Friday, April 04, 2008

Boulder, Detroit, Greenburg, and Cities Ascending

Thinking about how cities and their people constantly make themselves better (as opposed to those that don't!)

In Detroit, check out the approach of Bizdom U. - a part-time, residential entrepreneurial boot camp in Detroit's Cultural Center. Awesome idea for a program that could help regenerate Detroit from the inside out. No surprise that inspiring entrepreneur (and, ironically, Cleveland Cavs owner) Dan Gilbert - he the founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Financial - is behind it, as Gilbert is a leader by example among advocates of inhabiting urban areas with businesses and entrepreneurs. Last year Gilbert moved Quicken's headquarters downtown Detroit and actively recruits other businesses to follow suit. No need to mention Mayor Kilpatrick's ongoing and embarrassing legal foibles; let's instead focus on the inspiring impact that one ridiculously successful business leader can have on an area, as 4,000 Quicken employees are now part of the downtown Detroit economy. Gilbert:

"There's a new energy in downtown Detroit," Gilbert said. "A thriving, central area, where the threads can be tied between entrepreneurs who have creative ideas, and people with capital seeking to invest, is essential to our city's future."


Meanwhile Boulder, Colorado, will become the nation's first "fully integrated Smart Grid city," says Inhabitat. Not surprising that this progressive town - a perennial in many media's "Best Cities" lists - is tabbed as the pilot town in Xcel Energy's (Minneapolis) plan for decentralized grids encompassing multiple power sources and intelligent communication and distribution.

While on the topic of Boulder check out Solar Row, a set of nine "near net zero energy" rowhouses locally developed by Wonderland Hill with a funky and colorful urban appeal.I visited Boulder last year with my family, and it is an awesome town (just check out the Inhabitat photo). It is inspiring to visit a town full of conscious consumers where people and businesses are trying so many different approaches to living in an environmentally focused style.

One final inspiring city- this one from the heartland. Check out plans of the enlightened citizens of Greenburg, Kansas, to resurrect their tornado-tattered town as a model of environmental sustainability. Unbelievable!

And last, check out this best seller from Richard Florida- Who's Your City? Cool book, interesting author who I heard speak recently, and a fun website to play with, all on the theme of how "cultural creatives" figure out where to live!

April Pinata: Random News and Notes

Early April Musings from the Optimist World:

More from the realm of MBA Business Plan competitions: Wake Forest's Babcock School expanded the field of its 2008 Elevator Competition to include Social Entrepreneurship after the 2007 contest featured about 30% social entrepreneur contestants. This year the field was slanted even more- 14 socially-motivated entrants and 12 strictly for-profit. Ever curious in how anyone defines "social entrepreneurship" (because my definition is at least inclusive of for-profits!) I'm wondering whether the new category was by strictly for non-profit; the WSJ suggests that criteria was entrants whose goals were "non-financial." Anyone know more about the WFU competition last weekend?

Its 2008 and Smart Cars are coming (in fact, I've already seen several on the road out here in Southern Cal and even know of a friend of a friend of a friend who rumoredly has one). Here's the Smart USA site that helps you find a dealership and even make a reservation for your own "Smart fortwo" for only $99.

March roundup of recent fundings for cellulosic ethanol biofuel start-ups from Red Herring - including $100M for Range Biofuels of Broomfield, CO.

In the ever-confusing realm of alternative transport, GoodCleanTech reports that a diesel BMW 5 Series outperformed in MPG a Prius during a 545 mile European test. Status symbol status aside, I love the Prius and was inspired to see a co-worker driving one as a rental yesterday; but is this an eye opener or just part of the backlash?

SANGONeT- a development portal for NGO's in South Africa - offers a manifesto on Social Entrepreneurs and leading change. An interesting read, if abstract. The author differentiates between "First Order Change," or "Shuffling the Deck Chairs on the Titanic" and "Second Order." But the gist is that First Order Change is changing the content of an existing system, while Second Order Changes (and real Social Entrepreneurs) transform the way people live- changing the system entirely. The point is well taken, although I don't see it so black and white; I've been convinced by enough modern change agents that there is room for (and a market for) incremental change and that even sinking Titanics can be kept afloat by what this author would call First Order Change. Then again, I'm sure the task of spurring development in South Africa tends to put one into a more dire frame of mind.

Check out this unique franchising opportunity with Enigin; the site is glossy and slick and of course doesn't cut right to the chase of what the EnergyMaps business opportunity actually is, but it appears to be a B2B energy-saving system.

Here's The Mount Airy News' preview of an apparently smash hit local TV show, Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska. Aside from the topic - and to hear the hostess' quotes, she's apparently quite passionate about showing residents creative ways to live well while being "Frugal" AND increasingly conscious consumers and environmental stewards - I think this highlights a fascinating business opportunity to produce intelligent and timely media content in a local market. I don't know what else Urbanska's production company does, but she appears to have carved out a loyal audience.

Finally, an nothing particularly Optimist about this, other than that it's always fun to revisit past prognostication: Treehugger's Wayback Machine on 1968 predictions for 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More March Links: ThePoint.com

And a real start-up getting some serious funding: The Point raises $4M from New Enterprise Associates. We will be watching the Chicago start-up quickly to see if they Make Something Happen.

Here's another nice emerging company- this one from a 24 year old entrepreneur from the same high school as yours truly; Beth Doane, 24, of Whitehouse, Ohio, is having some success, according to the Toledo Blade, with Andira International, her eco-friendly accessories company. Beth is launching Rain Tees, her clothing line, at the Green Initiative Humanitarian Fashion Show during the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles.

Nice Treehugger piece on reviving the "Rust Belt." The suggestions are appropo enough: concentrate economic activity downtown, and set up high speed transit between Chicago and Toronto (through Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc). For the former, I obviously love it - who wouldn't? - but easier said than done. In Detroit, Quicken co-founder Dan Gilbert is placing part of his company downtown and trying to get other companies to commit to doing the same. As for the transit idea, all the better to unify all the talent bases that still exist in the region; drive times between each of the big cities are only 2-6 hours each, so why not bridge the gap even more with some high-speed rail networks?

I have a more radical proposal, especially for the Detroit/Toledo corridor, but I'll pocket it for now.

Here's a nice press release from Transcend Equity Development out of Dallas; the capital firm is pioneering a financing method for commercial real estate energy improvements. They take over the utilities payments from the developer/owner, and then Transcend makes any improvements it can to the building and pockets the energy saved. Everyone wins! We love it and can't wait to see more..

