From the December 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

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Green Products
New!

Even Wal-Mart sells organic cotton T-shirts these days, but you definitely don't have to be a retailing behemoth to take your business in a green or organic direction. In fact, entrepreneurs have an advantage when it comes to reaching customers who care about the cause as well as the products.

"It's a highly underrated opportunity for small business," says Dr. Karel J. Samsom, a specialist in environmental and sustainable entrepreneurship and author of Spirit of Entrepreneurship. A study by the Organic Trade Association shows that nonfood organic product sales reached $744 million in U.S. consumer sales in 2005, with supplements, personal care and household products leading the charge. For green entrepreneurs, passion is key, says Samsom: "People who are imbued with this kind of spirit have an incredible imagination to rebuild the value chain and inspire their customers in the process."

That passion is evident when talking to Jonelle Raffino, 41, of South West Trading Co. Inc., a Tempe, Arizona, business that specializes in earth-friendly, alternative fibers and textiles such as yarns made from bamboo, corn and even recycled crab shells. "This country is seeing that we need to challenge the idea of products that use fossil fuels," says Raffino, who co-founded the company in 2001 with her mother, Jonette Beck. Business is booming so much, they've expanded into ready-to-wear items, and they can barely keep up with demand for their line of plush Soy-Silk Pals toys.

We'll take an in-depth look at the trend in our April 2007 issue, so stay tuned. --A.C.K.

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Alternative Energy
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

Got grease? Justin Carven of Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems LLC does. The 29-year-old founder's Easthampton, Massachusetts, business makes conversion kits that allow diesel engines to run on vegetable oil. "Ultimately, it's the rising fuel prices that are convincing people to get onboard," says Carven (above). Greasecar sales have grown by more than 200 percent each year over the past couple of years and are expected to reach up to $2.5 million this year. And the company is jumping into the commercial and municipal markets with enthusiasm.

Some major alternative energy growth areas include solar, hydrogen, bio-fuel, fuel cells and energy conservation technologies. Development, installation and creative application of these technologies are all possibilities for entrepreneurs. "It won't be just one alternative energy source that will be the silver bullet to solve our problems; it will be multiple options," says Nabil Nasr, director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Research firm Clean Edge expects the worldwide market for clean energy to reach $167 billion within a decade, up from $40 billion in 2005. Entrepreneurs will have to find their niches and build flexible companies that can react as the energy market changes. Nasr advises businesses to diversify their marketing and selling sources.

"It's really easy for startups to pop up overnight," says Carven. "This market is larger than people may think." --A.C.K.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Food and Drink Ideas

Dessert-Only Restaurants
New!

Chocolate cafes made our list last year, and while they still offer a tasty opportunity, they've spurred an equally tantalizing concept: dessert-only restaurants. A clear indication of America's growing sweet tooth is in consumers' dining habits. According to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC, nearly one in three fine-dining operators reported that consumers bought more desserts this year than two years ago. Fine-dining operators also indicated the strongest growth in desserts.

In January, Stephane Lemagnen and Laurent Lanneau, 31 and 34, respectively, catered to the craving by opening Room 4 Dessert, one of New York City's first dessert-only establishments. The restaurant offers a variety of dessert-tasting menus to be paired with wines and teas, and culinary masterpieces are created before customers' very eyes. No wonder curious pastry chefs visit from the West Coast, visitors consider the dessert bar a must-hit spot in New York, and the media--even in Japan--just can't seem to get enough.

The high-end, dessert-only concept is so tempting that competitors have already put their hands in the cookie jar and opened their own. But Lemagnen, who projects 2006 sales of about $500,000, feels secure with his piece of the pie. "Each pastry chef is so unique and creative that each dessert bar is going to have its own character," he says. And with the restaurant industry set to reach a record high of $511 billion in annual sales this year, according to Riehle, there's nothing bitter about this sweet trend. --S.W.

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Chocolate
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

The verdict is in: Chocolate has officially gone from sinful to unstoppable. In fact, trend-watching firm Datamonitor named chocolate "the new coffee" in a list of the top 10 trends to watch. But that's not all: Studies have come out demonstrating the health benefits of flavanoids often contained in dark chocolate. Sales are soaring (dark chocolate sales were up 40 percent in 2006, according to Mintel International), and entrepreneurial opportunities are rich with promise. "Chocolate is more popular today than ever before," says Joan Steuer, founder and president of Chocolate Marketing LLC, a Los Angeles consulting firm that specializes in strategic forecasting and tracking trends in the chocolate industry.

So stop drooling and take a bite of the action. Dark, artisanal, organic, socially responsible and nutraceutically enhanced chocolates are especially hot varieties, according to Steuer. Opportunities also exist in chocolate cafes, chocolate fountains and chocolate education, such as tastings. And you can't go wrong with basics like chocolate snacks or a shelf-stable ganache. Says Steuer, "The world of chocolate is wide open for anyone to succeed if they take the right steps." --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Burger Restaurants
New!

Americans always have a buck for a burger. In fact, this American staple is getting so much attention that it's inspiring some of the country's top chefs to start their own burger restaurants--including husband-and-wife team Tim and Liza Goodell, 40 and 36, respectively.

