Money makers: Borrowing from the clothes library
Tired of seeing clothing thrown out after a short time in favour of more current trends, three sisters and a friend launched Lena.
"Would a golden leather jacket give you a dose of daily joy or €575 of regret on a hanger?" asks Senay Boztas in The Guardian. Dutch company Lena has the answer: borrow it for a week and see. Sisters Angela, Diana and Elisa Jansen, and Suzanne Smulders, created the "fashion library" shop with the goal of putting paid to "fast fashion" where clothes are worn for a short period, then discarded in favour of more fashionable attire. Subscribers buy points on a monthly basis, which can be exchanged for clothing at Lena €25 buys 100 points; €50 buys 300. To borrow a simple T-shirt costs 25 points, and a coat 100.
Swapping at the flagship Westerstraat store in Amsterdam is unlimited, or people can use points from partner stores once a month. There is no maximum loan time. Lena, which was founded in 2014, has won a Dutch best start-up award and attracted €150,000 in investment. It is now close to breaking even. "There is some awareness of how wasteful fashion has become," says Elisa Jansen. "We thought this would be a fun way of being sustainable."
Boss hog's eureka moment
George Rice's "eureka moment" came to him while he was sitting in the pub. He and his friend and co-founder Johnny Bradshaw realised there were no good pepperoni products to snack on. "Every other product, there's a spectrum of quality you can buy," he tells the Evening Standard's Alex Lawson.
"If it's a watch, you can spend £20 on this," he says, pointing to his Casio, "or you can spend £20,000. It's quite unusual to find a product that doesn't [comply with that rule]." Rice wanted to create a French-style saucisson, with flourishes of black pepper, chilli and paprika to accompany alcohol. And thus their start-up snack company Serious Pig was born.
In 2015 the business moved into a tiny factory under the arches beneath Peckham Rye station in south London. There the meat, mostly procured from East Anglia, is finely cut, dried and packaged. Rice, the "boss hog", quickly established the brand (which was almost named Duke of Pork) in the premium pub trade, which led to an order for 250,000 from airline easyJet it seems that pigs can fly after all. He then used crowdfunding to raise £125,000, while BrewDog founder James Watt bought in, encouraging link-ups with the craft-beer brand. "One day we might be acquired by someone," Rice says. "But we have a hell of a lot of work left to do."
Inspired by a traffic jam
Clare Roberts was stuck in a traffic jam, stressing about getting to nursery and then to work on time, when the seed of her business idea was sown. She realised quite simply that "childcare wasn't flexible enough", she tells Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. So she quit her day job in order to do something about it. With the backing of her father, Roberts spent £1m in 2008 buying two nurseries in Cheshire, and named her business Kids Planet.
Her gamble paid off last year the company generated £1.3m in pre-tax profits on turnover of £13.1m. The two nurseries have since grown to 22 in northwest England (rated "outstanding" by Ofsted) and another five are on the way. The firm is still owned by Roberts and her family, save for a small chunk held by the Business Growth Fund, which ploughed £10m into the business last autumn. Roberts puts its success down to "looking at it through the eyes of a customer". But as this is the first year one of her own daughters hasn't been enrolled in a nursery, she now has to "borrow other people's children to get that insight".
Smart showers, talking fridges, strip-teasing robots and the tech show that failed to wow
The words "CES 2017 brought the whoa" appeared on screen this month at the mega-hyped annual tech show in Las Vegas. "This year we're turning things up. So get ready for more whoa than ever before." Yeah, right, says The Guardian's Olivia Solon. "If this year's Consumer Electronics Show is anything to go by, it's less Whoa, that's awesome' and more Whoa there, do we really need this?'"
Take the shower that can be turned on with a request to Amazon's voice-activated "smart" assistant, Alexa solving the "problem" of actually turning the tap. Or the "smart" fridge that can tell you which ingredients it contains, and when they expire chicken, mozzarella, lettuce and tomato in the demonstration. The "cute" voice-activated assistant Cloi (pronounced Chloe) could even read out a recipe using those ingredients and set the oven. But what was the best suggestion Cloi could come up with? A chicken, mozzarella, lettuce and tomato sandwich, says Solon.
While everybody loves to gripe about CES, says Gian Volpicelli in Wired, the tech show still contributes $200m to Las Vegas's economy not even counting all the gambling. Nevertheless, it does seem to have lost its purpose. Strip club Sapphire tried to cash in on the hype by enrolling robotic pole-dancers ("actually, art installations powered by windscreen wiper motors"). But "when I dropped by the club on the second day of CES, the robots were languishing in a corner near the entrance". It's a fitting metaphor for the lack of enthusiasm for this year's show.
"The reaction appears pretty... universal: CES 2018 was an in-between year at best," agrees Brian Heater on TechCrunch. At Sony's press conference, the only thing anybody really talked about was Aibo, a robotic dog. It's sweet, but hardly new. Maybe CES could use a change of scenery for next year, "or maybe the era of the big tech show is reaching its conclusion".