I spent the last couple of days at the Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland browsing the hundreds of startup booths and listening to talks and panels with a myriad of tech luminaries from around the globe. While it’s always possible to find an amazing company or two at an event like this it’s actually more useful to spot trends. I want to share three significant startup trends that stand out.
Internet of things (IOT)
We’ve been talking about it since the 70s and it appeared in Scifi 50 years before that: connected devices that make our environment smart. It seems it has finally arrived. At CES early this year I saw presentations from Cisco and GE about how these devices would change our lives. Now, at the web summit, there’s less talk and more action: the devices are here, the infrastructure is forming and the we can buy it. From smart shower heads to low-energy Bluetooth communication standards to birth control, the startups here jostle to reinvent a category or fight for a place in the sun so they can be recognised and snapped up by Google, GE or Apple.
As a side note to IOT, I find significance in the lack of wearables here. Wearables are the sub-group of Internet of things that we carry with us. Wearables seem to have taken too long to appear and while we have a plethora of fitness tracking devices, it seems wearables will quickly give way to newer paradigms:
– Embeddables, sensor devices in our bodies and clothing, such as e-contact lenses, under-skin identity chips, embedded headphones, mics, shoes, cloth and more.
– Thinkables, devices that extend our brain with external memory, control over the environment and direct nerve interaction.
Transhumanists rejoice in these startup trends.
Big data and AI
IBM Watson’s AI brain is now available to software engineers. Google opens up their AI through Android, analytics and other specific touch points. Entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and general product/idea people now have access to the largest digital brains on the planet.
While human brains have more connections, they cannot handle computation nearly as well. So how do we use that computation power? To spot patterns. We point the AI at a mass of data and it highlights trends. That might sound academic, however if you add in a vertical it can create magic and save lives. For example, take transport. Google and others have been struggling for years to create autonomous vehicles. A single vehicle with a mass of sensors struggles to drive even a simple urban route, however, 10,000 cars and devices spewing back sensor data and crunching in realtime, spotting traffic buildup, accidents, slow downs and more suddenly provides everything a car needs to drive itself.
The new formula for many start-ups will be take a vertical X, add big data and AI and get a new company. X + big data + AI = €$£
There remain a number of industries that await the digital revolution among them architecture, healthcare and finance. Well fintech has arrived. The sudden coalescing of money around fintech funds is a great indicator of the trend. A better one is the lineup of fintech companies at the Summit. Companies like Transferwise are challenging the banks and finding their way around regulations held over from a pre-internet age. These fintech startups basically fall into two groups: those making current methods of finance better (like putting a band aid on a gunshot wound) and those who want to reinvent how it works from the ground up.
The next 12 months will see a surge of companies in the latter group, riding on the coattails of efforts like Bitcoin who want to redefine money itself. No area of finance will escape as this startup trend reinvents money transfer, credit rating, savings, investment, wealth management and more.
There were many other trends and ideas that I got from the web summit. The startups were from around the world and it is clear that some of the best tech companies will not emerge from Silicon Valley but born in countries like Hungary, Israel and Ireland. Europe and the Middle East are squarely in the game.
So whether you are planning a new company or looking for a new direction within your enterprise look for opportunities in Internet of Things, in big data/AI and in fintech. Wherever you are in the world go build something great.
cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and thinks robots, AI and nanotechnology will change life exponentially in the coming decade.