These restaurateurs just added 25 Degrees, a Hollywood, California, burger and wine bar, to their impressive list of restaurants. Offering assorted toppings such as caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and a variety of high-end cheeses, this isn't your typical burger joint. And neither is the sophisticated setting of crystal chandeliers, leather booths and velvet wallpaper. The 1,700-square-foot restaurant opened in February and is already on track to bring in $1,000 per square foot this year. "Hamburgers are the most commonly eaten food in the United States," says Tim, who plans to open several more locations in the Western U.S.

Ivan Brown, brand manager of ground beef at Cargill Meat Solutions, a producer of ground beef in Wichita, Kansas, couldn't agree more. According to Brown, 8.5 billion burgers were served in commercial restaurants during the 12 months ending March 2006. Entrepreneurs can beef things up with upgrades, customization and flavor. Give consumers high-end toppings, the freedom to create, and ethnic and untraditional flavor options, and this is one item certain to keep the grill red-hot. For those interested in franchising, check out this month's "What's New" column on page 126 for information about gourmet burger chain The Counter. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Healthy Food
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

America has a growing appetite for all things healthy. From zero trans-fat snacks to fortified foods with added health benefits, if it's good for the consumer, it's most likely good for business. Even candy is being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, healthy extracts and vitamin C. But the real buzzword is organic. According to the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Massachusetts, organic food sales in the U.S. totaled nearly $14 billion in 2005, with double-digit growth expected from 2007 to 2010. According to the association's press secretary, Barbara Haumann, consumers--especially the Generation Y crowd--are happy to do away with added hormones, antibiotics and genetic modifications.

Not sure there's room for more competitors on the organic playing field? Have no fear. Opportunities abound, especially in niche areas like alcohol (according to the Organic Trade Association, organic beers grew from $9 mil-lion in 2003 to $19 million in 2005), candy, condiments and sauces, not to mention food for kids, babies and pets.

Gigi Lee Chang, 39, received a warm welcome when she officially launched her line of organic, frozen baby food products nationwide in major retailers like Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market as well as smaller natural and organic grocery stores this past August. Based in New York City, Plum Organics is the first to launch organic, frozen baby food on a national level, and Chang expects 2007 sales to hit $1 million. Not bad for a company in its infancy. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Wine
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

As long as grapes bud from vines, the wine business will be bursting with flavorful opportunity. According to John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a St. Helena, California, non-profit wine trade association, the wine industry has enjoyed significant growth for the past 12 years, with today's big wine drinkers being baby boomers as well as some in the Millennial generation (those ages 21 to 29). Estimated at $26 billion, with a 115 percent increase since 1995, the wine industry likely won't be sobering up anytime soon.

Wine has such appeal that a variety of businesses can be seen cropping up--from wine bars and wine stores to educational in-home tastings and ancillary products that enhance the overall wine experience. And now that new laws legalizing online wine sales have uncorked the industry, entrepreneurs are finding a worldwide market to conquer. Attracting the masses means keeping your wines inexpensive and drinker-friendly. "In a lot of retail environments and on some wine lists, there has been a movement toward categorizing wines by their flavor profile rather than strictly by their grape variety or by their country or region of origin," says Gillespie. Also growing in popularity are wines packaged in single-serving bottles and wines topped with a screw cap.

No matter how you twist it, package it or label it, if you specialize in wine, consumers will gladly toast your efforts. Even NASCAR drivers are producing their own vintages--a surefire indication that it's all systems go. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Coffeehouses
Years on the list: 4 out of 20

Whether it's a drip, a latte or a cappuccino, Americans are addicted to their coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, specialty coffee was an $11 billion industry in 2005, up from $9.6 billion in 2004. But some historians theorize that what Americans are really looking for in their cup of joe is a sense of belonging. "We spent so much of the post [World War II] period in this country retreating inside suburban houses [with] fenced-in back-yards," says Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who spent a year studying Starbucks. "Coffeehouses play to [the] desire [to be] out, even if you don't talk to anyone."

For Beth Livedoti, 29, Jeff Furton, 29, and Stephanie Lemmo, 28, entering the industry in 2004 meant opening a window--or two. At The Daily Rise Expresso, a double-sided coffee and smoothie drive-thru in Ogden, Utah, customers come for more than a drink. "[Some customers] come in two to three times a day just to talk," says Livedoti. "We are their little piece of sanity." Year-end sales will reach $300,000, a second location opened earlier this year, and franchising is in its future.

If a coffeehouse isn't for you, think products like Java Juice, a liquid extract straight from the bean. Other niches include aftermarket products like Coca-Cola Blak and products that incorporate coffee for its health benefits--caffeine's been linked to decreasing the risk of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, Parkinson's disease and even gallstones. --S.W.

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Science & Tech

Social Networking
New!

The hot social spots these days aren't in the hip clubs--instead, they're online, where users connect, share information, and make friends and business contacts. An August 2006 study by ComScore Media Metrix showed that nearly one-third of the web's more than 170 million users had visited MySpace. But those millions of social networking users don't automatically translate into success for entrepreneurs. That's why Konstantin Guericke, 39-year-old co-founder with Reid Hoffman, also 39, of business networking site LinkedIn , is glad they got a running start in 2003. "We focused on growing the network as quickly as possible," says Guericke, adding that 2006 sales grew tenfold over 2005.

