A bold concept perfectly in sync with the moment: It's what great companies are built on. It's what shapes the future. It's entrepreneurship at its best.
Where can you find that kind of thinking now?
We looked at 10 areas that are growing fast--from mobile technology and outsourcing to fitness and pets--and found 10 companies in each that bring jaw-dropping ingenuity to the table.
Read on, great things lie ahead.
'This thing's got legs'
Foursquare races past a million users
Smartphones are taking over. By 2012, Nielsen researchers say, they will be the most commonly used mobile devices in the U.S. And you know what that means: more apps--and tons of money--to be made. In fact, smartphone customers this year are expected to spend $6.2 billion on more than 4.5 million downloads.
This is great (if unsurprising) news for Foursquare , a location-based app that debuted at the 2009 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. By late April, it boasted 1 million users. If you're not one of them, the concept is simple: "Check in" at the places you like to hang out (cafes, museums, shops, etc.), leave "tips" and earn badges (hit four spots in a night for a "crunked" badge).
It took about two seconds for businesses to realize the potential of Foursquare, which also lets them keep track of their best customers. Soon businesses began offering discounts and freebies to the customer who checks in the most--the "mayor," in Foursquare-speak.
"It's about making the city playful and easier to navigate, and it incentivizes people to explore," says Dennis Crowley, the New York-based co-founder and CEO of Foursquare.
The app is the descendant of Dodgeball, a Crowley project bought by Google in 2005. When the web behemoth turned it off last year, Crowley and his officemate, Naveen Selvadurai, developed a next-gen version in their spare time. Now, daily check-ins exceed 300,000.
Foursquare hasn't turned a profit yet, but it raised $1.35 million in venture capital in September, which has let Crowley play with various monetization schemes. Bravo TV, for instance, left tips at hundreds of show locations, and viewers got badges for visiting.
"Every month, we look at the numbers and think we can't keep growing at this rate," Crowley says. "But we do. This thing's got legs." --Jennifer Wang
9 More to Watch:
BlockChalk An app that turns mobile phones into digital news bulletins. Leave messages ("Pothole on Elm Street")--and reply to others.
Bump Technologies The free Bump app lets users exchange information by bumping two phones together. PayPal's new app uses this technology to move money.
CyberSynchs Back up your smartphone: Cybersynchs.com automatically mirrors subscribers' mobile data--contacts list, e-mails, photos, ringtones, voicemails, etc.--to a secure web account.
KangoGift Pick and pay for friends' gifts online, send a voucher as a text message, and they stop by the store to pick the item up. In Boston only, for now.
Lima Sky Retailer of kid-friendly game apps since 2008. Its popular DoodleJump recently passed 3 million downloads--a first for an indie developer.
Square Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's newest venture seems likely to be a big one: Square turns mobile phones into credit- and debit-card readers. Say bye-bye to expensive hardware.
SwebApps Lets business owners develop iPhone apps within minutes and track and update them for $35 (or less) a month.
The Hyperfactory This privately owned branding agency has offices in the U.S., Australia and Asia, focusing on mobile marketing strategies for clients such as BlackBerry, Coca-Cola, Disney, Kraft, L'Oreal
toktumi The company's brilliant new release: The 99-cent Line2 app, which allows iPhone users to set up a second line for business contacts, complete with a separate voicemail and address book.
Penny pinchers, unite!
BillShrink trims the fat out of budgets--and is making a mint doing it
The Age of the Tightwad shows no sign of ending. Despite economic upticks, Americans are still spending 30 percent less than they did in 2008, Gallup's consumer spending poll shows. That's just $63 a day. At the same time, they have been furiously dumping debt--$101.2 billion of it came off the books in the last 14 months. And businesses selling value--dollar stores, discount services, retail shops--are thriving amid all the penny-pinching, an attitude that seems destined to linger even as the economy turns around.
One of the more creative enterprises is BillShrink, a free online tool that helps users lower monthly expenses such as cell-phone plans, credit cards and even gas. Basically, the website asks a few questions about spending, then sends users a list of recommended services and vendors.
