Successfully creating your own startup is the new American Dream, and with so many companies and ideas competing for attention, it can be difficult to recognize the ones with a decent shot of succeeding. In an age where apps like Yo and Push for Pizza can win the hearts of American consumers, how does one recognize the blend of entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and business acumen needed to succeed? Startup competitions are aiming to do just that. With huge monetary prizes and hours of professional mentoring, startup competitions such as the MIT 100k and UC Berkeley Launch provide a glimpse into the future Googles and Instagrams of the world. Below, we share five trends from small business competitions that show where the future of startups is headed.
- There’s Always Demand for Medical Tech: Skim through the winners of many major startup competitions over the last twelve months, and one thing becomes astoundingly clear: most winning concepts have something to do with medicine. With a huge disparity between medtech available in the developed and developing world, products like the Rapid Assessment of Malaria Device combine cheap tech with huge demand to make an impact. Mobile technology has helped startups such as LymphaTech and RapidSOS to develop products that help medical patients at home, whether it be monitoring diagnositics or creating better emergency response. New innovations to devices like catheters and even tourniquets have propelled startups to glory. The list goes on, which goes to show that many of the most lucrative startup ideas are in medicine.
- Just Because Something’s Old Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Innovative: Many of the recent winners from prestigious competitions don’t radically reinvent the wheel—they just improve it. Take, for example, the Rapid Assessment of Malaria Device mentioned above. The reason it’s so cheap? The technology is made with primarily with a single laser and magnets-tech that’s been around for quite a while, just put to use in an innovative way. Another example of combining old and new is Teeman & Co a winner in UC Berekely’s 2014 competition, who use 3D printing and tech to revolutionize selling jewelry, something that’s been around for centuries. It’s easy to see that many successful startups simply innovate and improve existing fields and products.
- Sustainability and Green Energy are Hot Topics: 97% of climate scientists believe in global warming, and it’s well documented that global oil reserves are depleting rapidly. In light of this, it’s not surprising that many of the most exciting new companies are involved in the clean energy industry. From SolePower, who engineered shoes that can create energy from the motion of walking (winners of Carnegie Mellon’s competition) to TreeLectriq, who discovered technology that utllizes natural electrolytes in trees to create completely clean lighting, companies that offer an innovative way to reduce energy usage are trouncing their competition and impressing investors.
- Successful Ideas Target as Many People as Possible: Many startups have a great technology or business idea, but fail because they target too niche of a population. Most, if not all, of the winning startups in the biggest competitions attempt to reach millions of people. Codester has a goal of teaching a million kids to code through cloud based technology. Refresh Innovations wants to help every person who wears contact lenses. uHoo believes that their technology (a smartphone tech that lets users monitor their own health) can be used by every smartphone owner in America. Companies have to have grand visions if they’re going to impress investors, and most winning startups target vast populations of people.
- Access the Cloud: “The Cloud” might be the biggest buzzword of the last five years, with established companies like Google and Apple striving to take advantage of it and smaller businesses following suit. Almost every competition that we looked at featured at least one winner or finalist centered around the instantaneous, accessible, and ubiquitous nature of the cloud. Companies such as ReMeeting and HireCanvas offer cloud-based solutions to everyday events such as meetings or recruiting. SmartLine, which started out as a service helping restaurants manage customers, has evolved into a cloud-based restaurant analytics app. Many of the award winning startups over the last several years integrate the cloud (where it makes sense, of course) and are more desirable as a result.
A successful startup can be incredibly innovative, life-changing, and lucrative. There are several paths to startup stardom, and these five trends are some of the most common. Even if your idea isn’t typical, competing in a startup competition can be a great way to gain mentorship and funding, so keep an eye on any competitions in your area!