Not all social networking startups will survive and thrive. But things look good for LinkedIn, which has more than 7 million users and reached profitability earlier this year. Says Guericke, "We're not doing anything that's new, but we're trying to give [users] a better way to do it. You can't be just a little better; you have to be significantly better." Businesses that aim to be the next MySpace should probably reconsider. Smart entrepreneurs will avoid the saturated areas and head for niche markets, such as seniors, music fans, groups of local users, pet owners or dating groups. If you're planning to catch this blazing bandwagon, now is the time. As Guericke says, "Five years from now, we won't be talking about social networks--it will just be integrated in every application you see." --A.C.K.

Bluetooth Gear
New!

Bluetooth is turning out to be the little technology that could. With an estimated install base of at least 1 billion devices by the end of 2006, it's a veritable tidal wave of blue. For entrepreneurs, feeling blue can be a good thing. Bluetooth is showing up in cell phones, PDAs, cars, digital cameras and billboards. Billboards? Yep. Push advertising that sends product messages to passersby is a new market with a lot of potential.

Look into wirelessly pushing information (like new menu items, coupons or train times), and you have a new market for creative uses of the technology--and new entrepreneurial opportunities related to Bluetooth services and device creation. "We see a large number of smaller companies [entering the market]," says Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group in Bellevue, Washington. "There is lots of space for either smarter devices or devices that take advantage of services people want to employ." Services might include push advertising, information transmittal, remote control capabilities or mobile commerce.

Here's one reason now is a good time for entrepreneurs to consider Bluetooth as a business: "We're working to create a high-speed channel within Bluetooth," says Foley. "[One of] the next progressions is high-quality video." That will make room for large-bandwidth applications, like moving hefty multimedia files from TVs and DVRs to mobile devices. The next couple of years will be prime development time for this new version of Bluetooth. You won't have to hold your breath to get blue in the face! --A.C.K.

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Virtual Economies
New!

Those kids you knew who spent their weekends playing Dungeons & Dragons were onto something. Virtual games and worlds are spawning virtual economies. "It's a real economy, but it exists in a virtual space, a computer-generated, earth-like environment that has persistence and physics," says Edward Castronova, associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University in Bloomington. He points to the online video game World of Warcraft, which hit 7 million subscribers in September, as the largest example of a virtual economy in action.

Entrepreneurs will have to look beyond potions and battle helms for opportunities, though. That's what Sibley Verbeck's The Electric Sheep Company has done. The 31-year-old founder and CEO (above, in both real- and virtual-world versions) helms a team of nearly 30 employees that builds virtual 3-D experiences, including the open-ended virtual world of Second Life .

Online video games may have more participants, but virtual worlds like Second Life are wide open to creative business models that enhance in-world play. "You have to build your business around an aspect of the virtual world that makes [your business] fundamentally better than other platforms," says Verbeck. Think virtual real estate speculation, content creation and even ultra-interactive online learning spaces for 3-D collaboration. "This is like the opening of the frontier combined with the collapse of communism," says Castro-nova. "I would advise entrepreneurs to go play video games for a while." --A.C.K.

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Home Automation and Media Storage
Years on the list: 3 out of 20

A Jetsons-style home may not be that far off. Increasingly, home is where the high-tech is, and there's a need for entrepreneurs to pitch in to this burgeoning market. Broadband is rampant, networking technology has matured, and consumer devices and desires are ramping up. "It's been a slow-growth industry that is finally turning the corner," says Stoneham, Massachusetts, home systems consultant Kenneth Wacks .

Wacks points out some red-hot areas in the home automation and media storage market: lighting control, security systems, energy management, comfort control, entertainment systems and networked kitchen appliances. There's room for creative product development ideas, but entrepreneurs should also investigate the service side. Once homes are relying on all these technology items, consumers will need someone to make sense of it all, install equipment, and maintain and service the systems.

Home theaters, media servers, automated lighting and talking toasters aren't just for rich folks anymore. OK, we made up the talking toasters. But it's not that far-fetched. "Re-examine the mundane and find the gems, and apply your creativity," advises Wacks. It's a market with more facets than a princess-cut diamond. For more information, visit the Continental Automated Buildings Association and the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association . --A.C.K.

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Nanotechnology
New!

Good things come in small packages. Really, really small packages. There's a lot happening in both the development of nanotechnology and in practical applications. Magnus Gittins, CEO of nanotech commercialization business Advance Nano-tech in New York City, looks at three main areas: displays, homeland security and medical devices. "The number of startup companies involved in nanotechnology is increasing rapidly," says Gittins. "In 2007, we'll get real products out there--exciting products, not just coatings or fabrics."

For some entrepreneurs, nanotech will be their business. But a wider pool of companies will want to use nanotechnology to improve their existing products. "The challenge [for] entrepreneurs with existing products is [asking], 'How does nanotechnology apply to what [I'm] doing, and does it create a tangible increase in performance?'" says Gittins.

Nanotech is already out there in the form of pants that won't stain and shirts that won't wrinkle, but that's just the tiny tip of what's to come. The National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015, the U.S. will command about 40 percent of the $1 trillion worldwide market for nanotech products and services. That's a big number for such a tiny technology. --A.C.K.

