The best business ideas for small towns are already out there. Where do you find them? Here are four different ways to connect with great small business ideas. Keep in mind that you’ll find ideas you can freely use, ideas you will need to license for a fee, and ideas that are only available as inspiration.
UPDATE: Download our free ebook of 20 Small Town Small Business Ideas.
Tactic #1: Use Academic Research Findings
You don’t have to invent something new. You can license research done by universities and others, and you can use ideas that are now public domain. We just talked about research on making new products from ag by-products like rice straw and cotton stalks. Where do you dig up those results? In very specialized search engines.
When you search the academic papers, you have to plow through some difficult academic and legal language. But the ideas are out there. I used a search on “Eastern Red Cedar products” as a test. It is an invader species in my home area, and a few entrepreneurs are trying to turn it into something marketable! I wondered what research was available.
[Photo of Eastern Red Cedars in my pasture. –Becky]
Google and Microsoft Academic Searches
Both Google Scholar and Microsoft Live Search Academic offer searches of academic publications. You’ll find papers relating to a wide range of topics. On the red cedar search, Microsoft turned up a nifty paper on markets and marketing strategies. Google turned up a fact sheet on making it into particle board. Most of the ideas returned in these engines could be licensed from their universities.
Open Access Information
Globally, an Open Access movement is sweeping the science communities. The push is on to make more scientific research openly available, with no restriction. One result is the OAIster search for digital resources. It returned just one hit for the eastern red cedar, on its termite resistance. Despite the OA (Open Access) in its name, OAIster includes both public domain and licensable ideas.
Research Sharing Sites
I also found two research sharing resources, iBridge Network in the USA and Flintbox in Canada. Universities can post standardized explanations of their potentially marketable results. Anyone can go and search the papers. Most of these are available for license.
Tactic #2: Search Patents
Search Patents Online
After 20 years, US patents usually expire, and the ideas become public domain. You can look at patents from 1987 and earlier as sources of ideas, by searching at Google Patents. It is also now integrated in their Scholar academic search that I mentioned above. Remember that most patents never make it to the market as real products. Some just never got funded, and some are not marketable products to begin with.
Tactic #3: Search Idea Sites and Feeds
Springwise New Business Ideas and Cool Business Ideas both offer RSS feeds, or you can go directly to their sites to search. I love to read their stories. You never know what business idea they will profile. You may find an inspiring idea, or more likely, an opportunity to license an existing business idea from a global source.
Idea Sites and Forums
One forum where people publicly post software-related ideas is Cambrian House, at the Idea Explorer. You could use the ideas for inspiration, a springboard to another new idea. As an entrepreneur, you may choose to get involved with the Cambrian House projects, where there is at least a potential for money benefit. Hat tip Mike at ConverStations for the timely link to an article about this at BizMord.
Of course, we profile nifty ideas here, also. Look for our Ideas label. We even happily share your ideas, as well!
Tactic #4: Existing Businesses
Review any list or directory of existing businesses, or especially of businesses for sale. This can be something as simple as a phone book or an online business directory. By looking at existing business, you may find inspiration for your own business.
Several sites also list businesses for sale, and you can also subscribe to RSS feeds of businesses for sale. I have talked before about Businesses for Sale, and I read their Business Opportunities Blog. I bet that someone will tell us about some of the other business listings.
Great small business ideas are all around you. If you look at all the academic research available to you, search through old patents, explore online idea forums, and review lists of existing businesses, you will find more ideas. Is that a lot of work? Yes, absolutely. But being an entrepreneur in a small town is not easy.
Do you know of other ways to find research products, now available for license or in the public domain? Share with us via email or comments!
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.