The 5 Most Innovative Small Businesses of 2016

We small business owners might not have the financial resources of huge, multinational corporations. But we can move quickly and try new things to meet our customers’ needs. We can innovate.

All around us, unique small businesses are popping up to fill gaps in the market. With technology and consumer behavior changing as fast as it is, those willing to adapt put themselves in prime position to thrive.

What are some of the most innovative small businesses of 2016? Let’s take a look.

The sample of small businesses below represent a variety of industries. Some have been around for a few years; others are just getting off the ground. But all of them offer actionable insights you can apply in your own business – regardless of your current stage of growth.

1. Juicero

Juicero is a startup out of San Francisco with a single mission: to become the “Keurig of juices.” After a few years building and testing prototypes, the company just launched publicly in February of this year. Big investors, including Google, have flocked to the opportunity.

One of the most innovative things about Juicero is how it used a company that was already successful (Keurig, the makers of the single-serve coffee makers) as inspiration to rethink juicing products. This hammers home a key point; we don’t have to start from scratch in order to innovate.

Instead of just following in competitors’ footsteps and trying to build a better juicer, Juicero potentially revolutionized the entire industry. The founders of Juicero recognized that, while most of us agree that juicing is good for us, obstacles like buying fruits and vegetables, preparing them, and cleaning up prevent us from juicing regularly. By giving customers the opportunity to make fresh juice from an IV-bag sized packet at the press of the button, Juicero conveniently eliminates all those pesky barriers.

2. Winnie

Winnie, a mobile app, launched early this year in an effort to essentially become a family-friendly version of Yelp. You’ll notice some similarities between Winnie and Juicero. Instead of starting from square one, they turned to a company that was already doing well to drive their innovation.

Winnie recognized the increasingly important role customer review websites play in our lives. But they also spotted a limitation. Sites like Yelp and Foursquare were good for pricing and location, but they didn’t include key information for parents. Is there a changing table in the restroom? Is the place stroller-friendly? Is there a playground where kids can play?

Having this information at their fingertips helps parents make key decisions about where to go. By taking what Yelp did well and narrowing the focus on an underserved market (parents), Winnie already has data on over a million locations.

3. Warby Parker

Founded in 2010, Warby Parker has grown quickly from the brainchild of a few Wharton MBAs to a valuation of over $1.2 billion. They are some of the most incredible innovators around, though they only sell one thing: eyewear.

One thing that makes Warby Parker so innovative is their stubborn refusal to define themselves in a limiting way. Some people labeled them an e-commerce company when they started, though they denied it. And while the company only sells glasses now, that hasn’t stopped the founders from dreaming of a more diverse product line.

It’s this refusal to be boxed in or beholden to self-imposed limitations that helped drive Warby Parker from the online world into the real world. Now they have 35 physical stores and do a sales-per-square foot sales that rival Tiffany & Co. They wouldn’t have capitalized on those opportunities had they imagined themselves as strictly an e-commerce company.

Small businesses in all industries have a degree of flexibility that’s impossible to find in huge corporations. If we think like Warby Parker, and commit to being open to new opportunities and big change, we can take advantage of new opportunities and meet evolving customer needs.

4. Simple Habit

Yunha Kim was already a successful entrepreneur, yet she was exhausted after founding her first company. In an effort to stop feeling so burnt out, Kim turned to meditation.

She had no idea this simple lifestyle change would inspire the launch of another business! Kim approached mediation like many of her time-strapped colleagues — with a healthy amount of skepticism She didn’t have time to lock herself in a dark room for hours and think about chakras.

Once Kim simplified her meditation approach, she found the benefits more than worth it. This particular style of mediation – brief, straightforward sessions geared to busy professionals – guided the development of her Simple Habit app.

Kim innovated even further with the pricing model. To keep the meditation content from getting stale, she’s brought on around 30 meditation teachers with plans to release new content regularly. She’s also offering users a Netflix-style subscription model where they can pay by the week, month, or year.

Now, the Simple Habit app has almost 900 5-star reviews and has been featured in Apple’s App Store. This goes to show that we don’t need an earth-shattering idea to innovate. Some of the most interesting businesses spawn from humble beginnings. If we can take a small idea and put our own unique spin on it, we might surprise ourselves at how well we do!

5. Bottle Breacher

Bottle Breacher rose to fame on the reality show Shark Tank. Its founders, a husband and wife team of military veterans, struck a deal with entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary.

Cuban and O’Leary were intrigued by Bottle Breacher’s unique products: bottle openers hand crafted from .50 caliber bullets. Things took off from there. Although the company originally made the Shark Tank deal back in 2014, they’ve gone on to expand their product line to include American flag openers, openers centered on specific people, and plenty of customizable products.

The unique look of these bottle openers make them attractive to customers. But the story behind the brand is an even bigger draw. Bottle Breacher products are made in the U.S.A. by military veterans, and the company makes a strong effort to recruit other veterans to their team. Revenues have exploded from about $300,000 to $2.5 million annually.

As a result, customers don’t just get a cool stocking stuffer or groomsman gift. They get the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve spent their money helping employ a deserving veteran.

Bottle Breacher shows us that our stories can be powerful business drivers. If we can get clear about why we started our companies beyond dollars and cents – what gets us out of bed every morning – and weave that into our products and marketing materials, we strengthen our appeal because customers are better able to connect with us on a human level.

Your Turn

It’s easy to lose track of other businesses as we get immersed in the demands of running our own. But it can be useful to take a step back, assess innovators in a variety of markets, and see how you can apply their strategies to grow.

Which of these innovative businesses is your favorite? Why? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Corey Pemberton for MasterCard Biz.

  • All views expressed on the published articles at https://www.mastercardbiz.com are those of each of the authors, and do not in any way represent the opinions of Mastercard International Incorporated or any of its affiliates (“Mastercard”). Mastercard is not responsible of the information contained in these articles.