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Helping Seniors & Kids

Nonmedical Health Care
Years on the list: 4 out of 20

Tomorrow's forecast? Gray. According to the Census Bureau, 13 percent of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2010. By 2030, the figure will jump to 19.6 percent. Many older people want to remain in their family home as long as they can, so savvy entrepreneurs are rushing in to provide a range of nonmedical home care services that help them age in place. "We call this 'pre-assisted living,'" says Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice in Washington, DC. "You help people perform the simple functions of daily living and don't let them get so run down that they wind up in assisted living or the emergency room."

The biggest obstacles to breaking into nonmedical home care are often the seniors themselves, who are reluctant to acknowledge their needs. "You have to have a staff that's trained to work with seniors and help them become comfortable with the choices you offer," says Andrea Cohen, 48, co-founder and CEO of HouseWorks in Newton, Massachusetts. With projected 2006 sales of $10 million, HouseWorks provides personal care assistance, companionship, home modification, cleaning and relocation services. --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Transition Services
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

Even though many seniors want to live in their own homes as long as they can, others need or want to move on to one of the many residential options ahead. That transition is often a daunting one, though, leaving many seniors and their families reeling from the challenges. "There are often difficult family dynamics," says Steven Weisman, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, elder law attorney and author of Boomer or Bust. "Sometimes the children have competing interests. Sometimes they're half a continent away and need someone on location to help meet their parents' needs. This is a chance for entrepreneurs to do well in this area while doing good."

After working as an assisted living administrator, Bryan Neal, 34, saw so many problems with seniors on the move that he started Assisted Moving LLC in Plymouth, Michigan. "There are often 50 years of accumulated possessions in [their] homes," says Neal, whose 3-year-old company projects 2006 sales of $225,000. "Families call and ask if I'll be the villain, because mom and dad don't understand why everything can't go into the new place." Neal's company has a systematic downsizing plan complete with software showing the dimensions of the new home. Once the seniors see what will really fit, Assisted Moving helps them decide what to pass on, holds estate sales to sell other items, discards unwanted items and moves what the seniors keep into their new homes. --K.O.

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Kids Incorporated

Education and Tutoring
Years on the list: 5 out of 20

Colleges keep getting more competitive, and parents want to give their children every possible edge. Add to that the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to provide tutoring services if their programs don't meet performance standards, and you have a solid market in education and tutoring. According to data from Eduventures LLC, an educational market research and consulting firm in Boston, revenue in the tutoring, test-preparation services and supplemental content industry for kindergarten through twelfth grade grew 6 percent in the 2004-2005 school year, reaching $21.9 billion.

Online tutoring, a $115 million market, is one of the hottest areas, especially for high school and middle school students, notes Eduventures senior analyst Tim Wiley. Selling tutoring services to schools is also sizzling, though Wiley notes entrepreneurs in this arena should be prepared to meet all the local, regional and state school requirements. For grades three through eight, reading and math tutoring is always in high demand, but look to science tutoring as a growth area in the next few years. Preschool education, too, is expected to grow exponentially, says Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey--especially as more states mandate preschool for all children.

Carving out a niche in this market is Marc Stelzer, 41, co-founder of the Learning Breakthrough Program in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His developmental and learning program helps children age 6 and up with academic, cognitive and even motor skills. Marketing the product online ( www. learningbreakthrough.com ) as well as through therapists and professional associations, Stelzer expects sales to reach $600,000 in 2006--his first year in business. --N.L.T.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Sports Education
New!

Kids' sports--from baseball and soccer to basketball and volleyball--are hot, and entrepreneurs jumping into the sports education field are scoring big. With so many parents wanting to help their kids excel in their sport of choice, there's a big market willing to shell out good money to train young superstars-to-be. Just ask Ivan and Sherri Shulman, 44 and 46, respectively, who founded The Sports House in Houston. The all-inclusive sports training company boasts two facilities with camps, clinics and daily sports classes. It even hosts parties.

"[There's] something about sports I learned a long time ago," says Sherri. "A plumber is going to spend the same amount of money as a cosmetic surgeon to make [his or her] kid better." They're spending so much, in fact, that 2006 sales for The Sports House are projected to hit $1 million.

Getting into the market takes skill, notes Sally S. Johnson, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports in Stuart, Florida. She's noticed an increase in sports interest across the board--especially in organized youth sports--and suggests startup youth-sports trainers get training. NCYS offers administrative courses for youth-sports professionals, while the American Sport Education Program offers specialized coaching training as well as many other online tools for coaches. --N.L.T.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Kids' Cooking
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

Americans' interest in cooking has drizzled down to the nation's kids. From cooking classes and kits to full-fledged cooking parties, this still-hot category even includes kids' cookbooks in the recipe for success. "The awareness has risen," confirms Julia V. Jordan, president and founder of Spoons Across America, a New York City organization that provides food and cooking education programs to schools and community organizations nationwide. "There's much more of an interest [in] having children learn the skill of cooking."

