Pet Products and Services

The truth about cats and dogs is they're living really posh. As more and more people treat their pets like children, pet spending is projected to reach $34.3 billion in 2004, according to Bob Vetere, COO and managing director of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. The good news is that 2005 should be even better for entrepreneurs. Vetere notes that high-tech products, such as timed feeders, and high-end products, like $7,000 doghouses, are showing the healthiest growth.

Online/Offline Learning

Employees need to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and technologies in their fields-and that makes corporate learning the hot spot in the online/offline learning industry. According to IT and telecom research firm IDC, worldwide online corporate learning revenues are expected to increase nearly 40 percent in 2004, while the Center for Business Practices estimates that 57 percent of businesses outsource their training. Angela Lovett, founder and CEO of WorldWideLearn.com, a web-based directory of online learning and educational resources in Calgary, Alberta, says the largest area of growth she's seen is in online degrees.

Online Matchmaking

The online dating boom is expected to grow from $398 million this year to $642 million by 2008, according to Jupitermedia, a provider of IT news, information and research. Finding your niche is key-Ian Klein found his when he started Boston-based OverweightDate.com. His site's membership has at least doubled in each of the past four years, and more growth is expected this year. The hottest spot in online matchmaking, however, is in niche social networking, not exclusive of dating. For example, ItsNotWhatYouKnow is an online business-networking site that partners with chambers of commerce. Looking to the future, Klein sees opportunity in location-based services. "Whether it's just two people for a drink, 200 people for a meeting or 2,000 people for a protest," he says, "location-based services will absolutely have an effect on social networking."

Video Games

Move over, lads-women are the dominant gamers online these days. AOL Digital Marketing Services says 85 percent of female gamers play online at least once a week, compared to only 80 percent of men. Another emerging gaming market is interactive gaming. Yourself!Fitness by Portland, Oregon-based ResponDesigntargets both markets with a video game where a virtual trainer leads the user through an exercise program. CEO Ted Spooner calls the video game platform the "entertainment center for the future home."

Home Improvement

Homeowners continue to tap low interest rates to invest in their homes-pushing the home improvement market to $125.8 billion this year, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Home organizing is hot-especially garage organizing, says Sandra Einstein, founder of e=mc2 Organizing & Coaching Consultants Inc.in Cleveland. For more on organizing, see "Clutter Busters" from our September issue.

Home Automation

The home automation industry includes lighting control, heating and air conditioning, audio and video, and more decadent setups like home theaters and bowling alleys. Ryan Herd, founder of Innovations in Home Entertainment, a Montville, New Jersey, home automation company, says the latest trend is DVD management. "It's like movies on demand," says Herd. The clients' DVD library is ripped to a server, enabling the movies to stream to any TV in the home. Herd notes that home security is also hot.