Friday, February 4, 2011

3 Small Businesses to Watch in 2011

There's no dearth of predictions, trends and watch lists this time of year. Here is my nomination of three small businesses that have been making the news recently, along with a few thoughts on what makes them noteworthy.

ICON Aircraft, Los Angeles

In 2004, the FAA introduced a dramatic change in regulations by creating the Light Sport Aircraft category, a pilot license requiring just half the 40 hours of flight time for a private pilot license. Niche created!

Shortly thereafter, in 2005, ICON Aircraft was launched by Kirk Hawkins, a graduate of Stanford Business School, accomplished engineer, former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, and long-time motorsport enthusiast.

ICON Aircraft’s sole purpose has been to bring the freedom, fun and adventure of flying to all who have dreamed of flight. One look at the stylishly elegant A5, and it becomes clear that ICON is fulfilling its purpose. The plane is amphibious, with foldable wings, and easily stored in your garage. The plane was designed, engineered and developed by famed Scaled Composites, which created such record setting projects as Voyager, Global Flyer, the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Want your own? Place a deposit by credit card online at the company's website.

Key success factors:

    * Great team: In addition to deep design talent, ICON counts IDEO's David Kelley, Mastercraft CEO John Dorton, and Boeing CEO Phil Condit among its advisory team.
    * Design simplicity: The A5 keeps gadgets and gizmos like dials and levers to a minimum, favoring intuitive and user-friendly design.

    * Quick reflexes: Recognizing the opportunity to fill a niche, the ICON founders moved quickly and gathered an incredible team.

Indie Energy, Chicago

Solar and wind power as renewable energy are all the rage. Except at Indie Energy, which has in four short years built a thriving business and leadership position around the neglected stepchild known as geothermal energy. Indie creates investment-grade geothermal systems with its innovative engineering, construction and metering technologies, and won the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy funding award for transformational technology.

To make a transformative impact for businesses and the environment, entrepreneur and CEO Daniel Cheifetz knew he needed to break old patterns and challenge conventional thinking. He recruited a diverse team of leaders that blend expertise from the worlds of technology, engineering, product development, construction, finance and business.

"Reducing the amount of energy used to heat and cool buildings is one of the most meaningful ways we can increase building energy efficiency, lower operating costs and reduce our carbon footprint," states the company's website. "While geothermal systems have been used in rural locations for decades, the technology did not exist to implement systems in larger commercial buildings and in urban areas, with proven return on investment."

Added bonus: Indie Energy's Smart Geothermal systems also make it possible to utilize American Recovery and Reinvestment Act incentives to make geothermal systems affordable for most buildings.

Key success factors:

    * Close collaboration: Indie systems designers and engineers work closely with other professional resources involved in each building project, from architects, engineers, general contractors, to owners themselves.

    * Leverage constraints: Indie pioneered the production-scale harvesting of geothermal energy in space-constrained, highly-structured and tightly-regulated environments. Their innovative drilling system allows drillers to effectively harvest clean, renewable geothermal energy in spaces as small as 100 square feet. Not only are Indie geothermal drills are much smaller than traditional drilling rigs (12 feet in length vs. a typical 40-foot drilling rig), but they are track-mounted and remote-controlled to navigate better in small spaces.
Omhu , New York City

Omhu is Danish for “with great care.” Omhu is three people: Susy Korb (President), Rie Norregaard (Creative Director) and Susan Towers (VP, Sales & Marketing), along with freelance support. Founded on the belief that life is imperfect and beautiful, Omhu offers groundbreaking designs to support people’s abilities as they change throughout life.

As Susy says, “We started Omhu after searching in vain for well-designed products for relatives and friends who needed help with simple tasks such as walking, bathing or reaching overhead. Pooling our collective experience in design and fashion, we’ve created a brand for people like us—caregivers who want more inspired and inspiring choices for the people they love.”

Omhu celebrates good design because it’s life-enhancing, and fun. By creating more exciting choices of things that help, Omhu hopes to help change the way people feel about aging and ability.

Key success factors:

    * Understand market dynamics: let's face it, everyone grows old, and more of us are living much longer.

    * Product availability: In addition to buying on their site, Omhu products will be widely available at retail.

    * Inspired design: Omhu taps the talents of folks like Allen Zadeh and Ted Muehling.

Add these eight success factors to your company's arsenal for 2011... if you haven't already!

Tags: the shibumi strategy, best practices, matthew may, 2011, success, small business

By Matthew E. May
January 21, 2011 -

Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change (Jossey-Bass, 2010), In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing (Broadway Business, 2009) and The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation (Free Press, 2006). Matt works with individuals, teams and companies to guide change through a focus on design thinking and problem solving. He spent nearly a decade as a fully retained advisor, master kaizen instructor and jishuken leader for Toyota, a company that implements over 1 million new ideas each year. Matt is a graduate of the Wharton School and The Johns Hopkins University, but considers winning The New Yorker Magazine Cartoon Caption Contest among his proudest achievements.

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