Right now, people want change and many young startups, and their investors such as Sean O’Sullivan, Mark Cuban and Tom Chapman, are listening.
Just a few short years ago, entrepreneurs were focused firmly on developing new social media, online retail and crowd-sharing apps. Today, many are turning towards creating businesses that could, in time, literally change everything. Here are just three sectors where the smart entrepreneurs are making waves.
1. Labour rights and job tech
As the gig economy takes a firm hold in the west, it’s shining a spotlight on the way workers are treated around the world, and what the future of labour might look like. Some startups are developing platforms and services that will change employment in ways we can’t yet imagine.
One of the issues right now is the recognition that as technology advances, and work evolves, we’re in danger of creating a new global underclass of people whose jobs are invisible. Today these ‘ghost workers’ don’t just manufacture clothing in factories worldwide, they are much closer to home doing repetitive, labour-intensive sub-contracting jobs which have only just been created – such as training AI systems or moderating online content.
There are a few apps now emerging to support gig workers and employees, and ensure fair conditions, rights, and pay. One of these is Organise, which helps people come together to start a campaign to improve workers’ rights. Another is Workerbird, an app-based system that allows workers to collect data about their pay and conditions, and access support to improve their situation in the workplace.
2. The environmental and green sector
Inspired by the new focus on climate change and the environment, and the growing visibility of impacts including ocean pollution and global water shortages, a new breed of business is trying to tackle some of these enormous challenges.
Ocean pollution is one area that desperately needs solutions fast, and while it’s not a problem that can be tackled by startups alone, there are some exciting businesses developing technology that could go some way towards a solution.
One of these is the Amsterdam-based startup, The Great Bubble Barrier. This small team has come up with an incredibly simple and innovative solution to clean up water and remove the plastic waste.
A pipe laid across the bed of the river emits a current of air that rises to the surface – fish don’t even notice it and swim straight through. This air creates a screen that blocks plastic waste from floating further downstream; pushing it to the surface and guiding it into a catchment area. It’s that simple. Successfully tested on the river Ijssel, the project is now set to be deployed in heavily polluted rivers in Asia.
3. Agricultural technology and new farming
Agricultural technology, or agtech, is a sector that has been largely ignored by the press over the last few years. However, this has not stopped it from exploding. According to the World Economic Forum, more than £1.5bn was invested in the sector in 2017, and though the figures are not yet in, it looks like that topped £2bn worldwide last year.
Agtech is a very broad-based sector covering innovations including robots, AI, IoT, and platforms to connect farmers with buyers, alongside more conventional areas such genetically modified drops and new types of biostimulent pesticides and fertilisers.
However, one area that’s growing fast is livestock management. Dublin-based startup, Cainthus, uses computer vision to monitor cows 24/7 to pick up on health and productivity issues. Another, Rex Animal Health, based in the US uses machine-learning data to monitor and improve animal health; tracking the spread of diseases across continents.
There is also a big push on to create ways to tackle food insecurity, especially in cities as global populations become much more urbanised. Hydroponics, or the science behind growing food without soil, is key to this sector. Freight Farms, a Boston-based startup, has created a smart way to bring food closer to the consumer by developing a shipping-container sized farm environment that uses both hydroponics and LED lighting technology.
These are just three of the startup sectors that ambitious entrepreneurs should consider if they want to help revolutionise the way we live in the future. If only a small number of these entrepreneurs succeed, they could change everything.