And entrepreneurs like Barbara Beery, founder of Batter Up Kids Culinary Center, are stepping up to teach them. Batter Up Kids started out offering cooking classes, but today the Austin, Texas, business also retails cooking kits and cookbooks written by Beery, with annual sales of about $465,000. The interest has been so strong, in fact, that Beery, 52, started franchising her concept this year. According to Beery, "[Cooking] is a life skill, and if we didn't present it in a fun format, kids wouldn't want to keep coming back."

Whether a kids' cooking business takes a recreational bent or a more serious one, like teaching children about health and food preparation, the key, experts say, is to keep it fun and age-appropriate. Even kids as young as 2 can participate with doughy, cookie-type foods. Tweens are a great entry point into the market, as are simple cooking parties. Jordan suggests looking to regional food trends for what's hot with kids in your area. --N.L.T.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Teen Party Planning
New!

Blame MTV's My Super Sweet 16 for showing teens nationwide the extremes the super-wealthy go to for a child's coming-of-age soiree. American teens, who number more than 70 million, want what's hot at their parties--from bar and bat mitzvahs to sweet 16s, quinceañeras and other coming-of-age rites. Whether you start a new specialty, add teen parties to your existing event planning business, or specialize in peripheries like security or entertainment, teen parties have an angle for everyone.

Party planner Marley Majcher, 37, who founded Pasadena, California-based The Party Goddess! Inc. in 2000, suggests walking the fine line between making teens happy and making their purse-string-holding parents even happier. "You have to be a really good listener and see yourself as a liaison," she says.

To succeed, bone up on trends. Majcher, whose company brought in $1 million this year, notes that lounge setups are in vogue for teens. Because music and entertainment are paramount to any teen shindig, hooking up with hot DJs in your area can help you break into the market. And you'll definitely want to market in areas with high disposable income. --N.L.T.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Wellness and Staffing

Niche Gyms
Years on the list: 5 out of 20

When Jane Silber decided to get help for her 9-year-old daughter's weight problem, she found that lots of gyms didn't allow children to come in and work out. Mindful of Centers for Disease Control findings that the percent-age of overweight children has tripled since 1980, Silber, 41, recognized a hot business opportunity. This past August, she opened Generation Now Fitness for tweens and teens in Chatsworth, California, equipping it with kid-size, fun-to-operate exercise equipment, a smoothie bar, a study room and other amenities. "I wish something like this was around when I was a kid," says Silber, a former restaurateur who projects $1 million in first-year sales.

The kid gym concept is a hot one--witness the exciting buildup to Karen Jashinsky's O2 MAX fitness club for Los Angeles teens, featuring workouts as well as an internet cafe and tutoring, in "Biz 101" on page 110--but other niche gyms are sizzling, too. "[The] business model focuses not on the general consumer, but on one demographic and then builds the club and all its services around that profile," says Kathleen Rollauer, senior manager of research for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association in Boston. "The prime example is Curves, which came on the scene because [it] recognized the barriers to women in a typical health club." Nifty After Fifty in Whittier, California, fills another niche, offering people over age 50 physical and mental exercise routines, a driving-skills program, physical therapy and social activities. --K.O.

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Inclusive Design
New!

Fifty million Americans have some sort of physical limitation that makes it hard for them to use tools or function in environments designed for the able-bodied. When they look for products that make their lives easier, they often find that those products are, in a word, hideous. When building contractor Abbie Sladick, 43, founder and president of Abbie Joan Enterprises in Naples, Florida, suggested to an elderly client that she install a grab bar in her new marble and glass-block bathroom, the woman told her she'd rather fall than let her friends know she had one. "Those were the words that created a product," says Sladick, who founded a new company, Great Grabz, which has sales of more than $350,000 in its third year. Forget white plastic: Great Grabz designs and manufactures stylish grab bars in materials like brushed nickel to match the look of homes, hotels and other buildings. "Our bars are a beautiful accessory, not an eyesore."

"Fifty million is a lot of people," says Valerie Fletcher, director of Adaptive Environments, a Boston educational nonprofit that promotes design geared to all users. "It's not just people in wheelchairs. You have to think beyond mobility. Think about hands, eyes, ears, stamina and other issues." Fletcher emphasizes that the opportunities to fill a niche in this field are everywhere. From can openers to canes, products should be both functional and stylish. --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

May I Help You?

Employee Screening
New!

Events of the past 20 years have created a sort of "perfect storm" for the employee screening industry--notably the 1987 crash of a train driven by a marijuana-fogged engineer in Maryland, the rise of identity theft, and 9/11 and the ensuring terrorist alerts. According to Robert Capwell, founder of Pittsburgh's Comprehensive Information Services Inc. and co-chair of the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, employee screening is now a multibillion-dollar industry. "When I started 17 years ago, there were only about 30 companies," he says. "Now there are 362 background screening companies in NAPBS, and they're telling us their businesses grew by 25 percent to 30 percent in the past year."

The industry is trending toward one-stop shopping, offering pre-employment drug and alcohol testing as well as education verification, fingerprinting, credit and driving history reports, INS verification, and background checks for criminal or terrorist activities. "Employers want to be sure people are who they say they are," says Tricia Smith, 35. She is the founder and CEO of Secure Check Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, whose sales will reach nearly $1 million in 2006. "They also want to know who their vendors are bringing in."

