Unique businesses

Unique businesses
Credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
The best businesses are started as a means to fill a need. Their inspiration tends to come from facing a problem and realizing that a solution doesn't exist yet, or creating a demand for a service people need but didn't even know they wanted. That's how innovative businesses like these came to be successful, whether they're revolutionizing the way people shop for groceries or reimagining how pet adoption can work.

If you need inspiration to start your own business in 2018, take a page from the book of these clever, game-changing companies and think about what problems you can solve.

Container-free local food shopping

Container-free local food shopping
Credit: Facebook.com/ingredients.io
Consumers are increasingly concerned about how much resources are wasted in the food packaging process. Often, cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam and twist ties are not recycled, leading to environmental waste. In.gredients in Austin, Texas, has a unique solution: It provides container-less shopping for locally sourced, sustainable, organic foods. The company claims to divert 99 percent of materials from the landfills and has produced zero food waste since 2012. In.gredients also offers personal care items and hosts events in its beer garden.

Free lunch (with a side of marketing)

Free lunch (with a side of marketing)
Credit: lunchspread.com
Manhattan's Lunchspread takes everyone's love for free food in the office and adds a genius marketing strategy for local restaurants. This company helps new and under-the-radar restaurants build up their customer bases by matching businesses in the area to food they're likely to enjoy and delivering free samples right to those businesses' doors. After the samples are delivered, the recipient group fills out a survey about the food. Then, Lunchspread schedules the group for another surprise sample delivery.

Each delivery comes with coupons and a card full of details about the restaurant. That way, you can learn more about where your food came from and reorder from the restaurant if you and your employees enjoyed the meal.

Flexible, shareable workspaces

Flexible, shareable workspaces
Credit: wework.com

Every day, technology makes it more and more possible for employees and entrepreneurs to do their jobs and run their businesses from anywhere, which means businesses don't necessarily have to invest in their own office space. >WeWork provides office space for the office-less, with flexible month-to-month membership options for everyone from individual freelancers to large companies. Freelancers who prefer to work outside of their homes can have a more reliable workspace than a local coffee shop, and companies and other teams can have a place to collaborate and hold meetings and events.

Tinder for pet adoption

Tinder for pet adoption
Credit: BarkBuddy.com
Borrowing a page from popular dating app Tinder, which allows users to swipe yes or no on potential romantic partners, BarkBuddy makes it easy to find and adopt the perfect dog for you. Users tell BarkBuddy what they're looking for in the perfect pup, and then swipe yes or no on different profiles of dogs in their area. Once you've found the potential right dog, you can set up a meet and greet through the app.

The company ensures that everyone using the app is qualified to adopt. You have to fill out an adopter profile to be approved first; otherwise, you won't be eligible to adopt.

Online education a la carte

Online education a la carte
Credit: Skillshare.com

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could go back to school, or maybe even teach a course in a subject you're skilled in? Skillshare, founded in 2011, makes both of these things possible. The company allows experts to teach online courses on any subject they choose via short videos, while students can watch classes at their own pace and use the community to get feedback. Students can even take classes offline via smartphones and tablets if they'd like to learn on the go.

Unlike college or graduate school, with their high tuition rates, Skillshare costs a small fee of $10 per month, with a free 14-day trial. Half of that fee goes to pay the company's teachers, so if you're an expert in something, it's a great way to make some extra money. Skillshare also gives back: According to the company's website, for every annual membership purchased, Skillshare gives a membership to a student through the company's scholarship program.

Travel-size food and necessities

unique businesses
Credit: Minimus.biz
While bigger might be better for some, Minimus takes a different approach. In operation for more than a decade, the online company offers more than 2,500 different individually packaged products, including travel-size toiletries and individual servings of various food items – everything from chips to Tabasco sauce. The company was founded after the Shraters, the family behind it, noticed how much product they were wasting at the end of a trip to New Hampshire. Today, the company takes up two large Los Angeles warehouses and employs dozens of workers. In addition to the individual items, Minimus sells premade kits specially designed for different uses, such as baby and family kits, outdoor kits, first-aid kits, and military care packages.

An easier thank-you card service

unique businesses
Credit: Thankster.com
Saying thank you has never been easier with the help of Thankster. This online business lets users easily create personalized thank-you cards with simulated, authentic-looking handwriting. The service lets you choose from a variety of handwriting styles to best match your own. For consumers, Thankster is great for sending thank-you cards for weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations, and baby or bridal showers, when writing notes by hand can get overwhelming. Many businesses use the service to send personalized "handwritten" notes to valued clients, customers, partners and employees. After the notes are finished, Thankster stuffs, stamps and sends out the letters to their intended recipients for you.

Fancy portable toilets for rent

unique businesses
Credit: ElizaJ.com
For some events, the typical green and cramped portable toilet just won't do. ElizaJ rents out high-quality, clean and attractive portable restrooms for any outdoor event – perfect for hosting something a little more formal. Each of ElizaJ's individual restrooms includes fresh flowers, designer soaps and lotions, name-brand paper products, wicker waste baskets, air fresheners, and fresh water. One of the options, The Powder Room, can accommodate events of up to 350 people and is designed to rival restrooms in the finest restaurants and department stores. ElizaJ has also launched a franchising model to give other entrepreneurs the opportunity to run their own portable restroom operations.

Custom board and card games

The Game Crafter
Credit: The Game Crafter
Kids who grew up wanting to design their own version of Monopoly or Clue can easily do so now with the help of The Game Crafter. The world's first web-to-print game publishing company givers gamers the chance to create their own board games, along with customized playing cards and card games. While designing and publishing a game used to be extremely difficult, The Game Crafter, founded in 2009 by JT Smith, Tavis Parker and Jamie Vrbsky, has simplified the process by providing templates, instructions, videos and proofing tools to help would-be game designers create a quality product. Users then have the option of buying as many copies of the game as they like.

Personalized organic tea

unique businesses
Credit: DesignATea.com
Design A Tea offers consumers the ability to design their own tea blend from scratch. Founded in 2007 by J. Brian Pfeiffer, the online business lets tea drinkers choose from more than 40 flavors that can be mixed and matched to create their own artisan tea blend. Shoppers first select a base flavor – black, oolong, green or rooibos – and then mix in two other ingredients, such as almond, Irish cream, passion fruit, rum or wintergreen. In total, there are more than 10,000 different combinations tea drinkers can create. As part of its mission, Design a Tea has adopted numerous socially responsible practices, including using recycled paper products, labels and environmentally friendly inks. In addition, all of its tea flavors are 100 percent natural, organic and gluten-free.