Nice story from Econpreneurist on financing a green business. Notice some of the ideas are possible because you're socially beneficial (like partnering with non-profits), while others are

The differences between Jackpot Rewards and any other shopping rewards/prize sweepstakes program is that this one sets aside a percentage of profits to kids charities AND that this one is backed by Peter Lynch.

The Onion reminds you that you've got to start small.

A good article from MSNBC on the still-"gray" parameters of green remodeling. I continue to think, and not just because I'm becoming an HGTV and DIY junkie, that the green remodeling market will be HUGE and that at some point there will be some standards and definitions in place- but that's not really the point! The point is to do what you can do when it comes to improving your current living situation; even if you rent, you can at least change the light bulbs!

Nice store not far from my neighborhood that resells appliances in support of Habitat for Humanity. The website is simple and effectively communicates how "everybody wins."

Check out GreenOptions, a network for green-themed blogs.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

March Links: Business Plan Competitions!

Apologies for the delay, but the good news is, it's college business plan season!

Pepperdine's Graziadio School winners were Kimberly Foster and Mara Kamins from the morning MBA program with Nurse Education Web, which helps to alleviate the bottleneck in the RN world by enabling clinical training to tale place more efficiently.

Also at Pepperdine, the Values-Centered Leadership Lab awarded it's second annual Social Entrepreneurs of the Year award to Luke Marvel and Brett Clouser for The Monument of our Hearts, an attire company that addresses both ecology and self-image. For the 2nd straight year, The Lab is able to help incubate its winning team by offering them professional review and critique from real investors at CT Ventures, DFJ Frontier and Maverick Angels- three highly esteemed organizations that generously off their time to participate in the student initiative. (Disclaimer- I am an alumni of The Lab and get very excited about this annual event!)

Nice link from The Earth Times on both Pepperdine winners.

Babson, among the most entrepreneurial of colleges, announces that student Jennifer Green is the winner of its first annual Wal-Mart Sustainability Business Plan competition with her Generate Change concept of connecting retailers and non-profits.

U. of Michigan students bring home honors from interscholastic U. of Cincinnati Spirit MBA Business Plan Competition with their military inventory tracking plan for ArmyProperty.com.

In Green Bay, the Urban Hope Education Center announced these winners to their annual competition, including Of the Earth Artisans of Green Bay.

More to come on business plan competitions...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Remodeling Green

From Jetson Green (via Reuters) are ten practical steps you can take "green remodel" your home. As a renter I feel so disconnected from the idea of making my place greener...but that's no excuse not to at least change the lightbulbs (in progress), monitor the natural gas usage and waterflow (slightly guilty) and recycle.

Also, I'm finally starting to notice more AdWords (Google text ads) popping up for green build/remodel companies like Tellus Group in Santa Ana, CA, which tends to come up near the top of a "green remodel" search. We'll see more companies bidding on these keywords is my guess.

Finally, here's LivingGreen, a California retailer of green home design products, with three Southern Cal locations. This business is a relative veteran in the green retailing space, as it was launched by Ellen Strickland in 1999.

Vinod Khosla Interview at earth2tech

Outstanding, if too short, interview with Vinod Khosla, The Optimist's (among others') favorite future-savvy investor, at GigaOM's earth2tech.

I especially love how Khosla admits he drives a Lexus hybrid because he can- not because he believes today's hybrids are whether the cost the incur to save 1 ton of carbon. He falls short of saying he's not for incremental improvements and doesn't invest in them (but is willing to drive one!)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Considerate Consumer Survey...Win TOMS Shoes!

How considerate of a consumer are you?!

Do you think about the company whose products or services you're buying? Most likely you do- to some extent.

The Optimist Company is doing some research on this area of consumer behavior. A few months ago we announced a survey, a quick 20 questions, about your "Considerate Consumer" habits. We have some solid responses, but not enough to draw meaningful conclusions, so the survey continues.

Best of all, one lucky respondent will be drawn to win a free pair of TOMS Shoes! TOMS is an awesome company founded by Blake Mycoskie based in Santa Monica, CA. Every time you buy a pair of their groovy slip-ons, a child in an impoverish nation also receives a pair.

SURVEY: 2o Questions About Considerate Consumers

Thanks!


February 2 Links: Green Buildings and Remodeling

Green Eggs & Planet reviews the 10 Greenest Buildings in the World, including the Robert Redford Building, home of the National Resources Defense Council, an awesome urban remodeling achievement. The link reminds me that I was recently proud about a huge Northwest Ohio company's achievement- Owens-Illinois' new headquarters in Perrysburg achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification, although not as sad I am that the company moved out of downtown Toledo and massive glass tower and into the 'burbs.

Now we're getting somewhere! Aptera, a Carlsbad, CA, company who's developmental electronic vehicle looks as futuristic as we all secretly hope the next generation of automobiles will be.


Interesting Discovery Channel article on GreenMobile, a Mississsippi State University effort to develop a sustainable alternative in rural housing. Pre-fabricated, eco-conscious and therefore not a far off cousin from higher-profile green housing start-ups, GreenMobile is blatantly aimed at a different market, and not afraid of the word "Mobile." Also interesting how simple some of the innovations are, like which direction the house faces as a way of controlling the temperature.

Green Eggs has some other nice posts recently, including a Top 10 list of (relatively obscure) home-cleaning products.

Quick video excerpt from "Nubian Cheetah" on Eden Campus, "Africa's First Green Business School."

Earth Friendly Moving, a Costa Mesa start-up that is reinventing moving with Recopack, a system of reusable plastic containers (instead of one-and-done cardboard boxes!)

A fascinating "Web Trend Map" produced by FormForce (Japan). I love the random, disconnected offshoot at the top of the subway-style map that contains a bunch of random webtrends, like Netflix, Sendspace and bunch of other media-sharing services.

Link to SCSI
, a Massachusetts company that does green residential remodeling projects. Why is there not an all-out scrum among contractors in higher-end markets to become THE green remodeler in each market.

(There must be progress in some markets: Vivavi's directory of Green Remodelers...3 and counting! One's in New York, of course, but the other two are in Humboldt, CA and DeForest, WI.)

Press release about MaestroReading.com winning the Business Development Bank's Enterprize 2007 biz plan competition in Montreal, and $15,000. The start-up is working on elementary literacy tools and curriculum. I believe there is huge room for improvement in the student literacy arena...more to come on that!

