Solar Energy is Already Really Efficient — But Still Improving (Watch)

Capturing the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity is a complicated process. But it’s one that humans have actually almost mastered at this point.

The solar industry is still growing and evolving. But basic solar panels, those made from crystalline silicon, are now about as efficient as they physically can be.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for improvement though. The latest panels can convert more than 26 percent of sunlight into usable electricity. When you consider the ability of the materials used, that’s very efficient. But there are some other tools that can be used to make solar power even more efficient, like concentrators that collect sunlight from a larger area and concentrate it right onto a solar panel.

Of course, these materials aren’t widely used yet. And considering that solar energy right now, under the right circumstances, is already less expensive than fossil fuels, there’s not a huge push to add concentrators and similar pieces of equipment to a lot of existing solar panels.

But it has taken years and years for the solar industry to get to this point. And the cost of basic panels has gone down gradually over that time. So the cost of concentrators and new innovations could certainly get more affordable over time as well.

It’s Important to Keep Up With New Innovations

New industries like solar power are constantly changing and evolving. So it’s important to keep up with new innovations. But it’s also important to recognize the progress that has been made up to this point.

Solar Panels Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Solar Energy is Already Really Efficient — But Still Improving (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Ooops! Could General Mills Bee Conservation Efforts Actually Harm the Environment? (Watch)

Even the most well intentioned initiatives can have negative consequences if you don’t do enough research before launching. Just ask General Mills.

The company, famous for cereals like Honey Nut Cheerios, which has a bee as its mascot, recently launched a “Bring Back the Bees” campaign. General Mills gave out 1.5 million wildflower seeds to customers in the hopes the seeds would get planted across the U.S. and help the declining bee population.

But some critics have argued that this initiative could actually do more harm than good. Since General Mills gave out the same seeds to customers across the country, it’s possible that the wildflowers could become invasive species in certain areas. And that could potentially hurt local ecosystems.

For its part, General Mills said that it chose the flowers because of how attractive their nectar is to bees. And it also said that the particular variety of wildflower it chose is not an invasive species.

Conservation and environmentalism are hot topics right now. And businesses that try to give back could potentially do a lot of good. But today’s consumers aren’t just going to take your word for it.

A Cautionary CSR Example

Individuals and groups are likely to do research and understand exactly the type of impact your program might have — positive or negative. So, businesses should heed the lesson in this cautionary CSR example: do your own research to make sure that all aspects of an initiative like this are going to lead to a positive outcome.

Bee Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Ooops! Could General Mills Bee Conservation Efforts Actually Harm the Environment? (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

New Business Shows Power of Having a Really Specific Target Market (Watch)

When starting a business, it’s important to have a specific target market in mind. Some businesses target large groups like millennials or women. But others get even more specific.

The Value of a Specific Target Market

Take the case of ExpressionMed. The company, founded by 19-year-old Meghan Sharkus, makes only one type of product — colorful stickers that hold insulin delivery devices in place. The market for this product is small but clear. She’s aiming to help kids with diabetes change the perception around the disease.

Right now, Sharkus makes all of the stickers by hand. But she recently started a Kickstarter campaign in order to get started with machine manufacturing.

So even though her business only offers one type of product targeted at a very specific group of people, it’s doing well enough for her to consider expanding. And since about 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, many of them kids, there’s still a sizeable market for her products.

Other businesses can potentially learn a thing or two from Sharkus. Even though she’s young, she was able to create a product with a very clear purpose and market it to a very specific audience. Whether you sell one product or a hundred, that’s an essential building block of any successful business.

Target Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “New Business Shows Power of Having a Really Specific Target Market (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Microwaves Can’t Spy on People – But Businesses Still Need to Be Aware of Privacy Issues (Watch)

Microwaves spying on people? It might sound ridiculous. But it’s a possibility within the pretty near future — at least in theory.

Similar to other smart appliances like refrigerators, TVs and thermostats that have appeared in recent years, some tech companies have suggested the idea of a smart microwave. One idea that was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter last year featured a smart microwave with a built-in microphone. But that product has yet to actually come to fruition.

