Five things to look for during the coming year

Every year, there are emerging technologies and societal trends that shape innovation. Here are five major movements that Oregon entrepreneurs can look out for in 2017.

Women entrepreneurs, and women-centered products: As shown by the growing number of women entrepreneurs participating in the RAIN Eugene Accelerator last year, women are creating major ripple effects across the business landscape. A new group of female entrepreneurs is taking the stage to give women a voice and actively disrupt traditional models and industries. In some cases, these women entrepreneurs are creating products and services for underserved markets. Examples from the RAIN Eugene accelerator include recent graduates Animosa — a startup that makes eco-friendly kits for managing feminine hygiene in the outdoors or while traveling — and Heritage Laboratories, which creates skin care supplements for Asian-American women.

Not all of these firms are run by women. Pure Living, a startup from the OSU Advantage Accelerator/RAIN Corvallis, is an online news aggregator tailored to motherhood. It offers articles to educate and advise women on how to easily identify and reduce harmful effects of synthetic chemicals and naturally occurring toxins.

Social enterprises: Being profitable is no longer the only consideration for many entrepreneurs. Being mission driven and having a noticeable societal impact have become major areas of emphasis for some newly formed companies. Creating social value and finding ways to quantify that value are concerns for these kinds of businesses, regardless of sector. While the nonprofit sector was once the primary generator of social value, social enterprises recognize the need for market-driven stimuli to grow and increase their capacity for good. Oregon is already a leader in this type of business.

A local example from the RAIN Eugene Accelerator is the educational software company Analytic Spot. The firm makes software designed to assess students’ knowledge without conventional testing and aims to help teachers and parents to turn educational data into actionable insights to inform teaching and learning.

DiscJam, a product from the OSU Advantage Accelerator/RAIN Corvallis is another example. The company makes educational games combining music and motion to engage kids and adults with developmental disabilities.

Sharing economy: A trend that is picking up steam, particularly among millennials, the sharing economy is beginning to make the leap from good idea to functioning companies and services.

The principle behind the sharing economy is simply maximizing utility by putting a product in the hands of multiple consumers over the product lifecycle. If every consumer owns one of everything they need, society is severely underutilizing its resources. How often does someone use a lawnmower or a book?

By identifying opportunities to create value at multiple points from the same production inputs, the economy becomes more efficient at using its resources.

Harnessing the Internet of things: It seems like every year is heralded as the year the “Internet of things” will change the world. The “Internet of things” refers to objects that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.

The question is how will entrepreneurs incorporate such an incredible resource into their ideas and products.

The capabilities of computers that know everything there is to know about things in the real world are widely known, but companies effectively harnessing these capabilities are still underrepresented.

The possibilities for “Internet of things”-based startups continue to grow. Businesses can seek to utilize, categorize and analyze data, guide development, create networks and much more. As data becomes more readily available and of higher quality, companies able to harness its capabilities become critical cogs in the economy.

Alternative ownership models: As companies become more connected with their customers and their employees, there is increasing demand for joint and cooperative ownership models. Flat managerial models may serve to increase employee autonomy and motivation, and help to instill a sense of purpose throughout an organization.

These non-­traditional businesses also tend to have a greater focus on paying living wages, supporting their communities and being active in environmental stewardship. Millennials take pride and find value in being a stakeholder in a co-op or employee-owned business, and are more likely to frequent them as well. When a business model can have a significant impact on drawing customers from the largest pool of buyers in the U.S., it is time for companies to take notice.

While there are many other exciting developments on the horizon, these five areas have significant implications for Oregon entrepreneurs in 2017. Oregon is at the forefront of socially conscious development, and its entrepreneurs are part of the reason. By embracing these opportunities for growth, the state can continue to make strides toward being a national leader in innovation.

Entrepreneurs is produced by RAIN Eugene, the local branch of the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network.

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