Friday, January 18, 2008

John Doerr, Ben Godhirsh, Gaiam and Change

ZDNet leads us off with some coverage of one of our favorite social entrepreneurs, Steve Glenn of LivingHomes, who literally introduced this Optimist to the phrase "Profit and Purpose" during a chat at Pepperdine University two years ago. The author dwells on the apparent lack of privacy in a LivingHome, given the demo's (and Glenn's home's) many windows. Dwell-caliber design critique it's not, but all coverage is good, I suppose, with Glenn's goal of hundreds of homes over the next few years.

Silly author above, though, links us to a bit on summer 2007's Solar Decathlon, in which 20 universities competed in a Department of Energy contest to create a village of off-the-grid homes on the National Mall. Champion: Germany's Technische Universitat Darmstadt. University of Maryland was runner-up.

Inhabitat shows us this Taiwanese solar-powered car (don't look at it if you're predisposed to believing that "good" vehicles are "ugly") out of a university project.

Meanwhile this LA-based company, Venture Vehicles, led by Rick Balsiger, has a great-looking site, and a much more attractive three-wheeler.

Nice Motley Fool follow-up on legendary VC John Doerr's continued commitment to cleantech; he has previously called environmentally-friendly technologies the Biggest Economic Opportunity of this Century. (Needless to say, this is one investor to take cues from). The Fool's spin this time is on which large industrials (BP, DuPont) will jump on Doerr's bandwagon to reduce greenhouse gas 25% by 2010.

From the LA Times archives: a 2006 profile of young social entrepreneur and philanthropist Ben Goldhirsh, founder of Good Magazine and Reason Pictures

The Daily Green reports on the continued growth of $70M Boulder-based Gaiam, the "mother of all green product marketers," with 10,000 offerings.

Here's the blog of workplace revolutionaries Cali and Jodi, authors of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and pioneers of ROWE (the Results-Only Work Environment.

Today's post on Change in the above blog made me think of how difficult Change is, and I recalled a 2005 Fast Company by article called Change or Die on that topic. This article is one of the two or three most stimulating things I've ever read.

Fantastic web home of The Good Store, a beautiful and simple Australian purveyor of stuff that is good. Not Good, good, in the sense that we normally discuss it here. Just...good, as in gifts, mostly, from a Bialetti Moka Express to a Hohner Harmonica.

Social Entrepreneur points to non-profit Conscious Lifestyle's Ventures program, which (with Youth Ventures) awards $1000 seed prizes to social innovators. Deadline: Feb. 15.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Khosla Invests and Invests

Legendary Silicon Valley VC turned leading cleantech investor Vinod Khosla continues to spread capital across various alternative transportation technology start-ups, reports earth2tech. This week: Camarillo, CA-based Transonic Combustion received more Khosla Dollars; they're working on improvements to the reigning stalwart, the internal combustion engine.

Last week, it was Ecomotors that received Khosla funding, says Red Herring; this start-up is driving toward the 100 mpg diesel engine. The best thing about them: they're based in Detroit:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday Links

Links on a Wednesday:

Wild Green Yonder on City Farming- the emerging trend of actually growing food on urban plots, and a potentially huge step in the "locavore" movement of sourcing food locally.

PeakEnergy lists the top 10 CleanTech stories of 2007. Some very interesting stories, including blog buzz about whether buying carbon offsets is an odd philosophical compromise or an indicator of a very conscientious consumer, and some top-notch investigation by the Clean Tech blog about IBM's movement into solar.

Interesting take for cleantech investors from AltEnergyStocks on what percentage of a public company's business should be green-oriented to constitute a green investment. GE is the case in point, and the author devises a "Green P/E" and concludes that GE's is $282; you have to buy $282 of GE stock to get $1 of alternative energy earnings (since, per the critics, only 6% of their business is focused on alternative energy and other cleantech stuff.)

Inspiring story for employers from Renewable Energy Access about how alternative energy companies also lead the way in offering innovative benefits supporting green activities to their like-minded employees.

Press release about REI's second LEED-certified retail location.

Did you know people with common interests in the environment may already be meeting for drinks regularly in your neighborhood through GreenDrinks.org? Here's where the Orange County, CA-ites congregate.

Learned about the GreenDrinks meetups above from FundraisingGreen.com, based in Long Beach, CA.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Muhammad Yunus

John Tepper Marlin at HuffPo writes about the Ashoka Foundation's Social Entrepreneurship Series of inspiring videos. They both focus extensively on Muhammad Yunus, legendary Nobel Prize-winning founder of the Grameen Bank, the $1B microlender that empowers entrepreneurs in developing nations.

I was lucky enough to hear Yunus speak recently about his new book, Creating A World Without Poverty: How Social Business Can Transform Our Lives. For an incredibly accomplished man of such diverse and international endeavors, he speaks in an unbelievably down-to-earth tone; as Marlin writes, Yunus speaks incredibly humbly about launching the Grameen Bank. The very phrase "social business" is so simple and plainly descriptive that we will hereby adopt it to describe businesses that address social problems.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Morning Commute!

Thoughts from a near-empty Ford Explorer on a crawling exit ramp...

Zipcar continues to thrive (180,000 members) and act like a real business (merged with Flexcar.) This will never work for the huge portion on non-urban Americans but there's absolutely no reason it shouldn't continue to get huge in cities.

Velo-Commuter reports disturbing facts about the drain of commuting on our economy (I'm sure some of our largest companies (Exxon) would argue that it's such a drain.))

I was also thinking about incremental improvements in alternative transportation. I am, after all, still driving the Explorer, and thinking, "Big Deal!" when it comes to today's lineup of marginally better hybrid fuel efficiencies. But I thought back to Niel Golightly, green transportation evangelist at Ford (and possessor of maybe the BEST name in the entire Green world...As in Go Lightly Upon the Earth, Young Man!) I heard him speak at the 2006 LOHAS conference, and his message was about the steps along the way to the end result we all want.

As an example, he responded around the same time to a question from Grist.org about whether Ford's hybrid efforts were "deck chairs on the Titanic." His response:

Hey guys, give me a break! This is huge -- in impact, investment, and strategic commitment. A quarter million hybrids is our plan today, but...we're not likely to sit on our thumbs as the segment continues to grow.

