While some small businesses are designed to stay successfully small, many entrepreneurs launch their small businesses with the goal of someday becoming lucratively large, or of being acquired by an industry behemoth for a staggering sum. The key to small business success, regardless of initial or eventual scale, is to find that product or service that meets an unaddressed (or under-addressed, or inadequately –addressed) customer need; or alternately to create and fill a need that people don’t yet know they have but will immediately embrace once presented.

This entrepreneurial quest is as old as business itself, yet its current manifestations are as weird, wacky, and wonderfully inspirational as ever. The following posts detail recent entrepreneurial endeavors of all types from cutting-edge technology, to off-the-wall product inventions, to unique service businesses. Some are just announced prototypes, some have succeeded beyond all expectations, for others the jury is still out, and yet others were spectacular failures.

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Trailblazing Technology from CES 2016

The CES (Consumer Electronic Show) held in Las Vegas every year is, “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies…it has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for more than 40 years—the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.” While international tech giants like Apple, Samsung, and Intel show up to tout their latest gear, CES is also a great launching pad for startups with gadgets destined to take the world by storm. Read the following for highlights (and just plain strange- lights) from CES 2016:

7 Amazing Startups Showcasing Products at CES
This inc.com post picks seven of what it believes to be the most promising startup products from the show. Among its picks are companies doing interesting things with smartphone security, file storage, and GPS locators. My favorites are the Pi Lab interactive Edwin the Duck, and the solar BBQ grill from GoSun.
The 10 Startups Revealed @CES You’ll Blog About In 2016
This post also highlights startups from CES. With a bit of overlap from the previous list, including the Brewie self-cleaning, fully automated beer home-brewing system, this post also thinks you should take note of the Thermo (a thermometer that takes a temperature when pressed to the forehead), the Prynt smartphone case that enables you to print a polaroid-like picture of any photo you take with the phone, and the Hydrao shower head that tracks the amount of water you use while showering (and flashes red when you reach water-hog status).
CES 2016 photos: Wacky, weird and over-the-top tech
This slideshow from TechRepublic provides photos and brief descriptions of their choices for weirdest in show, including fruit-scented CandyCrush smartphone cases, smartphone controlled animatronic tails (the fluffy-waggy kind), and the Spün smart utensil which takes pictures of your food as you eat and monitors the speed you’re eating and your calorie intake.

The 10 Weirdest Gadgets from CES 2016
Another take on CES Weird, this list highlights a headband with sensors that purportedly monitor how relaxed you are, a video game for pets that requires the pet to complete a puzzle in order to get food, and a smart belt that not only monitors your steps, but the tension on the belt to determine when and how much you are overeating.
CES 2016: The ten strangest gadgets
A UK take on CES, the Brits at The Week have a different idea of strange than their US counterparts. Their “strange” gadget picks include the HairMax LaserBand which claims to remedy thinning hair, a scanner that provides nutritional information for food, and smart shoes that not only track activity and calories burned, but can heat your soles, and even tie themselves (all you Back to the Future fans rejoice!).

Catherine Boivie’s “Unusual Products” Report from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show
Why stop at opinions from across the pond, here’s one from our northern neighbors. This Canadian take on CES was impressed by a 3D artificial nail printer and the Pic, a digital camera with a flexible bendable handle that can wrap around just about anything.

 

Entrepreneurial Inventors

A fast path to a successful small business is to create a product that perfectly meets a pressing need. The following posts provide examples of many attempts, some more successful than others. Among the strange and unusual, you may just find the inspiration for your next new product idea.

The 20 Strangest Products and Inventions from Shark Tank
CNBC’s Shark Tank reality TV series provides budding entrepreneurs the chance to present their business plans to a panel of “sharks — tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons” who may or may not choose to fund the venture. This post details 20 “strange” product ideas, some of which were ultimately successful, and some of which were never heard of after the show. For example, one great idea that wasn’t was the Ionic Ear, a Bluetooth headset-like device that would be surgically implanted just under the ear, and charged by essentially attaching a plug to your head. Another more successful example is Pet Paint, non-toxic, quick-drying, easily washed out spray paint you can use to color or paint designs on your pet’s fur. (Get it on Amazon for about $16 per can.)

