Thinking of starting a business? You want to join an industry that’s early in its life cycle--or growing fast--and whose products people lust for. That’s where you’ll find the greatest opportunity.
So which industries will spawn tomorrow's greatest companies? We scoured data, pored over reports, and chatted up researchers to uncover the sectors poised to take off. Here's what we found: the eight best launching pads for your business in 2013.
Pretty soon, your smartphone will be as quaint as an eight-track player, replaced by a pair of computerized contact lenses that can predict the weather or deliver your Facebook feed. That's wearable computing, and you're about to see it everywhere, through 3-D glasses, watches, and other personal devices that will shape your environment, explaining what you are seeing and what you can do with it. Your opportunity? Think as big as the smartphone market.
Forget wine. Craft brewers and small-scale liquor producers are thriving as image-conscious drinkers seek out quality cocktails and brews. The tiniest among them, microbrewers and microdistillers, are thriving, selling their products for a premium through high-end shops and farmers’ markets. Microbrewery revenue grew 29 percent in 2012, microdistillery revenue 32 percent.
Cruises have long appealed to both the cost conscious and the adventurous. Now, a growing demand for off-the-beaten-path travel experiences has given rise to a new breed of cruise, which demands specialized knowledge and high-touch service for would-be adventurers. Think riverboat cruises, culinary and wine cruises, and even foreign language cruises.
College costs are soaring, and the job market remains tight, creating opportunities for companies that offer low-cost--or free--education and skills training via the Internet. These aren’t the diploma mills that have drawn scorn from accreditors; several boast executives from top universities. VCs have taken notice, and so have established players like Kaplan, snapping up successful upstarts.
The Affordable Care Act accelerated the trend toward consumer-driven healthcare. Companies are finding eager markets for products--including fitness apps and glucose monitors--that aim to help consumers take control of their health and cut their health care bills. Digital health care companies raised $1.4 billion from VCs last year, up 46 percent from 2011. Insurance companies and tech firms have also been acquirers.
Increasingly sophisticated online shoppers are looking for deals on an ever-widening spectrum of niche items, whether they’re custom-cut button-down shirts, personalized greeting cards, made-to-order eyeglasses, or vintage furniture. Fast-growing sectors include fashion sample sales, greeting cards, and photo printing. Kitschy, customizable options in product lines like greeting cards strike an emotional chord with young, tech-savvy consumers--and command high prices.
3-D printing’s moment has arrived. The biggest growth is in complex products in low volume, highly technical sectors like aerospace engineering and medical devices: prosthetic limbs, or space shuttle components. But that’s not the only opportunity. The market is expected to reach $3 billion by 2018, and that will include plenty of 3-D printed toys and jewelry.
Virtual data rooms let you store and access lots of documents in the cloud: Think souped-up versions of Dropbox. VDRs are designed for complex transactions, like financial deals and lawsuits--sensitive and complicated dealings that require sophisticated levels of control and tracking. At 85 cents a page, we’re talking big money for transactions that require thousands of pages of documents. Indeed, this $600 million industry is expected to balloon to $1.2 trillion by 2017.