The Hot List

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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This article was originally published in the December 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Hot List.

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