"The recession has been incredibly helpful to our business," says CEO Peter Pham. His Silicon Valley site tracks 10 million cell-phone plan combinations, 300 bank rates, 240 credit cards and 150,000 gas stations nationwide. And after making recommendations, BillShrink alerts users with an e-mail when even better deals come along.
The site gets more than 250,000 unique monthly visitors, who average $1,500 in annual savings, Pham says. In all, the company claims $1 billion in savings for more than 1 million users since its launch in 2007.
Of course, BillShrink is a business, not a philanthropy, and for every change of credit card or cell-phone plan by a user, for instance, BillShrink gets $50 to $150 from the retailer. Pham says these fees don't influence its selections. "We always have our customers' backs," he says.
Next up: A BillShrink for Business section and a plan to add more products, including cable TV service. "Ultimately," Pham says, "we want to eliminate price confusion and empower consumers." --Kara Ohngren
9 More to Watch:
Blackboard Eats A free e-newsletter and website that offers exclusive deals at top restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles.
Copy Cat Chic Interior designer Reichel R. Broussard follows the latest high-end home design trends and then scours the Internet for sales, closeouts and bargains to achieve the same look for a fraction of the price.
Dry Bar Have the $85 luxury salon blowout for only $35: Dry Bar offers a wash and blow dry (no cuts or color), and complimentary cocktails at its Brentwood, Calif., location.
Fashionphile After outgrowing eBay, Sarah Davis opened her own pre-owned luxury handbag shop and online store. Sales more than doubled during the recession, topping $4 million.
Groupon Capitalizing on the power of group-buying, this website offers members a daily deal on stuff to do, see, eat and buy in cities across the U.S.
Lucky Chic The latest entry in online luxury sample sales offers customers savings of as much as 98 percent off retail when they bid and win products from such coveted brands as Prada, Saks or even Apple.
Rent Cycle This online rental marketplace connects more than 30,000 rental businesses offering anything from cameras to bicycles.
20x200 Most any art lover can become an art collector, with a site offering most pieces for $20.
Warby Parker Boutique-quality prescription eyeglasses for $95 a pair, plus the hip online store lets customers upload a photo for virtual try-ons. And it sells monocles.
Don't laugh at Doggles: Fashion sunglasses for dogs are a $3 million a year business
They say no industry is truly recession-proof, but the latest numbers from the American Pet Products Association say something else: A whopping $45.5 billion was spent on pets in 2009, up--yes, up--5.4 percent from the year before.
About $3 million of that went to Doggles, an endlessly inventive California pet supplies business, mostly famous for some rather chic canine eyewear. In 1996, founder Veronica DiLullo cobbled together the first pair of Doggles for Midknight, her border collie-Lab mix who was so sensitive to light he had a hard time catching Frisbees at the park. She posted online a photo and the rest, as they say, is history. "People started to contact me to make pairs for their dogs for all sorts of reasons," she says, "and that's when I realized there was a glaring need for a product like this."
DiLullo teamed up with a veterinary ophthalmologist to design the frames, straps and shatterproof and anti-fog lenses, and opened for business. Now Doggles come in three main styles--mesh, protective and fashion--all selling for less than $20 each. And the Diamond Springs company has branched out into other unconventional pet products, including hats, flotation jackets and backpacks. DiLullo designs all of it instead of relying on what manufacturers have available. "It's all about watching animals play and figuring out what they need," she says. Her latest creations, Pentapulls, are dolls with stretchy limbs that won't tear off.
Like other brilliant companies, Doggles was ahead of the curve. "We endured a lot of odd looks when we started out," DiLullo says, "and it was a few years before people would walk by and recognize us as something more than a crazy idea." It has certainly paid off, though, with sales at the five-human outfit expected to hit $3 million this year. --J.W.
9 More to Watch:
A Dog's Life This maker of natural hand-baked treats recently expanded to include people products: wine with customizable labels featuring your pet.
Camp Bow Wow The fast-growing pet-service franchise has more than 200 locations in North America, offering doggy day camp and full-service in-home pet care.
