Small-Business Ideas From Abroad That We Should Start in the US

·3 min read
gilaxia / iStock.com
gilaxia / iStock.com

Every American who travels overseas comes back with wild tales about the strange things they did, saw and ate — encountering new and exciting things, after all, is the whole point of getting out and seeing the world. Upon returning home, an entrepreneurial few of those travelers do more than just spin yarns about their travels. They get to work introducing Americans — and their green dollars — to a taste of the oddities they encountered overseas.

If products can be imported, after all, why can’t business ideas?

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Not all of the following ideas are totally unknown stateside — a few bold entrepreneurs have dabbled in some — but even those that aren’t completely unheard of are novelties that are well outside the mainstream. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for each and every one of them. So the next time you complain that all the good business ideas are already taken, just look across the ocean.

Last updated: June 15, 2021

server tip
server tip

No-Tip Restaurants

American tourists are always reminded to brush up on restaurant etiquette when they travel — U.S. tipping culture, after all, is not the norm in much of the world. In fact, tipping can cause confusion or even hard feelings in places like Japan, India, Finland, Portugal, China and Italy.

Servers earn a living wage in much of the world, unlike in the U.S., where the minimum wage for gratuity-based restaurant work can be as little as $2.13 an hour. Servers already suffer from job insecurity, and as one of the only gratuity-based occupations, their income is unpredictable. There’s a movement in America for giving standard minimum wage protection to servers, and your exotic no-tip restaurant could ride that trend to success.

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Young boy drinking from a water fountain in a park in Melbourne, Australia.
Young boy drinking from a water fountain in a park in Melbourne, Australia.

Sparkling Water Fountains

An entrepreneur with a background in beverages and public utilities could bring a little bubbly to America’s water fountains just like they do in Paris. In France’s capital city, water fountains produce either standard, boring H2O or, if you prefer, sparkling water. The small-business owner who lands that contract with a Paris-equivalent city in the United States wouldn’t stay small for very long.

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Shot of a mature man shopping in the cold produce section of a supermarket.
Shot of a mature man shopping in the cold produce section of a supermarket.

Frozen Food Stores

In America, frozen foods are found in a special section of a larger grocery store. In Europe, however, there are places where frozen foods are the reason for the entire store. Most famous among them all is Picard in France. The chain of frozen food stores shows what culinary wonders are possible when you think beyond two aisles of cold glass doors on the far end of the supermarket.

Articles have been written about Picard helping the French maintain their sanity and their diets during the pandemic. The small-business owner who dares to challenge America’s giant fridge/tiny freezer culture might very well be able to thaw out plenty of profits stateside.

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Typing message on the go.
Typing message on the go.

Umbrella Vending Machines

In Japan, you can get a second chance at staying dry if you happen to get caught in the rain without an umbrella. That’s because they sell them in vending machines in cities and towns across the country. Building on that trend even further, an umbrella rental service launched in Tokyo in 2019. Anyone unprepared for the rain can simply grab an umbrella and scan a QR code on the handle of the umbrella when they pick it up. When they drop it off, they scan it again to make sure they’re charged only for the time they used it.

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