For those of us arm-chair quarterbacking the green transportation revolution, let's at least remember to embrace the incremental improvements along the way. A few more MPGs, a few less cars off the road, a little more conscience, and I'd be off this exit ramp a few seconds quicker...and probably wouldn't be driving the Explorer!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Detroit: Green Envy and Not Going To Take It Anymore

If you don't have time to read this whole BusinessWeek article on U.S. Automaker's "Green Fear and Loathing" at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, here are your key takeaways:

  • A phenomenal headline: Fear and Loathing and Green Tech in Detroit
  • Toyota is kicking U.S. automaker arse in the "green vehicle" race, with the Prius becoming the 9th best-selling car in the U.S. in 2007!
  • Ford, with its gas-turbocharged direct injection hybrid technology, and GM are apparently scrambling to close the gap (the sleeping giants have awoken!)
  • Oil barrels cost over $100 each now (with oil in them; a few bucks if they're empty, I'm guessing)...will this be the breaking point, and thus 2008, that we collectively say "Enough!"?
  • All improvements are still incremental to this point, I am required to say, and fuel efficiency progress is embarrassing compared to, say, microprocessors (duh, but still)
I remember going to the Detroit show up at Cobo about 15 years ago, a care-free pre-teen, with my longtime pal Brad (who lives not far from Detroit and works on some of the coolest ad campaigns for some of the region's best vehicles, including Jeep). We were young and carefree, mesmerized by the shiny metallic Lamborghinis. Hummers and other 9 mpg beasts were nary a thought on our minds- heck, the minivan heydey had yet to yield to the SUV craze.

Imagine how far we've gone in 15 years...I mean, it's 2008 and we're talking about how this might even be the year that possibly we could maybe start to think about how U.S. automakers might consider preparing to compete with mass-market, cutting edge alternative technologies of their own!

P.S. With Subtle Disclaimer: Just so as not to appear entirely cynical, the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid (younger and more eco-friendly nephew to my 2001 unhybrid Explorer) is a seriously good looking vehicle.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

College Football: An Irresponsible Business

It may seem a stretch for us to nominate "Every Decision Maker in NCAA Football Bowl Division (Formerly Division 1-A)" (hereafter referred to as "the Powers") for our Hall of Shame.

Can "Perpetuating a complete, absurd clusterf… in the determining of a national champion" really be deemed a socially ill. But- and this isn't just championship week sour grapes from an Ohioan- I hereby do just that.

It is absolutely stunning how the guilty parties- NCAA execs, college presidents, conference leadership, bowl chairs and sponsors, and television network execs- can recite, in public unison, with a straight face, their silly reasons why a tournament (you know, that mechanism for determining a champion in EVERY OTHER SPORT INCLUDING ALL OTHER DIVISIONS OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL) would somehow be unfair for the student athlete. How could it be, when most of the action would take place over the student-athletes' winter break- especially if the Powers would agree to remove the 12th regular season game they added a few years back?

Or, more skeptically put, how could the student-athletes be more exploited than they already are?

I would also argue that a tournament (four or eight teams- much less weighty to decide who should be the 8th seed than the 2nd) would not even be bad for the lucrative interest the Powers are clearing harboring- namely, their coffers under the current, ridiculous system of 30+ bowls and the suddenly mythical BCS Championship Game. I would think they could simply incorporate all the current bowls into the tournament, or, if truly bent on maintaining the ceremonial-ness of the bowls, playing them as the 12th game, pre-tournament.

(For those who have tuned out the now-silly annual debate, here's this year's refresher, a glowing scoop about the commissioners of the best conferences' willingness to consider a "plus one," or adding a game after the current BCS Championship to really determine the champion.)

We won't see a tournament for a few years, if ever, because of course the massive TV deal is already in place. Sadly, as with all Sports Travesties, we the fans really hold the power to demand change, and we'll never stay away (nor should we). So we're resigned to waiting for the Powers to come to their senses- or perhaps for their current contracts to run out, and for them to realize that a tournament could be even more lucrative.

Powers, in case you're reading, here's the complicated process toward righting this silliness:

1) Scale back the regular season to 1o or 11 games
2) Continue your conference championships
3) Play the bowls, as they were traditionally conference-aligned; then take the top 4 teams (using a BCS-type rating) after the bowls into a seeded tournament
-OR-
4) Elevate three more bowls to Tournament status, and use seven bowls as the fields for an eight team playoff, with the championship game rotating among the granddaddies of them all (Rose, Orange, Sugar...oh, fine, Fiesta).

You have until 2011 to figure this out before I cancel my basic cable in protest.

Thursday Links

Links early on a Thursday...

Wall Street Journal breaks the hope and promise of a New Year with the report of a Harvard study and its stimulating conclusion that businesses "doing good works" or pursuing "societal benefit" are only weakly correlated to reap shareholder benefit. (Save yourself the click- that's basically all it says.) The discouraging suggestion is that cash contributions to charities are a better indicator of a company's financial success than community projects, for example...or responsible corporate policies! Expect nothing less from Harvard and WSJ then the stunning philosophy of "Make your money first, and then give it away."

Admittedly my first reaction to news of Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff's book was skeptical; after all, I figured it was easy enough for a celebrity chief exec to cajole all of his/her buddies into writing an essay and throw them together and have them published. On second glance I decided I'd give this one a try, not for my dayjob allegiance to Benioff's web-based software, but for the diversity and star-studdedness of his essayist lineup.

This week's TreeHugger Carnival of the Green is a best-of-the-best of the green web by EBikeBlog.org, leading off with a link to a GreenLivingOnline.com story about "Pedelecs" on college campuses. I've never been a big fan of "motorized bikes" and any time I see one here in moderately temperate Southern Cal, I can't help thinking, "Why don't you just pedal yourself?" Of course the few times I have pedaled the 8 miles to work, I'm covered in sweat by the time I arrive; maybe that's an argument.

Double the wheels, but only multiply the cost of your average bike x 10, and you get the world's first $2,500 car, by Tata of India. It's actually closer to $3k at the moment- and I am fine that we continue to refer to Optimist innovations by their target price, whether it's achievable yet or not. Admittedly the "$100 Laptop" has a lot more cache than the "Buy Two $100 Laptops for $400" that the production economies currently allow...

Great local story from the Indianpolis Star about some Indiana farmers who began using roduce from there all-natural farms to create food products back in 2002 and have since grown Local Folks Foods 20x into a nice-sized (we don't know how nice) specialty foods company.

Another quick local story, this one from the Bismarck Tribune, about 2008 Marketplace Entrepreneurs of the Year winner SolarBee, a North Dakota company whose floating, solar-powered water circulator improves water quality in lakes, reservoirs, and water storage facilities. Another great story about local entrepreneurship with universal applicability- and yet another great (and, not that I could have thought it up, relatively simple-sounding) product marketed toward better water quality.