My Memory Catcher Sign up for several sessions with a "pet historian," who will write down all those entertaining pet stories and return them in a spiral-bound journal.
nootie Luxe pet shampoos inspired by luxe hair-care products, with scents that include Warm Vanilla Cookie and Japanese Cherry Blossom.
Pawsible Marketing Founder and principal Leslie May specializes in helping small- to medium-sized pet businesses get established and grow.
Pet Acoustics A $249.95 sound system designed to eliminate pet-unfriendly frequencies for dogs, cats and horses--so they won't be agitated when you start blasting T-Pain's latest.
PetAirapy Using UVC light and filters, these air purifiers and surface disinfectants get rid of pets' allergies--and probably human ones, too.
Pussy and Pooch Pop into the upscale Los Angeles or Long Beach, Calif., boutiques for the "Pawbar" experience, where dogs belly up for simmered stews and "dog beer."
Scutte Modern Vintage Stylish pet apparel and accessories such as collars with neckties and Snoopy graphic tees. Yes, for your dog.
Florence Henderson wants to outrun the Geek Squad with FloH Club, her new tech service for seniors
Last spring, actress Florence Henderson admitted she had a problem: She couldn't e-mail on her new smartphone.
"We were talking about how we were going to launch FloH, the brand she wanted to start to promote better living for seniors," says Tony Hirsch, a business partner. "And when we showed her how to use e-mail, she said, 'I want all my friends to be able to do this!'"
Fast-forward a year, and the former Brady Bunch mom is on set in Westlake Village, Calif., wrapping up an infomercial for FloH Club, her telephone-based tech-support service for seniors. For $24.99 a month, members get 24/7 access to computer specialists. Want a Facebook account? Done. Need to hook up a printer or make an online purchase? No problem. They'll even access computers remotely and provide on-screen tutorials.
"Necessity was the mother of this invention," says Henderson, 76. "It can be so embarrassing to ask for help--so I wanted to make sure there was no such thing as a silly question at FloH Club."
For that expertise, she partnered with Support.com, a tech-support center that's based in North America and trains agents to help clients who aren't so good with technology. Despite little advertising, membership has grown since the October launch, Henderson says. She expects the infomercial, set to air this summer, to draw tens of thousands of new members by the end of the year.
It's an idea whose time is now: Internet use is growing proportionately fastest among older users, and targeted sites are springing up everywhere--think Eons, a social networking space for boomers, or Granpaparazzi, a street-style blog for seniors. It's enough to draw the worst technophobe online. Now, how do you open the attach? --J.W.
9 More to Watch:
Continuum Crew A boomer think tank and marketing firm that aims to attract older consumers to brands in industries as varied as pharmaceuticals, financial services and packaged goods.
Dating for Seniors Dating site targeted at singles 45 and older that screens for fake profiles and spam. Monthly membership ($29.95) after a free three-day trial.
Granpaparazzi A style blog featuring senior street fashion. "They're already wearing what you covet and they have been for decades."
Myine Electronics The company's electronic audio products make music accessible to consumers with limited time or technological sophistication.
Nifty after Fifty A fitness franchise, complete with "Brainaerobics" and driving simulation programs for the 50-plus crowd, with locations in sunshiny California, Nevada and Texas.
SeniorsForJobs.com Seniors who don't believe in retirement post résumés on this job site, which matches them with employers who need to fill ranks with experienced hires.
Silver Ride A San Francisco driving service dedicated to helping older adults stay independent after "driving retirement."
Summit Health Resources The new Green House homes--an alternative to traditional senior-care facilities--provide residence for as many as 12 seniors, who each have their own rooms and plenty of autonomy.
Wellcore The "Help, I've fallen!" personal emergency response system gets a design makeover. Say hello to the iPad of fall-alert devices.
Don't call it garbage
Terracycle turns old packaging into some of the coolest goods on the shelf
You can learn a lot from worm poop. Just ask Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Terracycle, who once manufactured fertilizer made from the stuff. "It got me thinking about waste streams, because we had to collect uncrushed soda bottles from thousands of schools to hold the worm poop."
