Innovation looks different from industry to industry — some new products improve current processes while others completely disrupt them, challenging the way we see situations we’ve put up with for so long.
As online and offline world continue to collide, more and more companies are harnessing the possibilities of the web to solve offline problems. These businesses are providing tangible solutions to daily frustrations with a little WiFi and a lot of innovative thinking.
I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs the following question:
What’s the greatest example you’ve seen recently of a company using technology to solve an offline problem?
Ten startup owners shared which businesses are using the Internet to make a positive difference for others in real life:
1. IFTTT and Belkin Both Help
IFTTT provides a ton of different ways to automate online tasks we all deal with every day. The startup recently announced an integration with Belkin’s WeMo system, which means that you can control real-world outlets and timers with triggers like SMS or email.
2. Boloco Listens to IRL Problems
I see customers take a problem online for a quick and effective customer service response. Updates are visible and a company doesn’t want its reputation damaged, so they resolve the problem positively. Boloco had a customer who got a $65 parking ticket while getting a free burrito. He tweeted about it and Boloco paid the ticket! Totally irrelevant, but went the extra mile!
3. Skillshare Fills a Gap
Skillshare makes it easy to find or teach classes that are of interest to you in your local area. Some things are still better if they are taught in person, and Skillshare facilitates that discovery process. They use the virtual world to connect people in real-life environments.
4. Uber Hails a Solution
When it comes to offline problems, one of the most frustrating ones for me was getting a cab in Seattle, until the arrival of Uber. By using technology, Uber was able to solve the real world, offline problem of getting a cab, and not only getting it, but making the financial transaction seamless.
5. Zaarly Scouts the Talent
If you need something done in your community, you should be able to find people willing to do it. The model just makes so much sense. Zaarly’s local “action” marketplace is a perfect example of a web app/technology leveraging the real world to create value.
6. Kickstarter Simplifies Fundraising
Kickstarter is not just a fundraising platform, it’s a way to introduce a diverse group of customers to your unique product. Until now, it was very tough to have a great idea stand out — your product might shine in a local market, but rarely nationally without big marketing spend. Kickstarter’s sharing mechanism and storytelling platform are incredible for branding.
7. Couture Closet on Rent the Runway
Nowadays, with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, everyone is a celebrity in their own right, so they want to dress like the stars too! Rent the Runway, the website that enables women to rent out glamorous dresses for special events, is solving the problem of “having a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear.” They’re doing great business, and solving an offline problem online.
8. Charge It With Square
Square allows the average vendor or individual to accept credit cards using a basic smartphone. It has enabled thousands of entrepreneurs to professionally bill their customers. I have now paid taxi drivers, coffee shop owners, and farmers market vendors with a credit card who use Square and would have otherwise lost my business, as I rarely carry cash.
9. Saluting Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is distinctively utilizing technology to solve the offline gender gap in STEM education. Their new model for computer science education combines advanced technology with female mentorship from leaders in the field. Their ability to empower women through technology is a continuous inspiration.
10. Technology for Global Good
I love She’s the First, an organization using online tools and technology to give girls around the world the opportunity to receive an education. I also greatly admire Kiva for using technology to bridge the funding gaps facing many entrepreneurs in developing countries. With as little as $25, you can loan money to an entrepreneur and help them lift their families out of poverty.
Image Credit: sudeepuk
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.