There is no question that 2016 was polarizing from a standpoint of political ideology. But this year also brought about a climate of change that could open doors for small and emerging businesses. At Life is Good, we define optimism as the choice to focus on opportunities instead of obstacles. Regardless of your political affiliations, there are always opportunities. When we embrace them together, we make progress both as businesses and as a larger community.

In 2017, things are looking good for entrepreneurs. Approval rates for small-business loans are up. So is the Consumer Confidence Index. Both parties have backed reduced regulations on small companies. We are particularly excited about some developments that are already creating opportunities for our business. Here are four reasons for entrepreneurs to be optimistic about the coming year.

1. Consumers are hungry for new things

In times of change, people are craving new solutions and the appetite for innovation grows, creating whole new fields for development. In a recent study by KPMG, CEOs cited innovation as their top priority for the next three years.

Meanwhile, most of the major household brands are losing market share, according to the consulting and research firm Catalina, creating huge opportunities for smaller competitors. Companies that aren't comfortable being comfortable--that never got used to doing things just one way--will thrive. At Life is Good we are experimenting with on-demand manufacturing to keep pace with consumer demand for customizable product offerings, and working on speeding up the wholesale-to-retail supply chain so in the future we'll be able to refresh our products far more frequently.

2. Social responsibility is paying off

As today's consumer pushes for greater corporate transparency and responsibility, small companies are more authentically socially conscious than ever. There's good reason for that--they have to be to stay in the game. A Korn Ferry study just found that purpose-driven consumer companies experience growth rates nearly triple the annual rate of others in their sector. Young people demand their employers help improve the world and a large majority of Millennials say they would switch brands or pay more for a socially responsible product, according to research by Cone Communications. Our social mission has been an integral part of Life is Good since our founding and helps us recruit top talent, engage employees, and rally our consumers behind the brand's mission.

3. It's easier to partner

Cross-industry collaboration is increasingly viewed as an effective game plan for business. Meanwhile, technology makes such collaborations even easier. Identifying partners that are culturally aligned, complement your brand's offering, and make the introduction to new audiences allow brands to grow beyond what they could achieve alone. For example, a few years ago we would have likely shied away from working with jewelry company ALEX and Ani despite synergies in our brands because it is a competitor in the fashion accessory segment. This year, we joined forces to develop fundraising bangles for our kids foundation - not only did it help us raise money, but it also introduced our brand to ALEX and Ani's community and their brand to ours.

4. Workforce options are expanding

Employees and offices to house them can be an unmanageable expense for startups and small businesses--particularly those needing multiple locations. Fortunately co-working spaces are sprouting everywhere: Emergent Research projects there will be 26,000 by 2020.

Meanwhile, the gig economy--including freelancers, contractors, and temps in almost every industry--has grown by more than 50 percent in 10 years, according to economists at Harvard and Princeton. Never before have companies had so much choice about whom they hire and under what terms. Just two years ago, Life is Good outsourced less than 1 percent of our creative development. This year that number is up to about 20 percent, thanks to the proliferation of amazing artists who display their portfolios online, as well as the ability to collaborate from a distance.

Openness to change and the opportunities it brings will be critical in the year ahead for entrepreneurs and the country at large. Focus on the good. Be authentic. Enjoy the ride.

Published on: Dec 27, 2016