When major consumer packaging companies began asking Szaky to pick up their trash, too, he realized that he had a different opportunity on his hands.
The result is Terracycle, which collects all sorts of unrecyclables--Lunchables packaging, old pens, dead cell phones, potato chip bags--and turns them into items such as school supplies and gardening tools, which are then sold at retailers including Target and The Home Depot.
Really, Terracycle is proof that there's never been a better time to be a green business, with customers becoming increasingly eco-conscious and venture capitalists pinning their hopes--and a lot of money, $5.6 billion in 2009--on the cleantech industry.
Terracycle is expected to pull $20 million in retail sales in 2010, and it has doubled the number of employees (currently around 100) every year since its inception in 2001. Better still, these efforts will divert 3 billion pieces of garbage from landfills.
"We're relevant because we create a tangible solution," Szaky says. Although most of the "upcycling" happens in the lab, where engineers and scientists manipulate the trash into textiles and plastics, he wants to involve as many people as possible.
"Sign up on the website to be a collector," he says. "You don't have to pay or buy anything. Just collect."
Terracycle has more than 9 million citizen collectors, who've sent in more than 1 billion pieces of trash. And, yes, they were paid: 2 cents for each chip bag or drink pouch, plus shipping.
Who says you can't turn garbage into gold? --J.W.
9 More to Watch:
Advanced Electron Beams AEB's sustainable manufacturing technology sterilizes products and cures coatings, all the while producing less pollution than the usual chemical processes.
Bloom Energy The Sunnyvale, Calif., firm is behind the Bloom box, a miniature power plant that creates electricity from air and fuel cells--without emissions.
Environment Furniture A sophisticated furniture line that uses eco-friendly materials such as reclaimed wood and aims for low environmental impact.
QD Vision Inc. Spun out of MIT in 2004, this company develops lighting that's 500 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
RavenBrick The thermo-reflective windows and walls developed by this cleantech firm can reduce energy usage by half and replace materials such as brick, insulation and concrete.
Recycle Match The site matches resources at one business with users at another. Example: Unrecyclable windows from a building upgrade were turned into countertops and tiles.
Relay Rides This car-sharing program in Boston rents out underused vehicles to drivers in need.
Terra Plana Purchased in 2002 by Galahad Clark of the Clarks shoe dynasty, the company uses recycled materials and minimal glue to make shoes ranging from sneakers to pumps.
The Green Garmento A $10 reusable dry-cleaning bag that holds 12 garments--and doesn't contribute to the 300 million pounds of plastic bags dumped in U.S. landfills each year.
More and more of domestic life is being outsourced. And with Booty Camp, that includes potty training.
It's no secret that busy parents are willing to pay for help around the house. In fact, child care, sports coaching and tutoring are expected to be a $47.5 billion industry in 2010, according to the research group IBISWorld.
But it doesn't stop there. Some smart entrepreneurs are realizing the potential of "parental outsourcing" and offering services for every nook of domestic life. Shari Green (aka The Thumblady of Long Grove, Ill.) guarantees thumb-suckers will kick the habit in five sessions with her Thumbsucking Elimination Program. For $75 an hour, Aresh Mohit will teach a New York kid how to ride a bike.
And Wendy Sweeney? Well, she has the big job: Potty training. At her Booty Camp, camouflage-clad rug rats enroll in an intense one-day session guaranteed to teach them to use the toilet without assistance or reminders. "Children aren't only toilet trained," says Sweeney, a registered nurse and certified child disciplinary instructor. "The program provides parents a major confidence boost."
She charges $300 to $500 per booty for classes in her West Chicago home. Since 2002, more than 900 children have gone through the program, and Booty Camp has seen a 40 percent increase in sales in each of the last two years.
Last year, Sweeney released a DVD kit--Booty Camp Potty Training Program: Building Self-Confidence from the Bottom Up. She's sold about 100 of the $89.99 packages so far, which include an instruction manual, flashcards, T-shirt and positive reinforcement tools such as temporary tattoos and a "success" ribbon.
