An initiative letting US residents decide on the make-up of their high streets and a Swedish energy drink.
A huge part of what defines a neighbourhood is the businesses that line its high street: the restaurants, cafés and shops that lure visitors to the area and create a bustling and vibrant atmosphere. But aside from voting with your feet, it is difficult to have any say over which businesses open and thrive in your neighbourhood.
That is something that a Seattle-based initiative, the crowd-funded Community Sourced Capital (CSC), is looking to change by allowing people to support the businesses that they want to see on their own high street. The outcome is a system that suits both community members and entrepreneurs. “Small businesses often find it difficult to access healthy capital,” says Rachel Maxwell, co-founder and CEO of CSC.
Banks are bound by strict underwriting rules for small-business loans (particularly since the global financial crisis). As such, SMEs are forced to solicit funding from merchant cash-advance companies that attach extortionate interest rates to their loans. “The service we’re providing is filling a niche the banks cannot,” says Maxwell.
The premise is simple: investors offer “friendly” capital to entrepreneurs setting up shop in their neighbourhood. “The return is a social return,” says Maxwell. Rather than investing their money for financial gain, the scheme means that “investors are building their community by using their money inside it”.
From a hotel seeking solar panels for its roof to a new restaurant in need of financing to build a bathroom, the companies looking for funding through CSC are as diverse as the community investors themselves. Since it was founded in 2012, CSC has made 50 loans worth almost $1m (€900,000) in capital and involving nearly 4,000 investors. “We’re seeking to build local economies,” says Maxwell. “My hope is that we can develop relationships inside communities through finance and help people build the world they want to live in.”
As Peter Fabor sat down in his cubicle for yet another day at the office, the Czech computer programmer daydreamed of a surf-inspired sea change. Somehow convincing his boss to let him work from an outpost on the coast of Gran Canaria, the mix of morning surf and desk time prompted him to adapt the formula for others. Now worn-out desk jockeys head to his Surf Office, which offers short-term accommodation for up to 12 guests at just €50 a night.
The communal workspace includes high-speed internet and is a two-minute walk from the beach. “Most arrive stressed but after 48 hours they’re more relaxed,” says Fabor. “People still come here to work; they just find a better balance between productivity and quality downtime.” A second location opened in Santa Cruz, California, in November; a third starts taking guests in Lisbon this August.
The stress of a high-powered marketing job led Noa Fridmark to seek solace on a secluded island in the Stockholm archipelago in 2013. Since then he has dedicated his energy to creating a concoction that was inspired by his own experience and, in less than a year, moved from initial concept to finished product: a natural drink that he says both reduces stress and increases concentration.
“There are 73 energy-drink brands, and coffee is also really popular but all of these things make you have a more hyped lifestyle,” says Fridmark. Noa Relaxation drinks combine herbs with green tea and are mixed with either elderflower and rhubarb or wild apple and gooseberries. The brand is currently available in 300 spas and cafés across Sweden; Fridmark’s ambition is to reach 3,000 outlets in the country and gain entry to the top seven world markets by 2016.
With the launch this summer of its Valour commuter bike (financed by Canada’s most successful Kickstarter campaign to date), Toronto-based Vanhawks hopes to do for the humble bicycle what the connected car has done for the automobile. Using your smartphone, its LED handlebar lights guide you on planned routes while blind-spot sensors signal if cars get too close. And if your bike is stolen, the phone app helps you locate it.