And finally, on Monday I was absolutely enlightened to absorb this perspective on why my all-time favorite lunch- the All-American Classic Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (I am very particular about mine and make with Jif Reduced Fat Crunchy Peanut Butter and Smuckers Strawberry Preservers, both marketed by the JM Smuckers Company of Orrville Ohio, on whoe wheat bread with some tortillas inserted for added crunch)- is also far better for the environment than your average lunch! Check out the PB&J Campaign.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

AmeriSourcing! Your Nominations Needed!

AmeriSourcing! What is it? It's yet to be defined...that's what this is all about it. But we're planning an upcoming story about innovative sourcing arrangements made between U.S. companies. As a general rule we're talking about one American company scouring the country to find a sourcing partner- a fabricator, a production line, a prototype, a subcontractor- among other American companies.

It's not about a bias against offshoring- it's just a celebration of finding like-minded business partners right here in our own backyard.

If you have any such stories, please share them with us at editors@theoptimistcompany.com

Thanks!

Cosmos Ignite, Belu Water and British Social Entrepreneurship

Here's The Independent's (UK) Six Finalists for the title of Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2007. It's a nice perspective on social entrepreneurship from across the pond, and the finalists represent a cross-section not only of focus areas but also of business structure. Cosmos Ignite is a for-profit company focused on making safer lighting and electricity products for developing regions that currently depend on more dangerous methods (like kerosene.) Belu Water donates 100% of its bottled water profits to funding clean water projects.

The Optimist normally focuses on for-profit ventures (like Cosmos) and largely ignores the burgeoning world of non-profits, like Finalist MEND, a childhood obesity program. It's not for lack of interest or respect; if anything we don't think we could do justice to the entirely unique challenges of running a non-profit: it's every bit as competitive as a for-profit these days with the proliferation of charitable organizations, and there's every bit the same requirement of running a profitable and accountable organization. It's just that...we barely have what it takes to cover "Profit and Purpose" businesses- let alone venturing into the non-profit world.

All Business Is Local

It's an election year and you'll probably hear "All Politics is Local" a few times. It's also a good time to remember that much (inarguably not all, but a lot!) of business is local, too. (In fact, if anyone has the numbers out there on how much of the economy flows through locally-owned companies I'd love to see it!)

Here's a quick article out of the Harrisonburg, VA Daily News Record on the benefits of businesses belonging to their local chamber of commerce. It's not just about free marketing, sponsoring the local arts and crafts fest or making a float for the Founder's Day Parade. According to a recent study, it's about trust; potential customers appear to find a company's products or services more credible if they are members of the local chamber.

The question, even for local companies with a national or global scope, is: why WOULDN'T you belong to the local chamber? It's not only part of being a good corporate citizen- to be active in your neighborhood- but it's also where your employees (and you!) live. Here's hoping the biggest of the big remember to participate locally, too.

Rochester Promotes Itself

I use Google Alerts to find interesting links and stories for some of our favorite topics, and when one alert popped into my inbox, the corresponding relevant text ad at the top of the page was for RochesterBiz.com.

The site touts the regions productive work force, plus technologies in development for biofuels and fuel cells and wind and solar energy; a PDF lists over 35 regional companies working on alternative energy technologies. The site is a great outreach for a region that, if it's anything like the nearby "Rust Belt," is scrambling to find an identity and position itself to be at the epicenter of the 21st century's biggest business (potentially, of course). At that, there should be a number of East Coast and Midwestern towns scrambling for the same position, including my own hometown of Toledo.

A quick search for "Toledo Alternative Energy" turns up no ads for similar regional organizations, but there are a few compelling organic search results:

University of Toledo's Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator
and a Toledo Blade story from Governor Ted Strickland's November visit to UT, where he touted our city as a potential alternative energy hub, identified participants like UT's solar tech research and First Solar (with a plant in suburban Perrysburg), plus a proposal to bring Spanish solar company Xunlight to the region.

Here's hoping Northwest Ohio can capitalize on this early progress in the nascent solar industry in a way that nearby Detroit has failed to do in the still-up-for-grabs alternative transportation rebirth.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame: Bringing Water To The Masses

What are the best recent inventions that started a business AND made a huge impact on a social problem? Four products/companies immediately came to mind, and they were each about getting drinkable water to people who have none. As we all know in our bottled-water toting U.S. society, much of the world- especially burgeoning third world nations- has a severe drinking water crisis. These solutions, to me, are unbelievable in their simplicity and sustainability.

An example of a product that singularly changes an economy. KickStart's irrigation technology empowers farmers of Kenya and similar nations to not only farm for themselves and their family, but for others, as a business. Simply awesome. What other basic inventions are we missing in this world?

PlayPumps: The idea is simple; kids play on a Merry-Go-Round, which pumps drinking water for villages that need it. I'll even through the exercise the kids are getting in as a tertiary benefit, although one maybe not as unnecessary outside the US (where the children aren't, presumably, as lazy.) Here's an old BoingBoing post on PlayPumps.

Lifestraw. It literally filters the water as its drinked. Wow.

WaterHealth International, whose UV Waterworks technology cleans drinking water in what Inc. describes as suburban-garage sized stations that are franchisable at the community level.

New Year's, 2008: Links and Resolutions

Welcome to 2008. New Year's Resolution: Post more than our recent rolling average of about four times monthly.

To get us started, some links from the web of Good Business:

BusinessWeek prognosticates 2008, with the lead prediction being a green backlash. Although I wouldn't forecast a "crisis," I do think this is the year that the green movement moves beyond the early adopters into the mainstream, savvy consumers (and unsavvy ones) begin to look under the hood a little more beyond just trusting a loud GREEN label, and posers/imposters are exposed, ignored, or called out on it. Which will be a good thing, because when we collectively move beyond the "Any green press is good" to a higher quality of green consciousness, that's progress.

(PS: Always one step ahead of BW, we forecasted a green backlash in October!)

Quick story from Digital Media Wire on FreeRice.com and "philanthropic casual games." My thought: There's only room for a few such gimmicks in the public appetite, so let's hope the few that can muster an audience are good ones (this one is cute.)

Must-read Inc. article on Entrepreneur of the Year Elon Musk, who not only helped build (and cashed in on) PayPal, but now has THREE irons in the fire: Tesla Motors (high-end electric cars), SolarCity (looking to bring solar installation and service to the masses) and Space X, where he appears to spend most of his time, and whose mission is nothing short of spreading life to Mars. My favorite part of the Elon Musk story is his recognition of the idea of blowing conventional "alternative vehicle" pricing out of the water and creating a must have, $100k electric sports car that any sports car enthusiast may want...not just the tree-hugging variety.

