Free Entrepreneurial Ideas

An Assortment of Innovation

As a former entrepreneur, I am continually coming up with ideas to create viable products and markets. Unfortunately, with my focus on writing the Pursuit of Happiness Series these ideas mainly languish doing nothing. So, I'd like to give them away to those other entrepreneurs out there interested in creating a business. There's no strings attached, though I'd appreciate you letting me know how the ideas worked out if you actually tried starting a business with one of them.

I've classed the ideas according to projected markets. In general, smaller companies are easier to start, have less risk, and turn a profit quickly, whereas the bigger ideas would take a long time to execute, be much more risky, yet have a considerably larger payoff if successful. All the ideas are technically feasible, though some clearly require more technology development than others.


Small Ideas


At an average of ten hours of usage per day, a single 500W overhead streetlight consumes 5kw-hrs of electricity. At a nominal 4 cents / kwh, that means it's about 20 cents a day per streetlight, or ~$60 / year in electricity alone (not counting bulb replacement or installation costs). In urban areas we want the lights for many reasons, but in suburban or highway areas the lights are used solely to illuminate the roadway for safe driving.

Why not use a glow-in-the-dark phosphor inside the paint used for the white and yellow lines on all roads? This would dramatically increase visibility, substantially increase safety, and draw power directly from ambient sunlight. This latter part means that we eliminate the electricity drain and maintenance, as well as bring illumination to more rural areas where running power for overhead lights is impractical.

Of course, the phosphorescent properties would need to function for the lifetime of the paint. It's actually pretty difficult to make a durable roadway paint, and who knows, the phosphor properties might not be compatible in some fashion, resulting in the need for some chemical R&D. Also, this isn't a universal panacea, since on dark days the roads would be dark at night. So probably the best thing would be to put existing streetlights on an autosensor that tripped if it didn't receive enough sunlight during the day. If we could make the phosphorescence use UV radiation instead of visible sunlight, then we'd be set: UV radiation will penetrate all but the densest of cloud cover.

Altogether, this seems like an eminently feasible near term business. Many municipalities would be happy to fork over $60 per streetlight if you freed them of 75% of that maintenance burden next year. Also, there seem to be other opportunities in this sector: glow-in-the-dark roadway reflectors, both Bots Dots and the posts by the side of the road, etc.

Sink Dishwasher

I once heard a comedy routine years ago where a husband was berated by his wife for cleaning off the table: "You don't put dirty dishes in the dishwasher!" Dishwashers are notoriously water and power hungry, and up until recently, spectacularly ineffective. In many cases, people use dishwashers basically as a big dryer and extra rack space. Also, in small apartments a full dishwasher takes up too much space.

Why not create small rotary units that mount on the side of a sink? There would be three types: one that cleaned a plate, one that cleaned a glass, and another that cleaned a utensil. Each type would be hooked up to water and have a reservoir to fill with liquid cleansers. The brushes would be self-cleaning because of water jets within them. The first two units would work like an electric can opener; the utensil version more like spiral lathe.

Anyway, cleaning would then be a fast parallel process. It would probably take about 3-5 second to fully clean any item, so you would put your plate on first, then your glass, then your utensils, by which time the plate would be done and you could put it on the drying rack, and then the glass, and then the utensils. Moreover, these units could get better cleaning with less water and energy, because a) it could apply abrasive force directly to the surface of the dishware and b) it could spray the exact amount of water needed. In fact, just creating a faucet-mounted IR-activated sprayer would be a viable product (so you only use water while you are actually rinsing).

These units might also find a niche in apartments / for mobile renters. Unlike big dishwashers, they could be installed an uninstalled easily, with just a hookup to the sink faucet (like a Pur water filter, say). For an equivalent cost, they would provide much more space / utility, as well as portability from apartment to apartment.

Quiet Zone Systems

Cell phones are arguably the world's fastest growing and largest deployed commericial electronic item in the history of mankind. Many third world countries have completely foregone the deployment of land-line communications and use purely mobile technology. Mobile phone technology has brought tremendous conveniences into our lives... as well as numerous annoyances. They have become so widespread that they have disrupted what have previously been quiet time without distraction.

Why not invent a device that blankets an area with a Quiet Zone in which cell calls cannot be received? There are many approaches to this. The first is a sledge hammer: a wire mesh of highly conductive metal would create a Faraday cage that blocked all EM radiation / transmission. A better (and safer) way would be to negotiate a carrier signal with the cell phone companies such that incoming calls would automatically switch to a silent ring tone, or to automatically shut phones off until the signal goes away. Thus, the capability would be there, just not as disruptive.

There are many places that would buy such a device, for a variety of reasons. Movie theatres, libraries, temples, and other places requiring silence are the first obvious markets. However, there are other places for which the EM signal itself is potentially dangerous. In hospitals active cell phones can interfere with pacemakers and other medical equipment (one of the reasons all doctors still carry pagers even though all mobile phones can page). In some construction sites cell phones can trip remote explosives; in some airports, cell phones can interfere with navigational equipment.

The creation of a Quiet Zone (however it is done) is a long-term sustainable market. Cell phones and personal wireless devices will only become more ubiquitous as time goes on... but the human desires for private peace and personal quiet will never go away. As long as there are mechanisms of intrusion, there is an opportunity for business in preserving a human Quiet Zone.

Local Kitchens

Food dollar moving out of home into centralized food preparation
Fast food
Emergent trend of freshly prepared foods
Local kitchens that serve healthy meals

Voice Fonts

Real Time Gaming over IP
Business Apps

Full Contact

Distributed data updating

Full Spectrum Devices (1 of 3)

The last couple decades has seen the emergence of several truly mature wireless technologies. First and foremost is mobile and handset phones, followed on the heels by 802.11b, and then a host of proprietary technologies with niche markets. People want to be connected without the hassle of lines... and they want it all the time. The major stumbling blocks to complete connectivity are bandwidth and power. Here's an idea to increase bandwidth, followed by ideas that reduces the power constraint, and a final one that ameliorates both.

