre says.


6. Smart Bell



An English schoolboy is the unlikely inventor of a doorbell that fools burglars into believing someone is home at an empty property.


Smart Bell, designed by 13-year-old Laurence Rook, dials the homeowner’s mobile phone when pressed, allowing them to talk to whoever is outside their front door.


The device even produces a small amount of white noise, so any unexpected guests assume they are speaking to someone inside the house on an intercom system.


The invention would also allow homeowners to give instructions to drivers who are making deliveries at their property.


Rook says he came up with the idea after his mum grew tired of travelling to the post office to collect deliveries that were made when the family wasn’t home.


7. Investable


Investable is a free ideas exchange and networking forum for the financial market, enabling more accountable and transparent discussion around Australian listed shares and securities.


Chief executive Ben Freischmidt says the forum allows investors to share ideas and strategies in an environment unpolluted by nicknames, unsubstantiated comments and non-disclosed interests.


“Our policy of disclosing real identities in all member activity, and not permitting member guises, sets Investable apart from other forums,” Freischmidt says.


According to Freischmidt, the site is designed to appeal to a universal audience – from the novice retail investor all the way through to the most sophisticated investment professional.


“Members will be able to initiate investment ideas on the site and then track the performance of them,” he says.


Freischmidt says a major benefit offered to members is the ability to interact with others via their own “closed networks”, which means they control who sees their ideas.


8. Essential Groom


Essential Groom, based in Woolloomooloo in NSW, is an online guide for grooms, offering everything from attire to honeymoon destinations.


It also gives advice on every wedding challenge imaginable, from prenuptial contracts to bucks party ideas.


Essential Groom co-founder Arian Nieron says the business idea came about two years ago when, as a newly-engaged man, he was chatting to his future business partner Anthony Salamon.


Neiron told Salamon that while he was excited about his big day, he had no idea what was expected of him. So the pair decided to create a service aimed exclusively at grooms.


The business has since partnered with high-profile brands including shirt label Herringbone, jewellery-maker Gregory’s and men’s department store Harrolds.


9. TechnowaiT 1-2-3-Go!


As our population ages, waiting times in doctors’ surgeries and emergency rooms are only going to get lengthier. However, Quebec-based business TechnowaiT has come up with a solution.


TechnowaiT’s 1-2-3-Go! service allows patients to leave the waiting room and go elsewhere to pass the time until it’s their turn to be seen.


Patients begin by registering at the doctor’s office and taking a number. They can then go anywhere where they’re reachable by phone.


By calling in regularly to an interactive system, they can find out via an automated message how many people are still ahead of them, and how much waiting time still remains.


As their turn approaches, they can then return to the clinic just in time to be called. Eventually, TechnowaiT aims to add phone alerts so that patients can get notified half an hour before it’s their turn.


10. Weigh To Go



Developed in the US, Weigh To Go is a digital scale, identification tag and built-in lock, combining three important elements of interstate or international travel.


Weigh To Go is essentially a plastic shell with a rubber exterior for protection when in transit.


Two Velcro straps wrap around the underside of the luggage handle to secure the unit. To activate its weighing capacity, users press the power button and set the unit to pounds or kilograms.


Once fastened to the luggage, users grab the Weigh To Go and pull forward, lifting the suitcase gently off the ground.


After the luggage has been lifted for about five seconds, users slowly lower it to the ground and the Weigh To Go handle displays the weight on its digital interface.