However, even if smart microwaves start hitting the shelves tomorrow, any data they collect will likely be used by companies that want to make more personalized products — not for things like government surveillance. In fact, any government entity would likely need a court to sign off on them receiving any such data.

Smart Devices Still Need to Overcome Internet of Things Privacy Issues

In the end, companies that offer these smart appliances or any product or service that gathers data about consumers still have to walk a fine line. People are sensitive about privacy issues, especially now that there are so many different devices that can potentially gather data about them. So being up front about what each product can do and how any potential data might be used is paramount for businesses of all sizes.

Microwave Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Microwaves Can’t Spy on People – But Businesses Still Need to Be Aware of Privacy Issues (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

New Pesticide Report Could Do More Harm Than Good for Produce Sellers (Watch)

When you hear about pesticides and other chemicals contaminating fruits and vegetables, it can make those foods sound less appealing. That’s the effect that a recent report, claiming that even conventionally grown fruits and vegetables face pesticide contamination, might have.

Some fruits and veggies are more prone to contain pesticides than others. For example, an annual report regularly names strawberries as one of the most contaminated items out there. But experts say that even foods that do contain pesticides only have a negligible amount of them. Sure, it’s theoretically better to buy organic where possible. But no matter what, it’s better to get your daily share of fruits and vegetables than to steer clear of them due to fear about pesticides.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy when it comes to convincing consumers. Especially with all the food safety issues that big name restaurants and grocery chains have faced in recent years, people tend to be fearful about any outside substance being part of the foods they buy.

The Takeaway from this Example of Bad PR

So produce sellers, grocery stores and other food businesses may have to do some damage control when reports like this surface. Convincing people that fruits and vegetables are healthy shouldn’t be that difficult of a task. But when you’re dealing with outside factors (like this example of bad PR) and concepts that not everyone fully understands, it can make maintaining sales a bit more difficult.

Farmers Market Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “New Pesticide Report Could Do More Harm Than Good for Produce Sellers (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Unique Flying Car Could Eliminate Traffic Jams (Watch)

Traffic jams could soon be a thing of the past thanks to some innovative technology and a new partnership.

Italdesign just unveiled a new concept that it’s working on with Airbus — yes, the company that manufactures airplanes. But the concept isn’t just a run of the mill flying car, if that’s what you were thinking. It actually consists of a few different components.

First, there’s the passenger compartment of the vehicle. This is pretty standard. Then there’s a flying drone that can actually come and find your vehicle if you’re stuck in a traffic jam and literally pick up the passenger compartment off the ground, flying away like a helicopter. There’s also a bottom part of the vehicle that stays on the ground. That part has self-driving technology that would allow it to find its way to the nearest charging station.

Set Your Business Apart With an Innovative Approach

Your small business may never develop a flying car. However, even the smallest company can come up with an innovative approach to a problem — or a unique product that redefines a market. No matter what your business, think about how you can come up with the “flying car” in your industry. It will set you apart and help you define your brand in a totally unique way. And consider partnering with another business, if necessary, to pool your resources for innovation.

Flying Car Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Unique Flying Car Could Eliminate Traffic Jams (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Ikea Is Trying to Eliminate its Most Common Customer Complaint (Watch)

Ikea has been listening to all of your complaints about how difficult it is to put together its furniture. And now, it’s making a change.

The Swedish company is introducing a new method of building some of its furniture that should make the assembly process a lot less complicated. The method uses something called a wedge dowel. It essentially creates fitted grooves in each piece so that the different parts simply snap together. No more complicated directions or unrecognizable tools!

The company has been working on this new assembly method for some time, and will introduce it gradually, starting with the Stockholm cabinet series and Regissr storage products. But it plans to add those easy-assembly features to even more products over time. However, the company did note that certain products may always require those extra steps and tools. So don’t expect to snap together an entire kitchen setup anytime soon.

For frequent Ikea shoppers, this change could represent a huge win. The difficulty of building certain pieces of furniture has been well documented across social media, online articles and almost certainly throughout Ikea’s customer service channels.

The Importance of Listening to Customers

But with this move, the company shows that it has been listening to customers. And offering this type of solution could make its current customers happier, and potentially even draw in new ones as well.

