It's no secret. Just about every industry on the planet is about to be disrupted by technology like artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented reality and many, many others. It's just a matter of time.

Whatever your business, you're probably aware (or should be) of the swarm of hungry start-ups circling around your market. It becomes even more clear big changes are coming when the activities of those startups are given a formal name - like HealthTech or InsureTech, the terms given to the disruptors revolutionizing the traditional healthcare and insurance industries.

Many of my clients ask me what "weak signals" will help them preempt disruption and be the first to market with new-to-the-world opportunities. They want to understand the early market trends in their own industries or adjacent spaces, so they can "skate to where the puck is going," as the famous Wayne Gretzky quote goes.

Some people call these emerging markets "blue oceans," untapped market space that hasn't yet been discovered by the competition. Others call them "white spaces." Whatever the name or color you give them, getting a glimpse of a nascent market on the horizon isn't easy. Even though the world's changing faster than ever before, finding new rapidly growing markets just doesn't happen every day.

So where do you look?

New markets and opportunities arise at the intersection of big problems and the technology that can address them. For example, Lloyd's Register Foundation - a charitable foundation  supporting engineering-related education, public engagement and the application of research within infrastructure-focused industries like water, power, food, and transportation - recently published an Insight Report on global safety challenges revealing just that. Some of the most poignant statistics from the Foundation's research include:

  • Every 15 seconds, 153 workers have a work-related accident and one worker dies from a work-related accident or disease.
  • Every day, 6,300 people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases: more than 2.3 million deaths per year.
  • 317 million accidents occur on the job annually, many leading to the extended absence of workers.
  • More than 12,000 children die each year working in hazardous conditions.

These are big problems with incredible costs. Not only are people's lives significantly impacted, but the economic burden of costs associated with the lack of adequate safety is estimated at 4% of global GDP annually, or about three trillion dollars. No small number.

From an innovation perspective, the question is how to address these problems with meaningful solutions.  The findings from Lloyd's Register Foundation were so compelling that the organization decided to launch a "Safety Accelerator" program in partnership with the global venture capital firm and startup accelerator, Plug and Play. The first of its kind, the accelerator focuses on finding and funding startups aimed at addressing and building out the SafetyTech market.

"To solve some of the toughest challenges in safety, the industry needs new collaborations, fresh perspectives and ground-breaking approaches. We aim to open up the safetytech market for entrepreneurs and bring together innovative digital technology companies and industry partners to work together to solve critical safety challenges," says Steve Price, Lead of the Lloyd's Register Safety Accelerator.

When a market space is in its infancy, it's difficult to define. Lloyd's Register Foundation's research also laid the groundwork for the next level of problem-definition to help focus future innovation. The most significant untapped opportunities include:

  • Safe operation of drones now and in the future
  • Safe operation of autonomous systems
  • Critical infrastructure that is safe from cyber attack
  • Safety of complex systems in high-hazard industries
  • Fossil-fueled transport and industry that do not create unsafe air
  • Safe supply chains for medical waste
  • Safe supply chains for electronic waste
  • Ensuring safety at sea
  • Safety in the fishing industry
  • Safety of supersized structures
  • Making food supply chains safe
  • Safety of water and water infrastructure

The research also identified specific trends common to each of these markets. From an innovation standpoint, startups and big companies alike can potentially leverage these trends to create product and service solutions that can scale across markets.  The trends include:

  • Decommissioning (for example, disposal of e-waste, ships, medical waste, etc.)
  • Cybersecurity, connectivity and internet of things (for example, malicious and accidental failures)
  • Human factors (how people's actions significantly affect safety)
  • Updating standards in light of new technology (for example, safety regulation for increasing complex connected infrastructures)
  • Controlled return to safe state (for example, emergency evacuation of large structures and controlled failure of complex systems).

The Foundation's Insight Report on global safety challenges is available as a free download and outlines all of these market opportunity areas and trends in greater detail.

Sometimes the biggest opportunities are hidden in plain sight, right before our eyes. Safety-related trends, business challenges and social problems are substantial and real. Now that the "SafetyTech" industry just received its name, it's time to create it through innovation.