According to PitchBook, VCs poured more than $148 billion into private companies in 2017. Series A funding rounds have grown – 39% were $25 million or larger, while less than a quarter were between $5 million and $10 million. Several virtual/augmented reality, drone, self-driving tech, and space-industry startups have reached billion-dollar valuations. And bitcoin, which started the year by breaking $1,000 for the first time since 2013, is now valued above $10,000.
Now as we enter 2018, we are looking forward to new investment opportunities, emerging startups, growing industries – and changing trends. From artificial intelligence and chat bots to ramped-up healthtech, here are just a few of the trends industry insiders are predicting for 2018:
- Artificial intelligence and chat bots. A recent survey found that half of small business owners are enthusiastic about automation technology, and of those, 87 percent believe it will have a positive impact on their business over the next five years. One field seeing the immediate impact of AI is customer service. Chat bots using enterprise AI present big opportunities for customer support, allowing startups to increase easy access to information and encourage dialogue between customers and sales staff.
- Resources for freelancers. Increasingly, startup founders and small business owners are turning to freelancers and contract hires. In fact, 42% of small businesses already use contract workers and there are now 55 million freelancers in the U.S. A number of startups like UpWork and Fiverr are already connecting contract workers to companies searching for talent, but other startups are addressing additional needs. Several of MicroVentures’ portfolio companies are actually within this space: Outsite offers remote living communities for contract workers looking to travel, while Singularity University and Coursera make it easy to learn new skills from anywhere.
- New tools for healthcare. There remains a massive opportunity for startups to disrupt healthcare. Even within the Midwest, 80% of the biggest deals of 2017 were in the healthcare technology space. And while healthtech was traditionally hard to scale, as it had long gestation cycles and significant go-to-market (GTM) challenges, AI and big data are easing the process as the industry begins a more rapid digitization. Even PwC’s Top Health Industry Issues of 2018 predicts securing the internet of things will be a “strategic investment” and artificial intelligence a “creating efficiency.”
- A return to consumers. While consumer tech did not experience the same investment activity in 2017 as it did in 2014-2015, many in Silicon Valley believe we will see it bounce back in 2018. At CES, attendees can expect to see connected homes and smart devices dominate. Many also expect enterprises to follow in Unilever’s footprints (shadowing its acquisition of Dollar Shave Club) and acquire digital-first, business-to-consumer brands.
- Blockchain moves beyond cryptocurrency. While bitcoin is tied to blockchain, blockchain technology is much more than simply a means with which to gain cryptocurrency. Blockchain-backed startups are finding niche ways to influence many industries, including gaming, finance, data storage, and more.
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