Learning new ways to spot business ideas and opportunities is an invaluable skill to have, especially if you’re a new or aspiring entrepreneur, as looking for your first idea to launch is very important. In this guide, I am going to show you how to think of business ideas using the unique traits from nature, such as different animals and insects.
Table of Contents
Many animals, insects and other living organisms from nature have gone through millions of years of evolution, developing senses, skills and adaptations that are far more efficient than we could ever imagine. These efficiencies in nature cannot usually be improved upon by scientists and others who study it, because nature is so efficient in how it operates. That is why nature is so important to consider when thinking of business ideas, and an often-overlooked strategy.
What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry is the process to mimic nature’s efficiencies, techniques and strategies and applying them to problems in our world, to ultimately create a great solution.
By copying these techniques from nature, we can save thousands of hours and millions of dollars in research and development trying to solve problems we face with human-made solutions. The main premise behind biomimicry is that by copying nature we can create more efficient and productive products and services, because of the millions of years of evolution and what has stuck around is the strongest characteristics.
Biomimicry in practice
A great example of Biomimicry has been the Shinkansen Bullet Train. The original version of the bullet train ran into a problem as it was creating a very loud boom noise when entering tunnels at such high speeds, which was causing disturbances for the residences around these tunnels.
To solve this problem, the engineers looked to nature for the solution. After their research, they found a bird who would dive into the water without making a splash, to catch food. The engineers were able to mimic the beak of the bird and tested it on the train. Not only did the new nose of the train almost completely reduce noise, but it also made the train 10% faster and 15% more energy-efficient, all by just changing the nose. Amazing results right? There are other amazing examples of companies who have based their products and services on nature which we will review for inspiration.
How to use this technique to develop business ideas
To use Biomimicry to develop business ideas, you first need to have a problem to solve. If you are still looking for problems to solve, you can check out this resource before moving onto the next steps in this article. However, if you have a list of problems you’re passionate about solving, you’re ready to move onto step one.
To help illustrate this example, I am going to try and solve the following problem using Biomimicry.
Problem to solve with a business idea
Problem: The growing elderly population and the low supply of nurses, doctors and care staff to look after them in their rooms or home.
Step 1: Find biomimicry opportunities
Finding biomimicry opportunities sounds hard, but it’s not and it can be rewarding. Not only will you get to learn more about how amazing nature is, but there could also be traits that may work great for solving problems to think of business ideas.
Research Nature and Make a List
First, you’ll want to make a list of animals or insects that you’re interested in, and you’ll want to choose about four to five. This is enough for us to do some research and learn if the traits the chosen animals have can help solve problems, and if they don’t, we can simply pick another set.
Simply head over to your Google or your favorite search engine and type in the animal/ insect of your choice and type “characteristics” or “traits” after. There will be a bunch of websites that will tell you the unique characteristics of what you are looking for. From there, you can write them down so you have a list.
To help you, here are some animals with unique traits, characteristics and strategies they use.
These large animals are very interesting and they have special noses that can help them do all kinds of things. The elephant trunk is designed to lift up to 800 pounds, breath, drink water and spray. Elephants are also able to be careful and delicate with their trunks as well.
Honey bees are able to communicate to others by flying special patterns and dances in the air. With the ability to calculate precise angles, they can communicate information about new homes, threats and other useful knowledge.
A dogs hearing is amazing. They are able to hear things almost four times further than people can. Dogs also have amazing senses of smell and are able to smell things up to one million times better than we can. A certain dog breed, bloodhounds have up to a 100 million times better sense of smell than people do, very incredible.
Lobsters aren’t usually popular for their characteristics, but in this case, they have some unique traits that we can potentially use for biomimicry. Due to a special enzyme produced in the body of the lobsters, they are able to remain agile, fertile and mobile all throughout their lifespan. Whereas humans tend to slow down, get less mobile and less fertile with age.
Cows have the ability to see 360 degrees with the type of eyes they have and how they sit in the cow’s head.
Although this is a certain insect that I find disgusting, they do have an interesting characteristic in that they don’t need a head to live. As long as their blood clots normally, they can continue to live due to the unique circulatory system they have.
Not only are ducks a cute animal but they also have waterproof feathers that keep them dry. A special oil is produced by their body that gives it this waterproof feature.
A more thorough list of many other animals is available here.
For the example, I’m going to choose these four animals:
- Honey Bees,
Step 2: Suitability Assessment
In step 2, we are going to review the traits from the chosen animals to see if there were any suitable or potentially good matches.
Again, the problem we are looking to solve is: The growing elderly population and the low supply of nurses, doctors and care staff to look after them in their rooms or home.