PartnerUp lists 2007 Web/Technology Mergers and Acquisitions. Aside from the directly Good Business acquisitions- TreeHugger's $10M pickup by Discovery is testament to the passion of some real Green enthusiasts and the marketed they created for their distinctive content- the list is inspirational in that what's good for business must also be good for Good Business. In other words, hot M&A activity, plus increased investment in Clean Tech, is a good omen.

Cal Poly- Orfala College of Business Professor Chris Carr, upon returning from an annual b-school trip to China, on the "intellectual laziness" of students returning from the bursting-at-the-seams nation only to marvel at how big, messy and environmentally-unfriendly it is- without offering a business solution. Great take, especially his example of un-MBA Jill Buck and her Go Green Initiative. Carr may be ranting a bit when he drops the "All We Do Is Bitch" mentality, but in his arena of inspiring students to come up with entrepreneurial solutions, he's right onw.

Santa Clarita, CA Council Candidate Maria Gutzeit gives her Green SCV (Santa Clarita Valley) Wishlist for 2008. Interesting perspective from a local political candidate telling her local government to put their money where their mouths are. I especially like her stumping for including solar power as an option in new homes, an incremental cost that, if included in a 30 year mortgage, can be as low as the electricity savings are high.

Morganton, NC News Herald's Julie Chang on town entrepreneurs Bryan and Stephanie Cates, who launched (as of yesterday) Simply Green, a subscription curbside recycling pickup. I clearly don't understand the economics of enticing residents to pay $4 monthly to pick up recyclables, so let's hope they've done some solid analysis of charging for the service (and likely getting fewer "customers") vs. picking up for free and just cashing in on the materials (if there is such a thing in NC.) Nonetheless, if $4 monthly is the cost of good conscience for Morganton residents, that's a promising sign.

I always love the annual report on how many new magazines launched in the last year. 636, Folio reports, for 2007. Good Magazine is my favorite, if not for it's compelling content than for it's stimulating business model (the $20 subscription goes to the sponsored charity of your choice.) If circulation and subscription numbers are a loosely governed metric in the publishing world anyway, then why not make the fee really meaningful? My money went to Room to Read.

And finally, some thoughts on the mortgage bail-out, which was underdiscussed over the holidays.

BusinessWeek's Jane Sasseen asks whether the plan will go far enough, citing analysts who think that "broad criteria" aren't applicable and that mortgages (and ability to pay them) truly need to be looked at case-by-case. But I think one of her other points- the idea that only two narrowly defined groups- those with enough equity or income to refinance and those who meet certain standards before the freeze goes into effect- are to benefit is the saving grace. The plan essentially pre-qualifies qualified borrowers for an extension on their introductory rate. It's not bailing those who are already in trouble or weren't making their payments even when they were low. No one seems to know exactly how many home"owners" will benefit- most estimates are in the low six figures for both refinancing and rate freezing.

As a footnote I disagree with CNN/Money Joe Light's statement that subprime borrowers who will benefit from the rate freeze "are still being "punished" for reckless behavior in the past..." by being asked to continue paying their intro rates, which were typically higher than "prime" borrowers' in the first place. My thought: that's not new "punishment" in light of the freeze. That was already their "punishment" for having bad or no credit...per his logic (not mine!)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Last Minute Green and Good Gifts

You're still Christmas shopping, aren't you? That's okay, so am I. Plenty of time!

On the web, there are more resources on the web than you or are I know to help us out of this fix. But this Christmas you want to do something special and buy your friends and family something special- a green gift, or a gift with a Good company behind it.

Why? Because you are a Considerate Consumer.

Inhabitat's holiday gift guide
Evo - green stuff, rated
ThisNext's green Christmas gift guide
Green and Greener
Treehugger's guide
Etsy, a directory of handmade things from all over the world

And case you don't have time to consult one of these many guides, go with The Optimist's favorite gifts of 2007 (sorted by price point in ascending order!)

The Bulb- it's better than your standard
Good Magazine- good reading about good stuff!
T-shirts from Save the Ta-Tas
TOMS Shoes- buy one, one gets donated!
Freitag- stylish messenger bags made from recycled transportation tarps
The Laptop project- buy one, one gets donated! (I love that idea)
Tesla Motors - high end sportster
LivingHomes- amazing, low eco-footprint, LEED Platinum homes


Happy Holidays!

Fascinated by Lumber


The fascination of the month here has been with wood and lumber. At least two varieties that draw our attention: sustainably harvested, and reclaimed. (Photo: Carlisle)

Companies like EcoTimber, Citilog, and Carlisle sell similarly inspired wood products.

I'm not personally in the market for flooring, framing or any other wooden building products, but if I was, I know right what I'd do: get something reclaimed, or at least harvested in a responsible way.

Thanks to BuildingGreen.com for some cool links.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fast Company: Go Diesel!

Haven't stumped for Fast Company in a while, and the recent cover on the "Motorhead Messiah" Jonathan Goodwin, he of Kansas, the mechanic-turned-master of alternative engines (from Electric to military grade Turbines to Diesel) whose $28k conversions to diesel are not only good for MPG but also a celebrity fad, delved into a fascinating side bar: the critical role that Diesel can play in moving us all away from gas. Diesel engines are already more fuel efficient, but more importantly, they are a likelier stepping stone, since they are more accommodating of alternative fuels- an idea that seems to becoming a necessity, since few large corporations seem willing to take the lead on rolling out purely alternative vehicles until the alternative power source is ubiquitous, and vice versa (author Clive Thompson's chicken/egg analogy, not mine)

Not one to typically paraphrase a brilliant story, I'll nonetheless sum up Goodwin's three-step program:

  • Aggressively roll out diesel vehicles (already available at most gas stations, instant 40% MPG gain!)
  • Release diesel-electric hybrids- again potentially doubling MPG
  • Moving on to "dual fuel" hybrids that can use diesel OR another low-emissions gas (hydrogen, ethanol)
Even if you're in the microchip business and the word "double" doesn't impress your Moore's-Law-Loving appetite for innovation, this has to stimulate some thought. Now we wait for the devil's advocates, who already in full form in the comments below the article!

Ta-Tas as Philanthropy Vehicle

Call them what you want; Ta-Tas Brand Clothing, a Canoga Park, CA, apparel company, goes with "Ta-Tas," and we'll give them credit for a slick concept in raising money for breast cancer research.

Our inner naysayer may suggest that the portion of gross sales (5%) that goes to pink-ribbon research for these premium-priced t-shirts ($25ish) could be higher, but kudos nonetheless to Ta-Tas for having some fun while doing some good.