A mother of six, Sweeney developed her technique through trial and error. She makes the children--not the parents--responsible for "doing their potty in the pot." Dry pants earn M&Ms or raisins. And accidents? A learning opportunity. --K.O.
9 More to Watch:
Cleanology This website matches pro housekeepers with households that fit their cleaning style.
Divalysscious Moms Mommy group on steroids: Instead of play dates, they gather for, say, an Ivanka Trump shopping event.
Manhattan Childproofers Provides the gates to cabinet locks to make New York apartments kid-safe.
Marathon Paws This Boston-area holistic pet-care provider takes pets on walks, housebreaks and teaches them obedience and offers in-home vacation care.
My Organic Garden This Washington, D.C., company will plan, plant, care for and harvest fully organic vegetable gardens.
MyPunchbowl A free online party-planning and invitation service.
Oliver's Labels With an embedded homing device, the labels let parents track lost toys and clothes using an online tracking system.
TutorVista One-on-one professional tutoring in a secure web environment, with instant messaging and collaborative work spaces.
Yummy.com This chain of three L.A. grocery stores delivers the goods in bright Yummy Honda Elements.
The man behind 285,700 programmers
Ian Ippolito saw the potential of crowdsourcing. Now Rent A Coder is raking in millions.
Do businesses hire actual employees anymore? Maybe not. As employment numbers plummeted, more than $24.7 billion of outsourced contracts were dished out in the fourth quarter last year--up 8 percent year over year, according to TPI, a sourcing advisory firm.
Much of that growth is the result of crowdsourcing: Instead of paying for full-time employees, employers are tapping into the online community of hungry freelancers. Marketing, public relations, research, design, legal services--all can be handled quickly and affordably through crowdsourcing sites.
One of the first to latch onto the opportunity was programmer Ian Ippolito, who launched Rent A Coder back in 2002. His Tampa, Fla., site connects businesses with a global freelance market of programmers, and today, an astonishing 136,837 buyers and 285,700 coders from all over the world make up the Rent A Coder marketplace. Posting of work requests is free, but Rent A Coder takes a 6-percent to 15-percent cut of the final transaction. In 2008, the most recent data available, revenue was $2.4 million--more than double what it was in 2004. This year, Ippolito expects $3 million and will rename the site vWorker.com--for virtual worker. Ironically enough, Rent A Coder has become a company that hires its own employees. For now, it has 12. --K.O.
9 More to Watch:
CloudCrowd This crowdsourcing site helps companies increase efficiency by breaking large projects into smaller tasks and distributing them to a virtual work force.
Docstoc More than 20 million users a month use Docstoc.com to access free professional documents including legal agreements, HR forms, business plans and tax forms.
99designs Thousands of designers compete for clients who need logos, websites or anything else designed for their small business.
ON24 More than 700 organizations in publishing, technology, life sciences, government and financial services rely on ON24's virtual trade show and webinar services.
Outright.com This free online bookkeeping site helps the self-employed manage their finances and prepare for tax time.
SmartyVA.com The site matches small-business owners with savvy virtual assistants to create engaging social media campaigns.
The I.T. Workshop This one-stop cost-effective site delivers high-quality information technology solutions for small businesses.
Weebly Visitors can create a free website or blog in minutes by using this simple drag-and-drop interface.
Xtreme Consulting Group Formed by two Microsoft veterans, this full-service online consulting firm offers business, technology and staffing solutions aimed at reducing costs and improving performance.
Now that's sticky
Blik's arty $50 wall decals are bringing high design to the masses
Fifty dollars doesn't go very far in the world of interior design, unless you know about Blik--a stylish, graphic-art alternative to dreary wallpaper.
These ultrathin adhesive vinyl decals have become a darling of the high-design crowd, getting raves from Dwell to Cosmopolitan and popping up on the walls in hot spots around the country, including the Hotel Erwin in Venice, Calif., and the Hotel on Rivington in Manhattan. Blik designers even helped decorate the set of NBC's The Apprentice.
"Our objective is to bring a very sophisticated design into someone's home in a relatively affordable way," says Scott Flora, who founded Blik with Jerrine Neils, above. "Some of our artists sell original works for $40,000--we're selling a decal version for $50 to $70."
