There is a well-known quote floating around the internet. It’s widely believed to be something said at the turn of the 20th century by Charles H. Duell, a U.S. Patent Office commissioner. His famous utterance goes like this: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
This can seem like a bleak notion. If that was the prevailing theory in 1899, what hope is there for us in the 21st century?
Luckily, Duell was obviously wrong. Just because we haven’t yet cottoned on to the next big thing doesn’t mean that it’s not out there. After all, if Duell’s words were true, we wouldn’t have radios, airplanes, cars, mobile phones, the internet…or even sliced bread! If that doesn’t give budding entrepreneurs hope, it is hard to imagine what will.
Obviously, it is futile to try to reinvent the wheel, but those lightbulb moments still happen every day around the world. If there’s one thing humans are good at, it is constantly finding ways to improve lives on both macro and micro scales. This is why there is still such a need for exciting, innovative startups to burst onto the scene and revolutionize the way the world functions.
The most successful startups pay attention to how the world is developing and take advantage of niche needs that emerge in times of rapid social, technological, or political change. Think of companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon. Each of those startups saw user trends and pounced, from capitalizing on the sharing economy to attempting to find solutions for the public transportation crisis. Not too long ago, before nearly everyone had a smartphone and internet access, those businesses would have been useless, but now they are worth billions of dollars (trillions, in Amazon’s case).
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Here is a small sampling of global issues and emerging trends that have spurred entrepreneurs into action.
- The climate crisis is clearly not going anywhere, so there is a lot of potential for sustainable and green initiatives. Just look at startups like EcoCart, which makes it easier for users to offset carbon emissions by installing browser extensions while they shop, or Homeboy Electronics Recycling, which salvages all recyclable materials from used products that customers send it.
- Biotech is the name of the game these days. It is likely that you know someone who has sent their cheek swab to a company like 23andMe, but there are myriad other ways to capitalize on the profitable biotech trend and help people at the same time. For some excellent examples, check out this list of biotech startups that are changing the world.
- Artificial intelligence is another huge thing that’s here to stay, hopefully in ways that make life easier for humans, so you can think about incorporating AI into your brand. Computers and robots are improving their capabilities at a brisk pace, and they can do everything from writing poetry to detecting cancer and gas leaks. The sky is the limit with AI—just look at companies like Soundhound and Virtual Sapiens.
- eCommerce has completely transformed the way the world does business. From this, we have learned that the easier a consumer can pay for a product or a service, the more loyal they will be to a brand. By now, everyone is familiar with eBay, which used the old idea of auctions to build a new company worth nearly $30 billion. There are countless other startups playing around with the way we purchase things. Boxed allows customers to make wholesale purchases for home delivery, bringing the beloved Costco experience to your front door. Instacart has changed how consumers shop for groceries, and when the company saw an opportunity to expand during the pandemic, it seized the moment.
The takeaway? If you are paying attention to social trends and global affairs, the potential for profit is huge. New opportunities constantly pop up, so there are a plethora of ways to monetize big ideas. Every one of these issues will require startups to help society surf the rising tide. All you have to do is ask yourself whether you will just be riding the wave or building the surfboards. Take that, Charles H. Duell!