Smith believes there's plenty of room for growth in the field, noting that she's been hired as an expert witness in several negligent hiring cases. "There is a rise of litigation in this area," she says. "The question is, Should you have known an employee's propensity for a certain behavior before hiring them?" --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Staffing Services
Years on the list: 15 out of 20

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, staffing services will be one of the fastest-growing industries over the next five to 10 years. If you know how to lasso talent for some high-demand professions, you might be a contender in this still-hot field. "Sourcing and deploying talent is not a core competency of most businesses," says Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association in Alexandria, Virginia. "There is more art than science when it comes to finding the right people."

Entrepreneurs new to the business aren't likely to do well pitting themselves against the huge, full-service staffing giants like Manpower, Wahlquist says. Rather, accountants, lawyers, nurses, mental health professionals, engineers and pharmacists, among others, are finding success using their connections and insider savvy to create niche staffing services for their own professions.

Another hot niche? Many employers are looking for workers over the age of 50--particularly temporary and consulting hires. "They want them for both their experience and their work ethic," says Edward Caliguiri, 49, a partner in The Response Companies, a staffing services firm in New York City with sales of $30.5 million. "Over-50s are also in great demand for consulting assignments because they have depth and breadth of experience throughout different business cycles." --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Miscellaneous Ideas

Specialty Apparel
Years on the list: 4 out of 20

Everyone wants to feel special. That's why women will shell out serious money for a fantastic pair of shoes, even when there's a nearly identical pair at the discount store down the road.

Women are increasingly looking to specialty retailers to satisfy their appetites for hip, hard-to-find clothing. Even men are jumping onboard, with stores like ROAD Apparel--which started in 2005 when brothers Raj and Akhil Shah, 52 and 50, debuted a flagship store in downtown Seattle--offering specialty apparel for 30- to 60-year-old men. Sales for 2006 have already grown 700 percent over last year.

Among women, growth areas include specialty athletic apparel, maternity wear, footwear, clothing for over-40s, and petite and plus sizes. Think high-end: Market research firm The NPD Group notes that loyal customers of upscale retailers buy more than 25 percent of their apparel at high-end stores and spend an average of $95 per shopping trip.

That's where brands like Trigelle come into play. Liza Boquiren, 30, co-founded the Brea, California, women's golf wear company with sister and sole designer Lulu Faddis, 34, along with friends Jocylyn Corpuz and Karen Lee Santos, both 29. "We want to be the golf line that people go to," says Boquiren, who debuted their apparel at a trade show in 2004 with just 17 pieces. "We want to be a household name." Now available in more than 250 golf resorts, pro shops and high-end retailers worldwide, Trigelle projects $1 million in sales for 2007--helped in part by the three professional women golfers they sponsor. --K.E.S.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Plus-Size Products
Years on the list: 5 out of 20

The numbers don't lie. The average American woman is a size 12 to 16, and 30 percent of all U.S. adults are obese. Meanwhile, London-based researcher Mintel International Group Ltd. reports the plus-size clothing market reached nearly $32 billion in 2005. It's no wonder plus sizes are making waves.

In fact, within the plus-size market, niches are cropping up for the underserved--including plus-size clothing for petites and pregnant women. "Each of [these groups] has a real need for stylish clothes in their size," says Candace Corlett, principal at New York City retail consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. "While department and chain specialty stores offer good selections of plus sizes, the selection in the niches of petite and maternity are slim pickings." The reason? There's just not enough traffic to justify devoting more than a few racks.

Natalie Weathers, assistant professor in the fashion industry management department at Philadelphia University, adds that over-40 women, including plus sizes, are craving more variety. This market segment "wants to wear age-appropriate clothing but have a hipper look," she says. Some entrepreneurs are responding with websites or boutique stores, offering outstanding service that makes customers want to go out of their way to visit.

You're not limited to these niches. The NPD Group also reports that one-third of overweight children wear adult or junior size clothing for lack of properly fitting children's clothes. Nor are you limited to clothing: extra-large products like baby seats, doorways, caskets, furniture and bath towels are also in demand. --K.E.S.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

 

Baby Boomer Career Counseling
New!

Layoffs, health problems and other challenges are pushing baby boomers out of their jobs earlier than they might have intended, spurring many to hunt for new employment or change career paths altogether. And unlike their parents, many baby boomers see no reason to quit working just because they hit 65--hey, age is just a number! In fact, a study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, found that most boomers plan to work past the typical retirement age.

Entrepreneurs who want to provide them with career counseling must under-stand their varying needs. "For the people who have lost their jobs through layoffs, this is a crisis," says Heldrich Center director Carl Van Horn. "For the ones who are voluntarily changing careers because they felt unfulfilled in their first 20 years, it's a journey."

"These days, people actually talk about retirement careers, not just retirement," says Laura Berman Fortgang, 43, author of Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction and founder of Now What? Coaching, a one-woman business that earned $459,000 in 2006. "Over the past five years, my clients have almost exclusively become people who want to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives." --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Expanded Living Spaces
New!

The slowdown in home sales has been accompanied by a surge in overall residential remodeling, which totaled an estimated $238 billion in 2006, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Many of these dollars are being used to enhance existing spaces rather than add more square footage. Garages are among the spaces getting extreme makeovers to be used for hobbies, parties, wine storage and even cooking.