With the housing market still in the dumps, more people are updating their abodes. And businesses in the home-improvement sector, like Blik, are enjoying the windfall.
Now a $271.8 billion industry, the home-improvement market has grown more than $4 billion since last year. The popularization of design has furthered interest, too: During the worst period for magazines ever, the home magazine sector jumped from 123 titles in 2005 to 337 titles in 2010.
Word-of-mouth has been huge for Blik. Instead of in-your-face advertising, the Venice, Calif., company does things like creating a high-profile custom piece for L.A. designer Barbara Bestor. The whimsical outdoor mural in Silver Lake, Calif., created serious buzz and got tons of press coverage.
"Applying art directly to a wall has an innate connection with people," Flora says. "It goes all the way back to when you were a kid and you were drawing on the wall with crayons. That same excitement we had then somehow permeates everyone." --K.O.
9 More to Watch:
Aeonian Brick Homes These clay-based, eco-friendly, interlocking bricks are waterproof, fireproof, termite-proof, soundproof and mold- and mildew-resistant--and they can withstand hurricanes.
Anna Sova Food Paint Zero-VOC paint and stucco made of as much as 94 percent food-grade ingredients--it even smells like a vanilla milkshake.
Domestic Construction This two-woman interior design powerhouse shuns mass production to create cozy, one-of-a-kind spaces.
Fantasy Shade Designer Melissa Borrell created pull-down shades covered with custom graphics such as trees and clouds.
One Week Bath This home remodeling company guarantees customers the bathroom of their dreams in just one week.
Nama Rococo Wallpaper Studio Each sheet is hand-painted, hand-screened and made from acid-free French paper. Cover a whole wall or frame a piece.
SRS Energy This roof tile company created Solé Power Tile, which allows Mission-style houses to go solar while preserving their aesthetic.
Tomboy Tools This direct-sales company offers top-quality tools designed for women--and the website is full of handy DIY tips.
Window Farms Vertical, hydroponic, high-yield edible window gardens are built using low-impact or recycled materials.
DIY, minus the Y
Hard on the scuffed heels of the craft movement come the 'treps bearing handcrafted goods, made to order
The handmade. The small batch. The locally sustainable eco-whatever.
The do-it-yourself movement hit new heights in recent years. There are people living in cities who brew their own beer, farm their own vegetables, knit their own woolens . and many more who will pay a premium to get a piece of it.
Which is where the entrepreneur comes in: Ready to produce the simplest, perhaps slightly lumpy, thing to your exact specifications, as if you'd made it yourself. Consider Etsy, the eBay for handmade items. It had 4.5 million members in March--double the number it had in 2009. Last year, it sold a staggering $180.6 million in goods.
Beyond Etsy, untold numbers of independents are selling everything from customized yoga mats to homemade food. One of them is Marti Wymer, founder of Spoonful of Comfort, a Bradenton, Fla., company that delivers chicken noodle soup, dinner rolls and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies, made fresh daily. A 64-ounce jar of soup is $32; sides are $6. Your order arrives in a nicely wrapped, chilled package, and rest assured, the soup tastes great.
Since Spoonful's launch in August, month-over-month growth has been phenomenal. Sales during the first six weeks of 2010 surpassed the total from the year before, and Wymer has hired a fulfillment team to meet demand.
"It's all about making someone feel better, so the pressure is getting it there on time," she says. "And I'm motivated to do things well because I want to build a legacy for my family."
The beauty of the product is that it's personal, says Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of Make magazine.
"There's extra value placed on something you have a hand in creating," he says, "and when you sell stuff you have a major part in making, you can really connect with the person who buys it." --J.W.
9 More to Watch:
Alluminare Customers can design lighting, wallpaper and other home décor accessories from scratch with the help of this online micro-manufacturer and retailer.
AntiDesigns AntiDesigns began silk screening T-shirts by hand in 2005; five years later, the Boston press lets buyers select graphics, colors and tees to create their own shirts.
Element Bars Start with the base: Chewy or crunchy? Organic? Nuts? Fruit? You create the recipe, paying about $3 a bar for the privilege.