Grad Student Champions of Ethics and Innovation

Thunderbird names its "Global Champions of Sustainable Innovation" earlier this month at the School of Global Management, yet another great academic exercise in the growing dialogue of innovative and good business leadership.

Closer to home for me, my alma mater hosted the 2nd Annual Graziadio Case Competition, a production of the Values-Centered Leadership Lab. The Lab is a student-driven organization focused on developing ethical and socially-entrepreneurial leaders within Pepperdine's MBA program. I was honored to serve as a judge in the first two rounds earlier this month and witnessed some fantastic team presentations on business cases like Ikea's past child labor issues.

In the finals, held November 16th in Malibu, the team of L2 (Aria Ziatabari, Lance Kawamoto, Adrienne Cohn, Tal Marom and Lance Yuhn) took first place. In other Pepperdine Ethics news, a team of MBA students (Liz Passaretti, Nick Merriam, Zach Pond and Alina Topala) brought home first place at Baylor University's National Case Competition in Ethical Leadership earlier this autumn.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More on the Green Backlash

For another perspective on the potential "green backlash," check out this post from Celso Oliveira, who dishes on Dell, GE and the potential consumer backlash of blatantly PR-driven green programs.

I thought about this not once but two other times today, aside from a quick chat with Celso:

1) Talking to a colleague and Civic Hybrid driver, who cynically acknowledged the electricity requirements of hybrids like hers. We then started talking about hydrogen vehicles, high end electric cars like the Tesla roadster...and I even found myself again quoting Michael Crooke at LOHAS 2006: It's not enough to be eco-groovy.

2) Watching The Office and Scrubs tonight on NBC. During commercials they promoted next week's Green-themed episodes of Chuck, Heroes and 30 Rock, with a guest spot by Al Gore.

Cementing my moderate outlook on all things Green, I'm not nearly as cynical of NBC's attention grabbing programming stunt as I am of its name ("Green is Universal," a silly pun nodding toward NBC's parent.) Like Celso I'll conclude that it's up to the consumer to distinguish between PR and a genuine green effort.

Oberlin College: The Greenest...and City Wheels

More great news out of North Central Ohio:

The Sierra Club named Oberlin College American's most environmentally friendly school. Supporting evidence ranges from local sourcing of much of the school's cafeteria food to the two Priuses for rent on campus through CityWheels, a Cleveland-based, family-owned car-sharing business.

Hope Wine

Business Week does its annual salute of America's Best Young Entrepreneurs. My personal favorite is our neighbor, Number 15, Jake Kloberdanz (24!) of Newport Beach, California. His simple business model (I didn't say Easy!) is to contract out wine production, market it and distribute it under the Hope Wine label, and give half of all profits to AIDS, Breast Cancer and Autism charities. Congratulations to this young leader and his peers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Values-Centered Leadership: The Graziadio Case Competition

Quick plug for the upcoming 2nd Annual Graziadio Case Competition at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University.

The inspiring event- a traditional case competition, but focused on ethical and socially responsible decision-making- is produced by the Values-Centered Leadership Lab, a student-driven organization focused on hands-on ethics and social entrepreneurship practice, of which I am proud to have been an early organizer.

The multi-round event was a great success in its first run last year under Case Competition founder Naveen Jethwani and is sure to top it this year under director Elizabeth Passaretti and Lab president Nicholas Merriam.


Ohio Turns Its Money Toward The Future

Congratulations to Ohio for taking its $18B share of tobacco settlement money, reports Kenny Luna on Treehugger, in a $5B lump sum and reinvesting it in green building principles at public schools. Tough to say definitively that this is a worthier cause than youth tobacco education, as was the original plan, but nonetheless noteworthy.

EBay and Microfinance

Catherine Holahan reports on EBay's formal movement into microfinance, MicroPlace, which the auction giant bought last year. The difference between Microplace and existing people-to-people lending sites like Prosper is MicroPlace's focus on backing hard-working entrepreneurs worldwide ("Invest Wisely. End Poverty." screams the home page).

The commonality, of course, is that all such p2p lending sites rely on an escrow safety vehicle and a democratizing credit rating system that somehow achieves, on a far smaller and admittedly less risky scale, what thousands of loan officers at megabanks everywhere covet as a mysterious science.

Side note on EBay: they've launched Kijiji, which would seem to compete with the venerable Craigslist, the reigning king of classifieds...of which EBay owns a small stake.

Radiohead and Pay-What You Want

Radiohead self-released In Rainbows online in a pay-what-you-want forum ("It's up to you" and "No really, it's up to you," says the shopping cart) for several reasons, and I'm not professing to know their order of importance:

-The band could afford the experiment (in terms of wealth already accumulated from adoring fans)
-The band could afford the experiment (in terms of knowing that adoring fans would still pay for the album)
-The band probably genuinely didn't care whether it could afford the experiment, anyway
-The band probably enjoyed being among trendsetters in releasing an album without the backing of a major label
-The band, or some trustworthy marketing resource employed by them, probably knew that the pricing mechanism would be a great promotional vehicle (and it has been)
-And, let's not underestimate, the band probably thought it was a nice thing to do for its fans.

At any rate, the experiment is going splendidly, with over 1.2M copies already legitimately downloaded, per Pollstar, at an average of $8 per Mashable (which points out that this is a bigger response, and far more profitable, than the band's last three albums combined) and by the way, it's a great album, although no The Bends.

Funny ignorant American currency sidenote: I used the currency calculator linked from their site to back into how many Euros I should pay to give them just about $10, and I settled on 7-something. But of course the shopping cart was in pounds, so I actually paid about $15.

Ethos JWT, and a side rant on subscriber content

Nice little Wall Street Journal clip (and it is a clip, since most of their illustrious content is still free in preview only) on Ethos JWT- the arm of massive ad conglomerate WPP that initially handled non-profit work before finding a lucrative market in helping companies tout social responsibility efforts.

Note on WSJ's "subscriber content:" about 8 years ago I had an internship with a magazine, and a great boss who shared me his WSJ log-in. I got all ethical a few years later and stopped using it to access WSJ long after my internship was over. And now it appears that the movement is firmly afoot to tear down the "subscriber walls" at the web's best news sources, as Web@Work notes the NYTimes did with columns and other archived content in September. Note: I'm not saying what I think the media companies should do; in fact, I'm completely conflicted, because even as a blogger and an advocate of "citizen journalism" I'll always yield to the higher authority of bona fide reporters, who need to get paid somehow (and I ironically don't believe that serving ads is always the answer), and yet I'm a cheapskate and almost completely unwilling to subscribe to an online newspaper.