The traits of an elephant’s nose would be very helpful for taking care of the elderly, except for the size of the elephant. But with the noses ability to lift such heavy weights and also be very delicate and flexible would help seniors live their day to day lives without increased nursing.
The waterproofing from the oils that ducks produce did not seem useful for helping elderly population care, so this animal will be removed from our suitability assessment.
Dogs, however, have great potential for solving care problems of the elderly. If we are able to mimic how dogs smell or hear, these devices could be used to increase the quality of life for the elderly, and ultimately reduce their need for care.
Lastly, honey bees unique trait of buzzing different patterns in the air to make signals as not something that may help the elderly population with their care.
When doing this for the things in nature that you have chosen, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Will these characteristics help me solve the problem?
- Do any of these traits relate to the problem?
- What traits would simply not work well with this problem?
As you can see from the example, the suitability assessment will review the viability and potential use of the characteristics from nature to see if we should choose any of them to bring into step 3, where we will be brainstorming solutions.
Step 3: Developing a business idea with biomimicry
Now that we’ve gone through the processes of researching certain animals and insects in nature to see how they can solve the problem we want to solve, we can move onto the business idea brainstorming part.
This part is a little more complex and can take longer, so give yourself at least 30 minutes to complete this step before giving up.
Choose the single strongest trait to begin
First, I want you to choose a single trait you identified that made it past the suitability assessment. To illustrate this, I am going to choose the elephant nose, as I thought that had the most potential related to the chosen problem.
Brainstorm how those traits can help
Next, you’ll want to use each single trait to see how it can be applied to the problem. This is hard to understand without an example so I will continue to illustrate.
The elephant’s nose could potentially be mimicked so that it could be a moving appliance in an elderly person’s home. Allowing them to have a spare tool to help them lift heavy items in their home, like furniture, or be able to clean them with a cloth gently. The robotics could mimic the movement and structure of the elephant nose.
Another idea that popped into my head was to create a single tube structure that mimics the elephant’s nose. This tube could be used for the various support fluids that may be needed for those either in care facilities or their own home, saving space and avoiding complications with other tubes getting tangled. I thought of this because elephants use their nose for various things like drinking, spraying water and breathing. This approach would be low-cost idea could be implemented by 3D printing a prototype that could be developed for less than $50. Then you could see how it works, use it yourself even, and then redesign or move forward if needed.
The next animal that passed the suitability assessment was the dog because of their potential applications for hearing and smelling, as some elderly have problems with one or both of those.
If you were able to mimic the smelling ability into a mask, it could be worn by elderly people to help them get their sense of smell back if it was previously lost. Or, if the hearing could be mimicked with a special pair of earphones that they could wear to hear better at certain sporting events or at home.
As you can see, by choosing the most important traits, you can focus your time on thinking of potentially viable business ideas that you can move forward within the marketplace.
Examples of Real Companies
To help you understand this in actual practice, there are two companies built by successful entrepreneurs that I am going to tell you about that have used the biomimicry technique to develop world-class solutions to unique problems.
First is Abeego. They are a food packaging and wrap manufacturer, that uses a special formula and trait that can be found in lemons to preserve the food longer and without the need for plastic. It ultimately makes your food stay fresher and for longer than traditional methods like using plastic wrap.
Estimated revenue projections for the company for 2019 are around $5,000,000 to $9,400,000. All for a product that was mimicked from a lemon, and they are helping millions of households now.
Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc
The next venture is Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc. and they are the first company in the world to develop and commercialize spider silk. This company used the spider as their inspiration for biomimicry and they were able to copy the silk to create solutions for the textile and fashion industry, as well as many other interesting applications. The spider silk is stronger and more flexible than the current materials used.
And in 2018, the company had revenues of $400,000. An impressive amount of revenue since they have only been in business a couple years.
There is actually an institute dedicated to biomimicry and supporting programs that will embrace biomimicry to help fight global problems. It’s worth checking out as they have a lot of free resources and examples of biomimicry that may help you when you get to step three for brainstorming.
As you can see, the biomimicry technique is a very powerful way to brainstorm new business ideas using the power and efficiency from millions of years of evolution. You begin by identifying some animals you’re fond of, then seeing what unique traits and characteristics they have.
Finally, you assess each trait for its suitability and move on with the top suitable traits to step three, where you brainstorm your final solution to the problem at hand.
So what are you waiting for? If you don’t start step one now, when will you? I suggest taking 10 minutes now, and just getting started. You can save the other steps for later if you must, but I want you to take action and make use of this information since you’ve spent the time to read it.