GelaSkins GelaSkins protect and personalize iPhones, iPods and other portable devices. Instead of using a standard graphic, buyers can upload their own designs.
Gemvara This site lets customers choose metals, gems and accent stones to create one-of-a-kind jewelry.
LibraKnits Handknit but not by you: Choose a nubby baby hat in angora, lambs wool, bamboo, organic cotton and silk. Last spotted on celebrity offspring.
RedMoon Custom Pet Food RedMoon does Fancy Feast one better: Owners choose what's in the formula (think juicy lamb, whole blueberries and fresh salmon).
Vanity Barcodes Even barcodes don't have to be generic. First choose a design--animals and food are popular--or put in a custom request, and wait for it to be personalized with a unique UPC code.
Villy Custom For less than $500, this Dallas bike company will customize a cruiser completely--everything from pedal styles and accessories to chain guard and frame colors.
Health & Fitness
Health & Fitness
A gym for gamers. Score!
XRKade combines two of the biggest trends--fitness and gaming--to create a workout that's actually play
The national obsessions with healthcare reform, childhood obesity and organic foods are generating more customers for health and fitness businesses: Fitness clubs and health stores now amount to a $41.44 billion industry--that's up a stunning $1 billion from just the year before. In a recession, no less.
Lenny Lowenstein knew about that kind of potential--after all, he was one of the major players in the fitness world: a vice president at 24 Hour Fitness. But when the company switched owners in 2003, Lowenstein left and began to think about ways to attract the soft-bellied, younger generation to the gym. Around the same time, he bought his son a Dance Dance Revolution video game, which gets players moving by making them stand on an electronic pad and stomp on colored arrows in response to musical and visual cues.
Then it hit him: The way to get kids active is to use something they understand--technology. Soon he had compiled a suite of interactive games that were already on the market, and he, above right, along with Andrea Oh and Christopher Avina, opened the first XRKade in 2004.
XRKade offers users a serious workout while having fun playing arcade-style games that involve dancing, biking, skateboarding, kickboxing and even rock climbing.
"We wanted to connect fitness and technology to create active play," Lowenstein says. "I challenge any traditional club owner to look at their treadmills during prime time and find a smile."
XRKades are sold as turnkey packages--for $25,000 to $75,000--to be built within traditional health clubs. More than 70 XRKades are around the world, with the highest concentration in the Midwest and New England. Sales are exploding faster than a BioShock grenade taking down a Big Daddy: from $350,000 in 2007 to $3.65 million in 2009.
With more than 90 million millennials in the U.S. fueling the $18 billion video-game industry, virtual gaming may just be the future of fitness.
In fact, the XRKade team plans to create a web-based gaming community, so members in Denver could be competing in a dance-off against members in Russia--in real-time, of course. --K.O.
9 More to Watch:
HappyBaby A premium brand of organic meals for babies and toddlers, HappyBaby is now sold in more than 5,000 stores across the country.
Mod Beauty Squad On a mission to combat skin cancer, this mobile skin-care spa will come to homes or offices with a pop-up spray tanning booth.
Perfect Fitness Founded by a former Navy SEAL, this online mega store sells unique fitness gear for people of all fitness levels.
Pink Gloves Boxing This women's-only training outfit in Montana, North Carolina and Florida offers members boxing-style, high-intensity workouts, with 10 percent of the profits going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.
Pop Physique This pair of Los Angeles fitness studios features hipsters in retro Spandex, state-of-the-art sound systems, sprung dance floors, mirrors, ballet barres and eco-mats.
Red Carpet Cleanses A five-day detox program includes daily doorstep delivery in Los Angeles (of course) of raw "gourmet" meals.
Scottevest Fitness wear made of breathable fabric with no-bulge pockets for iPods and earbuds.
The Movement Dallas This studio makes getting in shape a blast by offering adult recess classes. Hopscotch, anyone?
Vita Coco All-natural coconut water repackaged as a hip sports drink, Vita Coco has a cult-like following and is sold in 10,000 stores nationwide.