Why not use very low energy waves smeared across a wide range of frequencies to increase bandwidth? In a previous electronic age, this would have been technologically and practically infeasible. Nowadays, with solid-state adjustable gain antennas and CDMA (Code Division Multiplex Access), all it would require is a handshake protocol everyone could agree on to prevent cross-device interference.

This approach would have numerous benefits. First and foremost, it would open up real bandwidth to every wireless device, instead of the slivers they need to engineer around now. Second, it would remove the immense startup costs associated with wireless technologies (i.e. the legal purchasing and policing of bandwidth). Third, it would cause rapid service evolution by putting small players on an equal footing with larger ones. And last but not least, it would enable much greater re-use of wireless transmitters and receivers, which would only have to be reconfigured in software once new services / capabilities became available.

Of course, this product is highly contingent upon large legal entities like the FCC. The reason why this is a small idea is because the technology itself could be created with off-the-shelf devices and protocols today to create working prototypes. In a way it is also a big idea because it would cause a huge paradigm shift in the way wireless technologies worked. A potential way to get around the legalistic hassle is to keep the transmission energy in any one band below what would be considered noise from the current Narrow Spectrum Devices, allowing both to be used simultaneously and a new market to be formed without the recourse to the FCC.

Big Ideas

Transponder Phones (2 of 3)

Anyone familiar with the Spectral Density Equation (SDE) knows the intimate connection between power and bandwidth. You want more bandwidth, you have to use more power, and that pretty much is the way it goes. The power limitation on mobile devices like cell phones has thus been the major limitation to achieving high bandwidth from them. Even though both batteries and digital technologies have improved dramatically, there just doesn't seem to be enough power to run a device all the time at a decent bandwidth. Or is there?

Why not create a system with an unequal distribution of power consumption between transmitter and receiver? The SDE mandates that energy be spent... but NOT that the mobile device need be the one to spend it. For example, consider the ingenious system of mobile electronic ants that trasmit data to a bay station. Each ant is equipped with a tiny three corner mirror, where one mirror can be flipped out of place. Thus, an incoming laser beam from the bay station can be either reflected back or not, a 1 or a 0. As a result, all the heavy power and complexity requires are on the stationary end, not the mobile unit.

A similar situation could be devised for mobile phones. We could engineer transponding cavities in a solid-state matrix that could be frequency alterable. The cell tower could negotiate a frequency per phone, and then transmit a carrier wave outbound. The phone would modulate its own cavity at minimal power, reflecting back the signal or not, thus transmitting data to the bay station. This effectively moves all the complexity and heavy power onto the stationary components instead of the phones. Furthermore, it also means upgrading a network would be easier, requiring just a change to transmitting stations instead of both those and an installed base of new phones.

Right off the bat, a simple transponding scheme would cut power requirements for a mobile device in half, or alternatively, double its effective battery life. However, intelligent design can trade this extra battery life for greatly increased bandwidth. Using a transponder scheme it should be possible to achieve Mb/s speeds to mobile devices over urban distances with comparable power consumption profiles that we see today in mobile phones.

SkyNet (3 of 3)

The last of the wireless ideas is the simplest of them: where to place the transmitters. Currently there is catch-22 among establishing a new cell network or wireless service. You need to setup bay stations to attract and service clients, but they aren't profitable until you secure a large enough density in an area to support the station. Also, geometry places a key role and the interference from buildings makes the placement of sub-cells more complex.

Why not float larger cell stations in the air in a helium balloon? That would allow the deployment of a single station to cover a very large area, able to initially service a sparse density. Then, as your densities become larger, you put up another balloon and lower the height of both. Moreover, this SkyNet system has the many benefits of the space-based Iridium system (line-of-sight to roadways, fewer cell handoffs, etc.) but eliminates the weaknesses (e.g. the need for large antenna and battery).

There would be several engineering hurdles to overcome with SkyNet. You would need to be able to easily raise and lower the units, especially in stormy weather. For redundancy, you'd probably want them wired by several lines with different anchor points. You'd want a helium elevator to allow personnel to man the floating platform, as well as a fiber-optic cable to channel a lot of data from the cell site. The concerns are exotic and not the usual architectural constraints, but they all seem eminently soluble.

The benefits of SkyNet far outweight the oddity. If combined with the two ideas above, it would allow the deployment of a high-bandwidth mobile solution to an entire city with an intial investment of perhaps of just a few initial bay stations. Moreover, if Full Spectrum Devices were used, it would be possible to overlap the cells, allowing the optimal central placement of multiple bay stations, or perhaps even a highly complex central station that services all traffic for an entire city.


HVAC is big industry, both power consumption and profit
Ground water HVAC systems can dramatically reduce peak power load
More environmentally friendly

Mass Transit Improvements

  Gravity Movers
  Enclosed Woobas
  Regenerative Braking

Big Hairy Audacious Ideas


The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) has classified diabetes and obesity as twin epidemics sweeping the nation. At last count (2002), each one affects over 16 million people in the US alone. Diabetes awareness is being raised in the public consciousness, going in hand in hand with a proliferation of products and services tailored to the diabetic. Weight loss has also become an american pastime, with a wide range of fad diets and differing views on healthy nutrition.

Why not develop a drug that cages and uncages glucose according to the ambient glucose level?

HERC (Hybrid Electric Recumbent Cycles)