DIY Business Infrastructures August 2010
Recent Scan™ research indicates a strengthening trend toward do-it-yourself approaches that could potentially enter competition with established businesses. Such efforts, though, run into investment and organizational hurdles if a substantial infrastructure is necessary to enter the particular business field. Motivation and commitment have to be sufficiently high to invest the required time and money to acquire or to build up the needed working assets. Now, though, one can rent or lease an increasingly wide range of required business infrastructures permanently or to support a trial phase verifying a business concept, heightening the competitive threat that amateurs pose to established businesses. Previous Scan research touches on infrastructure-related issues.
Do-it-yourself and amateur ventures have become sizable developments in many countries. Many business arenas, though, require a substantial infrastructure—and in many cases, real estate. Novel ventures aim at supporting amateur efforts on this level and could spark a wave of entrepreneurs emboldened by first success in trial periods and projects.
One Scan publication provides the example of lay photographers' leveraging photo-sharing websites, enabling amateurs to compete with professionals. Another Scan publication outlines efforts to overcome hurdles that individuals face when establishing semiprofessional do-it-yourself ventures.
A novel development widens the range of support that individuals can use: The service of renting business infrastructures lowers entry hurdles and likely expands the number of amateurs giving entrepreneurship a shot. A Scan publication that notes signals of change lists a number of Hackspaces—community workshops renting out a wide range of advanced tools for mechanical and electromechanical do-it-yourself projects. A2MechShop (Ann Arbor, Michigan), HobbyShop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), NYC Resistor (New York, New York), and TechShop (Menlo Park, California), operate on membership fees or similar arrangements to enable individuals to build their own devices and systems. The concept is limited in spawning true entrepreneurship—although it facilitates prototyping and proof-of-concept projects tremendously. But the concept of renting infrastructures for business ventures is fanning out to other areas.
A substantial number of farmers in Japan have abandoned cultivation of their farmland because they cannot survive by agriculture, and farmers are aging and younger generations are not picking up the business. The abandoned cultivation area is substantial: about 380 000 hectares (1467 square miles) as of 2005. But recently, new ventures such as Myfarm (http://myfarm.co.jp) have sprung up, aggregating such unused agricultural areas for services such as renting land to individuals for cultivation and dividing the rent fee between farmers who own the land and the venture company.
Japanese Internet provider NEC Biglobe (Tokyo, Japan) has teamed with rental-farm venture firm Myfarm to offer a rental-farm service beginning in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. The service not only rents out plots of land but also includes instruction about how to plant and care for seedlings and use tools. It offers the option to ask farm caretakers to water and weed the plants and provides Webcams to observe the plants remotely. NEC Biglobe will also launch a community site so users can share photos and information about their farms.
Farming ventures appear to have become a topic of interest in Japan. Ashisuto (Tokyo, Japan), a computer-software distributor, subsidizes rental fees for farms for its employees who enjoy weekend farming. The subsidy amount is ¥20 000 (about $220) for one person per year; one group consisting of six members can receive ¥120 000 (about $1300) in total. The rent for a farm is typically about ¥80 000 (about $900) per year. Each member of the group buys seeds, seedlings, and so forth separately. The group members do not intend to make money from weekend farming.
Japanese businesses have sprung up to provide individuals with the opportunity to rent entire cafes or restaurants to test or to feature their capabilities as chefs and to experience a restaurant operation—developing a menu, estimating costs, deciding on prices, planning service, and attracting customers. For instance, rental cafe ColaboCafe (www.colabocafe.com) in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, is available for ¥28 900 (about $330) from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm on a weekend day. The renter acquires an operating license from the public-health department by way of the rental-cafe company. In November 2009, in Ueda-city in Nagano Prefecture, one nonprofit organization opened Colabo Restaurant, a restaurant that it offers for rent on a daily basis. The objective of this effort is to establish a community.
Although many of the examples above have emerged in food-related applications and appear to be spreading most prominently in Japan, similar concepts are easily transferable to other areas and regions. Do-it-yourself and amateur ventures have become sizable developments in many countries. The Internet has facilitated the creation of viable businesses of individuals by providing a marketing and distribution channel. Online marketplaces such as Etsy (www.etsy.com), Makers Market (http://makersmarket.com), and SparkFun (www.sparkfun.com) support do-it-yourself efforts. Many business arenas, though, require a substantial infrastructure—and in many cases, real estate. Novel ventures aim to support amateur efforts on this level and could spark a wave of entrepreneurs emboldened by first success in trial periods and projects.