Clean Tech Gets Funding

As buzzwords go, while "Green" gets the ink, "Clean Tech" gets the money. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that 3Q07 VC investments in Clean Tech companies numbered 62 and totaled $844M- over 10% of the total VC pie ($7.1B!). And just as I was about to claim that the phrase "Clean Tech" itself was becoming so ubiquitous as to lose its independent meaning, Inc. did a nice job of describing such start-ups as "alternative energy, conservation and recycling."

So Facebook is the "it" company of the year (our last Fast Company link, I promise...for today!) but you can get funding for your recycling business!

Meanwhile, tour the blogosphere on these other environmentally focused blogs, courtesy of our own Blogger.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Arrived: The Inevitable Green Backlash

Recent front page news on my iGoogle gives me more current foretelling of the inevitable backlash against Green. I suppose that's how you know a movement has gained enough momentum or "critical mass" to have legitimately arrived- when critics start cropping up and saying, "Yeah, but..."

I'll always come back to the Michael Crooke comment, "It's not enough to be eco-groovy." It's not a justification of lower standards on what defines "green" improvement but an admission that we'll take incremental steps- each supported by a viable business model- on our way to being truly green.

Still, it's worth checking out the flipside:

Fast Company ponders whether carbon offsets are a cop-out and then concludes, "Ditch the guilt. You aren't a sinner for buying offsets."

Better still, Fast Company explores the commercial exploitation of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and concludes with Rob Watson's (the "father" of LEED) statement that it's time to "redouble our efforts" in defining LEED. Great story by Anya Kamenetz

Inc., currently my favorite business rag, astutely (ahem) surveys job seekers and finds they are none too concerned about the green-ness of their employees. (By the way, Seth Godin puts surveys in their proper perspective.)

And BusinessWeek's Ben Elgin uncovers green corporate pioneer Auden Schendler's mounting frustration in the crusade to make "corporate sustainability" both a good and a profitable thing, with his employer, the Aspen Skiing Company, as his living lab.

PS: Great magazines like Fast Company and Inc. are ALL OVER Green (see Fast Company's 50 Ways To Green Your Business , also this month), so the stories above are really nothing more than objective counterpoints to one of their favorite topics.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Green Vision in Toledo

We at The Optimist Company are so proud of the visionaries driving downtown Toledo's development of a green arena. According to Jessica Luther at Toledo City Paper, it's Tina Skeldon Wozniak and the Lucas County Commissioners, in cahoots with building supplies giant Owens Corning (owners of a green building themselves, and headquartered a few blocks away on the downtown banks of the Maumee River), pushing for the new multi-purpose venue to attain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building certified status. Read the link for a meatier explanation of what this designation means.

But to suffice it to say, to whatever extent it happens (and we'll track the early-stage story, as the ground-breaking ceremony was just today and not all green plans are yet in place) it will be a great merit badge for the city and a statement of T-town's commitment to urban regeneration and the environment!

Negroponte and Buy One, Give One Laptops

Nicholas Negroponte is combating slower-than-expected adoption of his One Laptop Per Child initiative with a simple and brilliant marketing ploy. Steve Hamm and BusinessWeek have the scoop: the $100-per-laptop goal is not quite yet achievable (unit cost is still at $188), so Negroponte's OLPC is going with a "Give One, Get One" plan to encourage American consumers to pay $400, get one laptop for themselves and have another sent to a child in one of four underdeveloped nations.

In the sense that all companies/organizations have to "market" their ideas, I love this "Buy One, Donate One" ploy and hereby nominate it as the Good Marketing Ploy of the year. See how TOM's Shoes does it, too, and more importantly note that my use of the word "Ploy" is with all due respect. Getting peoples' attention is a competitive thing in any endeavor. I bet this works.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grist's Top 15 Green Entrepreneurs

Today Grist.org listed their favorite 15 Green Business Founders. This inspiring leadership list included the likeliest suspects, like legendary Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Ray Anderson, whose modular commercial carpet company Interface may be the largest on this list ($1.07B in 2006 sales).

The Top 15 also includes some more under-the-radar innovators, like Pizza Fusion, a Florida company that delivers pies in hybrids, and YOLO Colorhouse, which makes contaminant-free house paint.

It's an inspiring list of entrepreneurs who had social impact in mind from the beginning of building their successful business fact, rather than adding it as a consideration after the fact (which is nonetheless a great alternative).

Bon Appetit and "The Joy of Local Sourcing"

Here's a nice CSRWire release on Bon Appetit, an onsite restaurant company that is uniquely going beyond its mission of serving great food (I eat it at my employer every day, which is why this story caught my eye) at organizations, schools and corporate offices.

Bon Appetit's Eat Local Challenge inspires the chefs at each of the company's 400+ locations in 28 states to cook up the day's menu on September 25 using all local ingredients originating from 120 miles of the site.

Giant, Energy Efficient Cooling: Big Ass Fans

Sometimes the best ideas are also the simplest. This company is the purveyor of such an idea- a giant and (relative to air conditioning) efficient fan that also happens to be expertly branded- especially for a B2B product (as the fan is mostly positioned for commercial/industrial sales): Big Ass Fans.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

EEStor and a Better Battery

Optimist reader Brad in Royal Oak, Michigan, points us to Mlive.com and an A.P. story by Grant Slator profiling Austin, Texas company EEStor's ultracapacitor- a battery stuffed with wafer thin metal sheets whose inventors believe will hold enough charge for 500 miles of electric vehicle drive time.

EEStor is well-backed by Kleiner Perkins and Zenn Motors of Toronto, which has already licensed the technology.

Treehugger was first on the story in March 2006 and again in January

Hall of Shame: Student Loan Lenders and Profiteering Colleges

Here's a great BusinessWeek expose from Jessica Silver-Greenberg about college students racking up credit card debt and the credit companies whose predatory on campus recruiting tactics seem to stimulate the youth debt phenomenon.

This mirrored and investigative clip I saw last night on CurrenTV (it originally aired in June and was produced by MossMedia), in which the reporter's polling of NYU students on their astronomical debt burden is interspersed with clips of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo talking about his state's bust-down on credit card companies, colleges, and their less-then-ethical collaborations- which included KICKBACKS to the schools from private student loans!

All of which is a way of saying that companies and colleges are working together not to ensure that young spenders understand debt- which is perfectly clearly NOT the case- but instead to make sure that they BOTH profit from the rising costs of college in the US.

Let's make this general indictment of the student lending industry our inaugural entry in The Optimist Company's Hall of Shame