Hot Trends to Explore

Tech and Home

Mobile Add-Ons
The mobile market is big--really big. A report by CTIA, an international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, estimates there are more than 180 million wireless customers in the U.S.--that's a lot of tiny screens. From business applications to software, digital content and more, the sky's the limit for innovative entrepreneurs. KidsOK in the United Kingdom, for one, has developed software that allows parents to track their children by pinging their cell phones with a text message.

Paul Scanlan, co-founder of MobiTV, a Berkeley, California, TV and radio service provider for mobile phones, says opportunities abound because many carriers are giving away phones with advanced capabilities, like watching TV. And as Scanlan, 35, points out: "In the internet market, most services [are] free, but in mobile, everybody is conditioned to pay for it."

At some point, though, consumers won't be able to afford all those cool services, right? Scanlan, whose business has grown from 15 to 115 employees in just two years, observes that increased data plans have been accompanied by cheaper voice plans, so consumers spend about the same amount. Huge market, better hardware and stable pricing--maybe it's time for you to get mobile, too.

Aftermarket Accessories
Consumers are embracing individuality: iPods don't need to be white, cell phones don't have to be silver, and it's OK for a game console to have flames on it--unless it's on fire. Thanks to skins, speakers, holders and more, our digital gadgets can now be our own.

One entrepreneur jumping on the trend is SkinIt co-founder Mike Stemple, 35, who launched his Golden, Colorado, company a year ago with his brothers Tom, 40, and Chris, 33. SkinIt creates personalized peel-and-stick skins for more than 1,000 different devices, from TiVo remotes to XM radios. "The accessory of choice has always been the content you put on your iPod or the game or ring tone you put on your phone," says Mike. "Now we're seeing a renaissance in the actual physical accessory market."

In this resurgence, customization, which lets consumers select from a limited set of options, has given way to personalization, which allows consumers infinite possibilities--to use their own image, for example. That's what SkinIt offers--and it has reaped the rewards, with sales exceeding $3 million in 2005.

Customization isn't dead, however. Opportunities range from adding functionality to changing the form factor of a product. Wrap an iPod in a case that resembles a porcupine or dock it in external speakers, and you've made it more appealing to a new demographic or changed the way it's used.--Steve Cooper

Home Improvement

Home Staging
When shows like HGTV's Designed to Sell and A&E's Sell This House become the water-cooler topics of choice, it's safe to say there's something to this home-staging brouhaha. And according to a 2003 HomeGain nation-wide survey of 2,000 real estate agents, home improvements in the $80 to $2,800 range made before a sale yielded the highest returns later.

Not surprisingly, staging--showcasing a property so it appeals to buyers--has become big business. That means decluttering, furnishing whole houses to look spectacular or creating vignettes for walk-throughs. Some entrepreneurs even diversify with services like consulting, junk hauling, move-in arranging, color consultation and personal shopping.

According to stagers we spoke with, you can get started with as little as $500 to $1,000 for a home office and marketing materials. Teresa Hagaman, president and founder of StagedRight Inc. in Berryville, Virginia, says you can expect to reinvest income into the business for the first three years. The 38-year-old has had to hire four employees, as sales have tripled each year since she began in early 2003.

But how will this business fare if the real estate bubble bursts? Trish Boyle, 40, founder of Stage Right Design in Westport, Connecticut, is optimistic: "There will still be people needing to buy and sell homes, and sellers will be at risk of losing equity, so they will need stagers even more."

 

Senior Retrofitting
According to AARP, 82 percent of midlife and older Americans wish to remain in their homes forever. With the oldest boomers turning 60 next year, this means you can expect to hear a lot more about retrofitting homes for senior living.

The National Association of Home Builders in Washington, DC, predicts that the aging-in-place remodeling market will comprise anywhere from $20 billion to $25 billion of the more than $214 billion remodeling market in the coming years. But "boomers don't want to see themselves as getting frail," says Jim Lapides of the NAHB Remodelors Council. Making stairs easier to climb or lowering light switches may ease the aging process, but many seniors won't seek out such retrofits.

So the NAHB encourages remodelers to cross-sell subtle retrofitting for aging in place when doing routine jobs in seniors' homes.

Networking is key to reaching this demo-graphic. Get started by targeting local clubs, insurance outfits and health-care professionals.--Michelle Prather

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This article was originally published in the December 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Hot List.

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