Remodeling fever has also hit the American backyard. "Over the last couple of years, there has been greater emphasis on outdoor living space," says Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC. "Outdoor kitchens and cooking spaces are a recent phenomenon, along with greater investments in decks, porches and gazebos. Lot sizes have been getting smaller, but people are using them more intensively."

Manufacturers are capitalizing on this trend by developing all-weather products--lamps, leather-like fabric and even rugs--for these super yards. "Porches, patios and backyards are being viewed as literal 'rooms' of the home," says Pat Bowling of the American Home Furnishings Alliance in High Point, North Carolina. "They're being furnished with the same considerations for style, comfort and function as the indoor living areas." Whether you provide the remodeling services or create the products, this opportunity has room to grow. --K.O.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Home Party Sales
New!

It's a party at your home--or better yet, at someone else's. Customers socialize, and you make money. Need more convincing?

Home parties now account for roughly 29 percent of the nearly $30 billion in U.S. direct sales, and 13.6 million Americans bought or sold goods from home in 2004. Direct sellers are hawking everything from organic gardening supplies to wine. Some are even hosting virtual parties online. And the numbers are growing, according to Amy Robinson of the Direct Selling Association in Washington, DC. "The majority of companies coming into [the] DSA are party plan companies," she says. "In a lot of cases, they are smaller, newer companies started by entrepreneurs from their basements."

Andrew Shure is one of them. Nationwide, he has 1,300 consultants selling Shure Pets pet products, and he predicts he'll have 2,800 by the end of 2007. "The only requirement at Shure Pets is a passion for pets," says Shure, 43, who launched the Chicago-based business in 2003 and projects sales of $1 million for 2006. Another example is Newburyport, Massachusetts-based Anna William, which lets customers design their own handbags. Kristen Lee, 29, launched the million-dollar company in 2003 with Keek Bielby, 57; Rani Chase, 36; and Erin Hornyak, 33--and already has 125 consultants nationwide.

Be sure to thoroughly research any company you're considering, and make sure you love the products. As Robinson says, "It's no fun to sell something you're not interested in." --K.E.S.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Extra Trends

Mobile Advertising: If you want to market your business, forget the Super Bowl. Instead, spread your message on the small screen--the really small screen, as in cell phones. With nearly two-thirds of our nation's population owning cell phones, according to CTIA Wireless, it's hard to imagine staying competitive if you don't. For businesses looking to capitalize, the cost of mobile marketing varies from very cheap (sending SMS messages) to expensive (sending video commercials). According to RBC Capital, U.S. spending on marketing and advertising over wireless networks is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2010.

Micropayments: There's a debate going on nationwide: Should we discontinue production of the penny? Not because people hate having a pocket full of copper, but because the cost of production exceeds one cent per penny. Conversely, the technology for micropayment transactions--small currency transfers typically less than $1 but as little as one cent--has made great strides. It is now a reasonable option for merchants and service providers to avoid the the cost of traditional payment processing on transactions smaller than that cost. Micropayments are performed largely online. Consumers have already been primed for micropayments without even realizing it--does 99 cents a song ring a bell? By 2009, TowerGroup expects micropayment revenue to reach $11.5 billion. Until then, put your dukes up for Honest Abe.

Robots : New biological data on how the human brain works is pushing robot sophistication to a new level. Stanford engineers have created a car that can drive itself; University of Florida students have developed a shopping cart that will follow shoppers through stores; and scientists at NEC System Technologies have developed a winebot to alert the home sommelier of skunky wine. None of these are commercialized yet, so aside from a few floor-cleaning bots, consumers will continue to wait. --S.C.

Serve It Up
If you own a restaurant, consider adding these options.

Let customers order online and pick food up. No one wants to hassle with a restaurant server to place a food order over the phone. Customers would much rather browse your menu online, input exactly what they want, and then drive to your place to pick it up. Already, 31 percent of consumers view restaurant menus online, according to the National Restaurant Association. And eOrders.com , an online ordering service provider, says its partner restaurants bring in nearly $4,000 to $5,000 in online orders per month. Customers can already search, customize and purchase just about everything else through the internet, so maybe it's time to add your restaurant to their menu. Who knows? It could supersize your bottom line.

Offer quick breakfasts. From feeding pets and ironing clothes to dropping the kids off at school, the typical morning routine leaves little or no time for a hearty breakfast. That's why if you serve food, quick breakfast options make for a tasty addition. Offerings like egg sandwiches and bagels are a great complement to those fancy coffees. The purveyor of the Egg McMuffin has even announced that it will serve its breakfast menu all day. The National Restaurant Association says nearly 40 percent of restaurants surveyed say breakfast sales growth is outpacing lunch and dinner. That's some good news to wake up to.

Add exotic salads to your menu. Consumers are ready for something different on their salads. How about some baby arugula, shredded parmesan, caramelized onions and candied walnuts with balsamic dressing? This makes iceberg lettuce with a few cherry tomatoes and ranch dressing sound pretty blah. Premium salads are paying off at all types of eateries, even fast food: Since 2003, McDonald's has sold more than $2 billion of its premium salads and continues to add to its menu, including an Asian-inspired salad. It's time to break out the gorgonzola and pears.