The 18 Weirdest Product Ideas
This Small Business Trends roundup of newly released “weird” products truly highlights entrepreneurial creativity. From the Selfie Toaster that will sear your image into bread, to a soon to be released “air umbrella” that will manipulate the air above you so that water can’t get through, to vegan “leather” made from old fruit, to a 3D printed pancake maker (just like it sounds), these new ventures are just wacky enough to possibly succeed.
38 Unique Office Products Your Workplace Needs Right Now
If you’re looking for new product inspiration, pop over to Oddity Mall. The site is a collection of, “the newest brilliant inventions, odd gadgets, unusual product designs, and weird contraptions that pop up across the web.” Actual usefulness is not a criteria for inclusion, a product must simply be “obscure, unusual, interesting, or awesome” and actually available for purchase. This list of office products is a great example, and you might just find something that actually will be useful for your small business.

The weirdest gadgets and accessories of 2015
Another UK piece, this list reminds us that our friends across the pond truly do have weird product ideas such as a USB Drive realistically shaped as a bottle opener that doesn’t actually open bottles, a USB-powered bracelet that works as a cigarette lighter, and a large plastic thumb extender designed to help you get to the far-reaches of your ever-larger smartphone screen.

The 23 craziest Japanese inventions you never knew existed
If you think the Brits are weird, then you’ll really wonder at the Japanese. The first item on the list, an umbrella with a full length plastic body shield, is ingenious if not a bit cumbersome, but the list quickly devolves into such silliness as a toilet paper hat, a mop suit for your baby that cleans the floor as it crawls, and a silent Karaoke receptacle that dampens your off-key singing. Though, I would love to get my hands on the never ending bubble wrap keychain.
10 Completely Ridiculous Food Gadgets You Have To See To Believe
This list of actual, available for purchase, food gadgets shows you that even the bizarre can sell if it catches the market in the right mood. For example, who could live without a pouch for wearing leftover pizza slices around your neck, a selfie spoon that takes your picture while you eat, a ramen hair protector to keep that slurpy broth off your ‘do (those Japanese!), or the Chambong a champagne shooter glass that was developed from a failed attempt at bong making– now that’s entrepreneurship at work!

 

Unique Small Business Service Providers

For every wild and wacky small business product manufacturer, there is an equally unique successful small business service provider. These posts highlight some examples of businesses that seem too weird to succeed, but did anyway.

7 Weird Business Ideas that Worked
If you can identify a need, even if it is just a niche need, you too can start and grow a successful small business. This list highlights businesses that offer rental chickens (so you can farm your own fresh eggs), a service that both helps cure your hangover and clean up after your party, and a service that will train your cat to use the toilet instead of a litter box (no word on whether it can teach your cat to flush).

11 Unique Business Ideas to Inspire You in 2016
From Business Week Daily, this slideshow details 10 successful small businesses offering “unique” services. The post not only describes each business, but provides insight into the customer need it serves and how it offers a unique solution to a common problem. For example, NYC based Lunchspread helps restaurants generate loyal customer bases while at the same time helping companies find new lunch spots. Lunchspread delivers free samples to offices based on an office taste profile, the employees complete surveys to rate the food, and they also receive coupons and menus for the restaurants so that they can place their own orders in the future. This win-win business model provides marketing for new restaurants, perks for their potential customers, and a matching service that can generate long-term customers for the restaurant.

The Weirdest Restaurants in the World
To continue with the restaurant theme, this post highlights how a unique spin on a common small business model can be the secret ingredient for success. When great food isn’t enough (or the point) you can enjoy a meal served by a robot, dispatched via rollercoaster, consumed underwater, eaten from and on a toilet bowl (apparently a Taiwanese fantasy/fetish), eaten from a table suspended in midair, or completely in the dark.

 

Recognizing Success and Understanding Failure

Being strange, weird, or unique isn’t enough– your product actually needs to resonate with a large enough customer base to make your small business successful. Understanding the ingredients for success, and the forewarnings of failure is crucial to both developing and executing a new business venture. These posts provide some helpful examples and advice.

10 oddball inventions that became big pop-culture hits
This post tells the story behind, and after, 10 pop-culture mega sellers like the pet rock, the singing Big Mouth Billy Bass, the Slanket (a precursor to the Snuggie), Pillow Pets, Spanx, and the Magic Eight Ball, among others. The latter three are still going strong, while the likes of the rock and the bass have fizzled, but the entrepreneurs behind them all made out well.

 

5 Huge Products That Failed Because Of Hilarious Oversights
This post focuses on big company failures, but the mistakes it highlights are just as applicable to small business new product or service ventures. For example, the New Coke debacle teaches the power of a small but vocal group of unsatisfied customers; and the Betamax demise (due largely to its tapes not being long enough to hold a full movie) teaches that even superior technology cannot overcome the failure to meet basic customer requirements.

 

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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