Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things I Wish I'd Thought Of

Sometimes I see news stories about someone becoming rich off an idea and someone inevitably says “I wish I'd thought of that!” Things like the iBeer iPhone app. This is an essential application for any iPhone or iPod touch owner. It simulates actual beer that sloshes around and "pours" according to the movement of the phone. Here's a guy who spends some time writing a program and it goes viral and he sells a million copies of it. Or maybe something like Ruth Wakefield's story. She put pieces of chocolate in her cookies, expecting them to melt, and invented the tool house cookie (aka chocolate chip). She didn't become rich, but did get a lifetime supply of chocolate. Yum!

The people of whom I am most envious, however, are not the “viral video” types, but a class of people I call “ethical entrepreneurs”. These are people who come up with an idea or product that not only benefits them, but also the poor or neglected members of society. How good would it feel to go to work every day knowing that the world was a better place because of what you do? we all like to think we do our small part, but sometimes it would be nice to see something concrete.

Suzanne Sadler thinks so too. Her blog "The Entrepreneurial Catholic" is all about family enterprise. Working for yourself and your family, while serving others is a truly Catholic way to work and live. Only a few posts, so far, but she has some great advice and ideas for starting a business that will change your life and other lives as well.

So what kinds of things do I admire? One of the inventions I like is the “Q drum”. This is a donut shaped plastic container that enables someone to easily transport up to 50 liters of water from a water source by pulling it along the ground. This is a big help for people living in areas without a safe water source in their home. Another is this human powered irrigation pump. It can help poor farmers in undeveloped areas grow more crops and be less dependent on weather. Suzanne Sadler called to my attention the safe bottle lamp. This is a simple kerosene lamp that won't cause a fire if it tips, helping to save third world children and families from burns or death.

Then there's the "Freedom Leg" from Forward Mobility. This is a lightweight brace that replaces crutches by redistributing force to the upper leg. It's more comfortable and helps strengthen the upper leg muscles. The company uses Kids First Enterprise to manufacture its devices in Vietnam. Twenty percent of that Kids First's workforce is disabled, and all of its profits go to projects that support the disabled and disadvantaged. How cool is that?

Of course, my area of expertise is computers, and you don't find many poor impoverished people needing software. However, the other day I came across this cool invention. With a few cheap parts and some software this inventor has found a way to turn a cell phone into a holographic microscope. In many places in the world, access to a medical lab or hospital may be difficult or impossible, but cell phones are everywhere. A doctor even in a remote area could use this invention to diagnose certain diseases.

So, got any good ideas you're willing to share? I'm interested.


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