This week, the neon halls of Las Vegas have felt more like a scene from Blade Runner than ever. I've been making my way through this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and it's never been more clear that we're living in the sci-fi future.

But what I'm seeing is far from dystopian. This future is shiny, happy, and has room for all kinds of business owners.

How will the years to come change your company and the business world in general? Here are a few trends small-business owners in particular should close attention to.

New ways to improve your sleep (and take back your time).

Eureka Park, the football field that houses some of the globe's most exciting startups at CES, housed a bevy of businesses targeted toward making up for my desperate lack of hours in the day. And some sought out to do this by improving sleep.

Awarables is an app that helps insomniacs learn how to improve their sleep, and measures if the user is getting better. Neuroscientist Madhvi Upender helped create the program as an alternative to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is difficult to find in smaller communities. The fabric-based sensor tracks at a high accuracy that is able to tell users details like how much REM sleep they're getting and which positions are best for them to fall asleep.

Pali is a smart alarm clock from husband-wife team Derek and Ashley Ostler that helps with sleep training to get kids sleeping through the night and waking up at appropriate times. Their pain point was a young daughter who woke up at 5 a.m. and wouldn't return to sleep. But their cute, cartoony alarm clock, which is based around a visual timer, much like the progress bar on a streaming service, worked far better than other sleep trainers they've tried. I know I could use a little rest after CES.

A push for diversity and inclusion.

"Cognitive diversity makes for the strongest teams," Maxine Williams, global head of diversity for Facebook said at yesterday's Women in Tech Breakfast. It was just one way that this year's CES is helping business owners to think differently about diversity.

An entire track of the conference, called Innovation for All, is given over to diversity and inclusion. Williams isn't the only voice being raised for this new idea of how to better vary a team, but more classic definitions of diversity were all around, including differences of abilities. I was thrilled to see Alexis Kashar, a civil rights attorney and founder of AlertBoss. Both she and her mother, fellow entrepreneur and 30-year CES attendee Barbara Ander, are deaf. Ander founded Compu-TTY in 1982 to provide telecommunication equipment for the hearing impaired. They said they were attending the conference this year to keep track of "how the industry is doing in terms of accessibility."

To that end, I was blown away by Loro, a suite of tools to help the 190 million people worldwide with disabilities to navigate the world safely, created by a team of Harvard and MIT alums. Cameras allow for 360-degree visibility for wheelchair users, keeping them safe. The app also decreases caretaker costs by 20 percent thanks to connectivity that allows the user to control appliances with nothing more than a literal blink of an eye. Perhaps most amazingly, predictive text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies enable users with speech, sometimes for the first time.

Business services that are better than ever.

I also observed big companies trying to make business services kinder to smaller entrepreneurs. For example, Amazon trotted out Guy Fieri to show how chefs can use Alexa to control their kitchen while hard at work chopping and frying.

Facebook was everywhere, encouraging small businesses to take advantage of services like Facebook ads and other services. Williams even talked about how her Trinidadian mother uses the social network to get customers for her sandwich business.

Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff was here at CES in a big way. I loved his fireside chat about keeping your business purpose-driven. It's one thing to stick to your ethics when you're small, but back in 2015, he helped get a discriminatory anti-LBTQ law changed in Indiana because of his unwillingness to do business within the state. That warmed my heart.

Business can do good, and the further we head into the future, the more we need to remind ourselves of that human face. To tell the truth, my favorite technology was the multiple pay phones I saw around Vegas and the people actually using them. Some things might never change.

Published on: Jan 9, 2020
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