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Innovators of the Economic Recession

Everyone is sick and tired of the terrible state of the economy -- change really couldn't come fast enough. But I've found individuals and businesses who are still forging ahead, sometimes embracing innovative (read: sometimes eyebrow-raising) ideas and run with them. And if the stories below inspire you, read up on how you too, can innovate in a recession.

1. Max Rameau: Moving homeless people into foreclosed homes

Max Rameau decided to turn foreclosure into a source of opportunity for homeless people of Miami -- one of the hardest-hit cities in the housing crisis -- by creating "Take Back the Land." To MSNBC, Rameau explained his belief that there is a serious "disconnect between the need [of the homeless people] and the law:" Rather than have foreclosed homes be stripped by thieves or drug dealers, those dwellings can provide shelter for the homeless, he argues. Kelly Penton, spokeswoman for the City of Miami, told USA Today that although what Rameau is doing is illegal, police will only act on a complaint by a property owner. And so far, it appears the owners -- i.e. the banks -- are choosing to turn a blind eye. Said one formerly homeless woman, "Max found for me in three days what the shelter system couldn't in four years. He has the solution."

2. Georgetown Cupcake: A sweet new business

On the lighter side, here's a business that caught my attention appetite-first. Georgetown Cupcake is only a few blocks away from where I live: The cupcakes are amazing, and there's often a line out the door. Sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne opened the small cupcakery in February 2008, when the economy was moving seriously south, and I simply had to ask: What were they thinking? "To be honest, we weren't really asking ourselves, 'Does it make sense to start a business in a recession?'" LaMontagne told me. "We thought, 'If not now, we never will.' So we just went for it." Even Martha Stewart acknowledges that the designer cupcakes are to die for, which won the Washington Post's Cupcake Wars last November. "We really do work very hard," said Montagne. "I think it's important to take an active role in every single decision -- every single cupcake."

3. David Cohn, Creator of Spot.us: community funded reporting

If one industry that stands to take a particularly hard beating in this recession (aside from Detroit automakers of course), it's the newspaper industry. In the midst of this crisis, journalist David Cohn created Spot.us -- a nonprofit website that pioneers "community funded reporting" by allowing the public to commission journalists to investigate important or overlooked stories. When I asked Cohn what motivated him to dive head-first into an industry that everyone else seems to be running away from, Cohn said that being a 26 year-old has played a big role. "I recognize that my youth allows me to experiment in a way that - if I were older, might be more difficult," he says. "I probably couldn't do this if I had a kid and house payments to make." And the self-proclaimed "worst-paid employee of Spot.Us" is first to admit that the website -- while innovative -- is very much a work in progress. So far, the website has published eight stories. In my opinion, it's far too early to call it a success, but I certainly admire Cohn's creative thinking and, above all, optimism.

4. Obammerce: Capitalizing on Obama-mania

Newsweek's Jessica Bennett ponders in "The New O-Conomy," whether a person could survive consuming nothing but Barack-themed merchandise. What is for certain, is that the new trendy icon has been a financial blessing for individuals who decided to capitalize on Obama-mania. "Political Americana" is an inaugural souvenir shop located near the White House. Owner Jim Warlick says sales this year are three times the amount of anything he has seen in the 28 years he's been in the inauguration business. It's good to know someone is enjoying good times.

Who is keeping you optimistic these days? Let us know.

By MJ Lee  |  February 25, 2009; 12:05 PM ET  | Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This economy seems to be getting worse by day. As innovative and optimistic I want to be, it is pretty difficult given our current condition. At any rate, thanks for this interesting piece MJ, I'll be looking forward to your next one.

Posted by: alps18 | March 6, 2009 10:19 AM

im amused that Obama can stimulate consumption by the sheer force of his personality. if people ever become skeptical of the value in paying $4 for a georgetown cupcake, they should just start putting Obama's face on top in icing. Golden.

Posted by: bonghits4jesus | February 28, 2009 12:03 PM

i especially liked the homeless article. i think its a great way to turn the dark clouds into silver lining. thank you so much for these uplifting posts and keep them coming.

Posted by: siegecg | February 27, 2009 5:10 PM

MJ! All the things you mentioned puts a smile on my face. I especially appreciated the G-Town Cupcakes. I take time out to make my own and share them with friends + family.
I don't think optimism is a result of good/bad economic times. Who has trouble being hopeful when the prospects are all good?
Being optimistic is having faith in yourself to be able to achieve what is necessary. Optimism is the belief that even if times get hard, you will still be thankful for what you have and not lose the drive to attain more.
I maintain my optimistic attitude through shared struggles and triumphs with my family and friends. Having a nurturing support network always puts a smile on my face!

Posted by: happie1004 | February 27, 2009 1:12 AM

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