If You Have A Health-Food Business...
Market to schools . Our nation's youth isn't getting any skinnier. As a result, schools are seeking healthier food options to serve on campus. Many schools already offer vegetarian or even vegan fare, and vending machines have also been getting a healthy makeover. Before you jump on the trend, check out the USDA School Meals website , which provides the eligibility requirements for schools to be reimbursed for meals. Also, check with your state and local government and schools for any special requirements. --S.C.

Death Becomes You
With creative funerals on the rise, the reaper's not so grim after all.

The funeral industry may not be in its prime, but personalized funerals will be alive and kicking in 2007. Baby boomers who demand that things be done "their way," coupled with innovative entrepreneurs and a trend toward cremations, are shaking life into this lifeless industry. So bid farewell to the traditional church funeral and say hello to memorial services held on golf courses, ashes scattered while skydiving and cremains launched into outer space by rockets. According to Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, author of Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, "There will be a whole different array of services and merchandise to accommodate people who only want cremation, who don't want to pay $3,000 for the ornate traditional casket, who don't need embalming, who don't need that open-casket wake at the funeral home."

Any important event needs an event planner, and funerals are no exception. In 2000, Mark Duffey, 50, was one of a team of co-founders who created Everest Funeral Package LLC, a funeral concierge service in Houston. For a relatively small fee, they compare prices, plan funerals and accommodate all their customers' needs--24 hours a day. Ask them to arrange for bagpipers to play on a mountaintop, and they won't even bat an eye. They just rolled out their service in the U.S. late last year and are living it up with a million-dollar business.

But the possibilities don't end there. LifeGem in Chicago can transform carbon remains into a diamond in just 24 to 36 weeks. Suddenly the expression "diamonds are forever" takes on a whole new meaning. Hollywood-quality memorial movies are also a budding business. "Smart entrepreneurs are going to come up with new options," says Cullen. "For everyone who rolls his eyes, there's someone out there who will think [the] idea is the perfect thing for their loved one." --S.W.

Hot Market: Yoga Mamas
Cash in by meeting the demands of discerning moms.

You know you've seen them. You may even be one yourself--the highly educated, fashionable, health-conscious and, yes, affluent mom. The sort of mom who will spare no expense when it comes to her child. She buys organic products and shops at Whole Foods while squiring her baby around in a pricey Bugaboo stroller.

Whether it's the boomer moms in their 40s who've just started families, Gen Yers who are used to stylish things, or Gen X moms who have chosen when and how to bring their kids into the world and have made them the focal point, the language of Yoga Mamas is the same: They want the best for their kids, and they're willing to spend top dollar for it. In fact, this hot market helped boost sales of infant, toddler and preschool home furnishings and accessories to $8 billion in 2005--a 5.2 percent increase over the year before. That figure is expected to hit $9 billion by 2010, according to Packaged Facts.

Look for opportunities in anything organic, and be aware that moms want facts to back up natural and organic claims, says Maria Bailey, author of Marketing to Moms. Creating high-quality hard-bound photo keepsakes for moms is another niche to explore. Think customization, says Bailey, as the Yoga Mama is striving for her child to be unique.

Still, affluent moms aren't the only ones who prize distinctive products and services for their children. There is a trickle-down market for moms in other income brackets who aspire to the same things--healthy and happy youngsters with the best shoes, strollers, baby food, clothes, educational toys and accessories around. "Look at what moms are selling mom-to-mom online and see how you can modify those products [to the trickle-down market]," says Bailey. Word-of-mouth marketing is key: The Yoga Mama trusts other moms' recommendations above anything else. --N.L.T.

Hot market: Minority kids
Addressing diversity can put you in the money big time.

We've highlighted minority markets before, but the minority kids segment is hotter than ever now that 45 percent of U.S. children under age 5 are part of a racial minority--Asian American, black or Hispanic. Children in these rapidly growing communities will need every sort of product imaginable--and winning their brand loyalty today is critical. "As [this market] gets older, they're going to be less apt to try new brands," notes Tru Pettigrew, Boston-based senior vice president of urban and multicultural marketing with Alloy Media + Marketing. "But it's a lot more wide-open at a younger age because they're still exploring."

>Grabbing youngsters now will help you maintain your market strength as they reach their tween and teen years, when multicultural youth have tremendous buying power. Once they reach this age, music, fashion, gaming technologies and grooming products become high-demand items.

The key to reaching minority kids is "understanding cultural nuances and cultural differences, and becoming relevant," says Pettigrew. Think multicultural toys, like the ones found at Dolls Like Me , an online store with multicultural dolls, toys, books and accessories. Multicultural educational products are another promising area--the Sube Learning Language Thru Art, Music & Games curriculum ( www.sube.com ), which teaches Spanish and English to youngsters, is one example. Clothing, too, is an important segment of this market.

Start by targeting the key influencers, as this market responds particularly well to authentic communication and trusted sources. Depending on the product, that could mean parents, coaches, teachers, dance instructors and so on. Most important, be respectful and research the cultural variances intensely. Once they hit the tween years, these sophisticated consumers will understand the buying power they hold. --N.L.T.

Additional research by Carrie Brenner, Jada Cash and Kaia Lai.