In periods of dramatic change, entrepreneurship thrives. When the Covid-19 pandemic altered so many aspects of our lives, it also accelerated the growth of some nascent industries, and opened up new niches in which quick-thinking founders could start and grow successful businesses. After combing through the latest data and speaking to experts, we've compiled those promising sectors for Inc.'s annual Best Industries report. Read on to learn which industries will give rise to the next generation of fast-growing startups.

Virtual Reality Workplace Training

Virtual reality and augmented reality tools were already on their way to being integrated into the workplace when the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated their adoption. Startups are now developing simulations to train workers in a range of hard and soft skills, from installing solar panels and fielding customer service complaints to identifying workplace bias and leading with empathy.

Venture capital interest in the sector remains strong. Global VC investment in AR and VR startups reached a record $8.5 billion across 600 deals in 2019, according to research company PitchBook. And VR promises to train more people in less time than in-person or online training. What's more, simulations let learners practice scenarios that would be difficult or dangerous to replicate in real life--and the data they collect can give employers a clearer view of workers' progress. 

Look inside the virtual-reality workplace training industry: How to Make Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a Reality With Virtual Reality

Direct-to-Consumer Home Improvement

If the original DTC home-goods companies targeted urban apartment dwellers, selling mattresses, furniture, and houseplants, the next wave is moving to the suburbs. Americans are resettling outside cities and embracing DTC brands for their home-improvement projects instead of shopping at retail giants such as Home Depot and Lowe's. 

Younger consumers in particular are gravitating toward more personalized brands with the aesthetics and convenience they're used to. Home improvement-focused startups selling directly to consumers include Clare (paint), Block (bathroom remodeling), and the Inside (custom upholstery), and they're raking in millions in venture capital. 

Look inside the direct-to-consumer home improvement industry: Why This Serial Entrepreneur Thinks There's a Gold Mine in Your Back Yard

Patient-Monitoring Tools

The demand for remote health care services during the pandemic has been a proving ground for the telehealth industry. Remote patient-monitoring devices and software are a crucial component of telehealth, as the ability to track patient health remotely has been critical for the growing population of older patients and those with chronic conditions.

Recent investments in the industry suggest a bright future for companies with the best technology. Preventice Solutions, a remote cardiac solutions company, raised a $137 million Series B round last July. Biofourmis, which makes wearables and software for remote monitoring of patients with cancer and other chronic conditions, raised $100 million last September. Total telehealth industry revenue is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 8.3 percent, to $4.8 billion by 2025, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

Look inside the patient monitoring tools industry: Smart Socks? How This Tech Startup Is Targeting a Common Medical Problem

Plant-Based Hair Extensions

Plastic braids, or braiding hair, are popular among Black women, but they can cause painful itchiness and irritation. Plant-based hair extensions, a new twist featuring materials like banana fiber, offer a potential solution to this problem and come at a time when consumers are increasingly seeking plant-based products. 

The market opportunity for plant-based hair extensions is significant, as Black Americans spent $473 million on hair care in 2017, according to market research firm Nielsen. The U.S. wig and hairpiece market, valued at $391 million in 2020, is expected to reach $410 million by 2025, according to IBISWorld.

Look inside the plant-based hair extensions industry: A New Twist on the Natural Hair Movement: Plant-Based Hair Extensions

Digital Accessibility Services

When large swaths of global commerce moved online, many businesses created websites and apps on the fly, without much regard for accessibility. The result has been major compliance problems: Last year saw 3,550 lawsuits alleging digital violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a 23 percent increase over 2019, according to a study by digital accessibility company UsableNet.

Adding features such as closed captioning on videos for deaf and hearing-impaired users and alt text on images for blind and visually impaired users who use screen readers signals that your organization cares about the 61 million Americans with disabilities, whether they're your customers or potential employees. There are plenty of automated solutions to audit your website for ADA compliance, but these services are estimated to miss up to 80 percent of the issues facing disabled users. Startups that can help software engineers find and fix accessibility problems on their websites and apps have a rare opportunity to solve a widespread problem. 

Look inside the digital accessibility services industry: These Ex-Oracle Execs Are Democratizing the Web for Millions of Overlooked Users