Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eight Most Underrated Startup Opportunities

A few months ago, I was quoted by a Wall Street Journal reporter in an article, the inverse of this one, titled “The 7 Most Overrated Businesses” (I said no more traffic-driven social networks, please). Several people suggested that it might be more productive to list some positive opportunities, rather than problems, so it’s time for me to take another look into the crystal ball.

Generally, my picks lean toward “investor friendly” high technology ones, but since these are not so cheap and easy to start, I’ll add a few more, like Internet website and software products, that can be started on a shoestring these days:

  1. Smart-phone applications. People are buying iPhones and Droids in phenomenal numbers, and they want to see and do everything that they can do from their desktops, and more. Lots of existing applications are being “kludged” to work, but I see a great opportunity to offer innovative new solutions, and new applications.

  2. Social network marketing. Everyone tells me that the social networks have changed marketing and public relations drastically. I believe it will happen, but it hasn’t yet. I see the backlashes from early efforts, like Facebook’s “privacy trainwreck” which tells me the new norms haven’t been set yet, and there is still a big opportunity for innovation.

  3. Green. For those of you looking for startup ideas that are hot today and recession proof, consider anything to do with saving energy, sustaining the environment, or solutions to the global warming problem. True, there are many players already in this space, but there is room for many more, and room for some big winners.

  4. Biotech. In its most general sense, biotech is used to refer to any sort of technology that uses biology or other medical technology to accomplish its end. It includes the use of microbes, or life processes, to produce products that are useful to mankind. Even in tough times, people will spend big money preventing and treating illness.

  5. Sustainable energy. Renewable energy is a source that can be produced cleanly from natural sources. It will not disappear like fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and is less polluting. Leading examples are solar power, wind, ocean, biomass, hydro, and geothermal. I also see renewed interest in hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

  6. Health and wellness support. People are crying for more health and wellness information, and support groups. Something like 34 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and over are obese, and the solution is probably not a magic pill, but a credible regimen that can be delivered and monitored via the Internet. All the spam probably means there is a real market.

  7. Finding jobs and recruiting. Finding a job with a creative resume and blasting it to all comers hasn’t changed in 40 years. I think it’s time for job sites with real matching algorithms, to proactively “txt message” you in real time about perfect company matches. It can’t be as hard as dating sites, and it’s at least as important to your future. Where are the video and interactive elements in

  8. Medical devices. Today’s aging boomer generation and new healthcare legislation guarantees an ongoing demand for innovative medical devices that are less invasive, reduce costs, and otherwise enhance the quality and economics of healthcare delivery. These products are also considered “recession proof,” since treatment problems have been shown to actually increase during high stress periods.

Despite all this, the best opportunity for you is still the one you know the best. Don’t try to implement someone else’s dream. If your startup dream is not on this list, think twice about it, but don’t give it up. The best opportunities are still the ones that no one else has even recognized as a possibility. Those possibilities are endless.

Marty Zwilling




  1. That's a great list, but how are these the underrated ones? I see a continuous stream of startups in these categories. Perhaps not 7, but the rest are very active markets.

  2. @Jamie, I agree that there seem to be more startups than ever before, and some are hitting thses categories. Yet I see more still trying to squeeze into the social network arena, dating sites, and tradional ones like restaurants.

  3. This is a great list. I am of the belief that the companies that will thrive in the "new economy" will be the ones who gain from improving the world. I especially like the renewable energy ideas. There are a lot of opportunities especially with some states offering Bond Financing programs for homeowner who decide to take their house "off the grid"

  4. Do you know about Jason Alba started this great website to help people with their job searches.

  5. For 2010, this is a great list of areas where start-ups could be very profitable if filling a niche. I think current recruitment companies are starting to change though and "get with the times". I saw one agency/ portal website in Australia that said - Sign in with your Linked In profile. Could your Linked In profile replace the CV/ resume? Still, there's room for tech innovation in all these areas. Thanks Marty :)

  6. Love your insights Marty, but Cleantech is arguably one of/the hottest overall sectors right now (#3 & #5). Moreover, #5 sustainable energy concepts - like many Cleantech areas - are ultimately infrastructure plays. In other words, dealing with utilities, government policy, hard goods manufacturing & distribution, etc. Thus, the sector is hot yet also heavy.

  7. I like your list as well. Being a new user to the iphone I completely agree with #1. Apps available that are easy to purchase and cheap are revolutionizing the software biz. It will take awhile for it to catch on in the corporate world, but this new way of creating and distributing software (along with what Google is doing) works hand in hand with startups.

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