IKEA Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Ikea Is Trying to Eliminate its Most Common Customer Complaint (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Netflix Has a New Way to Stand Out from the Competition — Interactive Content (Watch)

Netflix is thinking about creating interactive programming as a way to make its original content stand out from the competition.

The popular streaming service recently said that it plans to test interactive TV shows that let viewers make choices about what happens in each episode. Then it will see which choices viewers like the most and which ones are actually doable.

Netflix hasn’t offered much clarification about how big these choices might be. But it probably won’t mean that viewers can choose who lives and who dies, especially since having any interactive programming will likely mean having to shoot extra content. The company also said that the interactive content will likely start with a children’s show.

Netflix Interactive Content Can Differentiate Service

Even though streaming services like Netflix have gained a lot of popularity in recent years, there are still some people who have decided to stick with just regular cable TV instead. Some of those people likely haven’t made the leap because they don’t see enough of a reason to. But by providing unique extras like interactive content, Netflix could make its subscription service more appealing to those hold-outs.

And of course, interactive episodes could also help Netflix stand out against the other streaming services. But if the idea turns out to be a success, it’s a concept that we could eventually see from other providers as well.

Netflix photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Netflix Has a New Way to Stand Out from the Competition — Interactive Content (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Nintendo Navigates Difficulties With Launching New Products (Watch)

Nintendo’s newest gaming console, the Nintendo Switch, has finally been released.

And aside from some issues with orders from Amazon getting out on time, the launch went pretty smoothly. So gamers are finally getting to discover some of the new features of the console, along with the new games that are available.

Of course, even the smoothest of launches can come with some issues. Anytime you’re dealing with new technology, there are bound to be bugs that need to be worked out. And even if you do tons of testing and upgrading before a launch, it’s difficult to mimic all of the different situations that actual customers are likely to put products through.

As such, consumers reported some connectivity issues with one of the console’s wireless controllers. But Nintendo (TYO:7974) is reportedly already working on a solution. And the company is also preparing to release even more Switches to customers who missed out on the initial launch as well.

Preparation is Key When Launching New Products

Launching new products can be a daunting task for businesses of any size. But if you try to anticipate any issues and learn from past mistakes, you can put yourself in a good position. And from there, you just need to be prepared to jump on any potential issues early on so that you can make the experience as positive as possible for your early customers.

Super Mario Run Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Nintendo Navigates Difficulties With Launching New Products (Watch)” was first published on Small Business Trends

Top 10 Ways to Create an Inspiring Workplace (Video)

Inspiring and motivating your small business employees takes both science and leadership.

On the one hand, there are specific actions you can take to make your office more inspiring on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, there are things that only you as the leader of your team can do to motivate your employees to work at their peak performance.

Both sides of the equation are explored in the top 10 ways to create an inspiring workplace video above.

Tips to Create an Inspiring Workplace

The video kicks off by suggesting some ways you can create an inspiring work environment using approaches grounded in science including:

  • Organizing your workspace: de-cluttering your work environment also helps de-clutter your brain. It lowers the number of distractions while enabling your personal processes to work smoothly with nothing in the way.
  • Improving your view: there’s no reason you or your employees should spend the work day staring at pinned-up memos and empty walls. Encourage folks to hang images that motivate them, from inspiration quotes to pictures of family and places they want to visit.
  • Using smell: smells can calm you down or fill you with energy. No matter which you are trying to accomplish, make sure you have something on hand to provide the boost you need.

After the science comes leadership and that’s where you come in. Some ways you can inspire and motivate your small business employees include:

  • Promoting personal growth: show your employees you care about their careers with opportunities to learn new skills. And, this is one employee benefit that will help your company as well.
  • Recognizing achievements: make sure to call out employees when they’ve achieved something. The motivation from such recognition can keep people going for months.
  • Monitoring and measuring: to assure your employees remain inspired, make sure to check in with them every now and then to get their feedback.

All 10 of the ways to create an inspiring workplace discussed in the video above take time and effort, but the payoff is a motivated, productive workforce.

Make sure to also check out the full list of 20 power packed tips to create an inspiring workspace.

This article, “Top 10 Ways to Create an Inspiring Workplace (Video)” was first published on Small Business Trends