Most Innovative Small Businesses of 2013
No matter how far the marketplace advances, there will always be problems that plague consumers and that no company can seem to solve.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it creates a niche for the right company to fill. For example, motorists experience considerable straining when cleaning their windshields from the inside. So the makers of the Windshield Wonder saw an opportunity to address an unaddressed problem, a successful product was born, and the rest is history.
Small businesses can experience great success and expand their operations when they find innovative solutions to common problems. Often, it can mean cultivating a loyal and much-needed customer base, which any small business needs in order to sustain itself and grow.
What follows is a list of 10 innovative small businesses that are making their mark this year with inventive products. Read ahead to see what they are.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 6 June 2013
Gun legislation has always been a front-and-center topic in the U.S., but it reached a fever pitch in the months following the tragic events in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. But while politicians have been trying without success to find a solution, Yardarm Technologies has come up with a high-tech idea—a wireless controller that allows gun owners to disable a weapon remotely.
If a gun is moved, an alarm is triggered on the owner's phone, and he or she can then disable the weapon remotely. An Associated Press report said that the technology would cost gun owners an extra $50 per weapon, while the service itself would carry a $12 annual fee.
Systems and Materials Research Consultancy
3-D printing is a technology that fabricates objects based on a digital model. It made headlines in 2012 when a company called Defense Distributed created the world's first 3-D-printed gun, but Systems and Materials Research Consultancy is currently researching ways to use it to fabricate food.
NASA awarded the Austin, Texas-based company a Small Business Innovation Research grant of $125,000 to develop food to be printed for space missions. Senior mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor said that the technology could someday be used to address world hunger.
AMP Americas is a Chicago-based company that makes compressed natural gas. While the alternative fuel market already has plenty of businesses that call themselves "innovative," this one truly is: Its fuel is converted from cow manure.
The company's efforts were highlighted in March in The New York Times, which said the fuel was being used by a dairy farm to power it 42 tractor-trailers that deliver its milk to different states. The article also cited Energy Department officials, who called the technology a "pacesetter."
People who don't need a conventional hearing aid but want to enhance sounds can use a personal amplifier. Able Planet is a noise-cancelling headphone manufacturer whose personal amplifier was singled out for praise by The Wall Street Journal in September, and in Popular Science in December.
The technology uses noise-cancelling technology and is smaller than a dime. In a February CNET review, writer Elizabeth Armstrong Moore said: "I can certainly imagine putting these on regularly when I go to bars, rock shows, and soccer matches where I sometimes struggle conversing with the person right in front of me."
Changing a diaper is one of life's less pleasant tasks, even when baby is lying perfectly still. Much of the time, however, baby doesn't lie perfectly still, and thrashes and squirms. This created a ripe opportunity for a resourceful entrepreneur to revolutionize the process, and Lisa Cash Hanson was that entrepreneur.
Hanson invented the SnuggWugg, which she described in an e-mail as "an interactive diaper changing pillow that helps parents so their babies don't twist and turn on the changing table." The business will launch later in 2013, but it already has the advantage of having won the 2012 Huggies MomInspired Grant of $15,000.
Most people would be hard-pressed to find much use for spent bullet casings. But Bullet Designs, a Louisiana-based company founded in 2010, has distinguished itself by using them to create bling.
"We recycle fired bullet casings into beautiful, elegant jewelry and accessories for men and women," CEO Karan Kirkham said. "Women in particular go wild over our products." Kirkham said the company is applying for a patent on its "Fire & Ice" jewelry line.
Anyone who has watched news coverage of a natural disaster or watched an episode of "Doomsday Preppers" knows that you'll need a supply of uncontaminated water should a major emergency arise. But whether it's an earthquake or a zombie apocalypse, the Austin, Texas-based AquaStorage company has the fresh water supply solution to beat—the AquaPodKit.
According to the company's website, it can store up to 65 gallons of water, enough to provide a family of four with a 14-day supply. The invention was highlighted by The New York Times in 2011.
Ophthalmological technology has made leaps and bounds in recent years, but screening children for vision problems still hasn't advanced beyond the eye-chart stage. VisionQuest 20/20, a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. James W. O'Neil and engineer Richard S. Tirendi, is looking to change that by introducing a new product called EyeSpy 20/20.
The product is a computer program that assesses children's vision while they play a video game. It tests for eye misalignment, cataracts, nearsightedness, astigmatism and more. It also tests for amblyopia, better known as "lazy eye," a condition that can lead to permanent blindness if it goes untreated.
uAttend is a small business that sells advanced time and attendance trackers for employers. Completely cloud-based, it allows employees to mark their attendance with a phone, tablet, or even the tried-and-true punch-clock method.
The system integrates with payroll software, thereby eliminating an entire step in the process of paying employees. The company also offers punch-clocks with biometric fingerprint and facial recognition capabilities, so one employee can't punch in for another one.
Hallettco is an Ashland, Ore.-based company that makes an essential product for the outdoors. The product is called the Squat Monkey, and it's a 4-ounce strap that provides balance and stability to hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts when certain inevitable bodily functions arise.
According to the product website, "Squat Strap helps to protect your exposed skin from coming into contact with bacteria, fungus, bugs, rodents and poisonous plants. ... Squat Strap keeps you elevated off the ground by supporting and balancing your body. You easily place Squat Strap around a tree or boulder, and then place it about your waist. After you are in a secure and stable position, you can let nature take care of the rest."
When Marcus Lemonis isn't running his multi-billion dollar company, Camping World, he goes on the hunt for struggling businesses that are desperate for cash and ripe for a deal. In the past 10 years, he's successfully turned around over 100 companies. Now he's bringing those skills to CNBC and doing something no one has ever done on TV before … he's putting over $2 million of his own money on the line. In each episode, Lemonis makes an offer that's impossible to refuse; his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he'll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit; even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.
The Profit premieres on CNBC Prime Tuesday, July 30 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.