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Top Startup Opportunities For 2016 And Beyond There was a time when the thought of launching a startup would be viewed by even the most experienced business minds with an air of caution and trepidation.

By Neil Petch

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


There was a time when the thought of launching a startup would be viewed by even the most experienced business minds with an air of caution and trepidation. After all, we know the much perpetuated statistics: 1 in 10 of all new startups fail, with only a quarter of them making it past their first year, and so on. The mindset was more, "It's for someone else, not me. I'm better off as an employee."

Now I'm not going to suggest that the majority of people are now going out on their own, but I will say that I've never seen a climate where so many are talking about it, and indeed so many of whom are actually going for it.

Of course that is partly just Dubai. It's a wonderfully entrepreneurial town and there are many opportunities out here. One gets the sense that it's something anyone with an entrepreneurial itch has to make a serious attempt at eventually. Also, the startup energy is, quite simply, contagious out here, and because of that it is for many simply too painful to sit on the sidelines as an employee.

But it's not just here. Around the world over 100 million businesses are launched every year– that's a staggering 11,000 per hour, or three every single second. And investors are not shying away from pumping money into them, with 2014 seeing the highest level of venture capital investment since the dot-com boom in 2000– a staggering US$48.3 billion. And in the first nine months of 2015 alone, 2014's total was exceeded.

With all of the above in mind, I wanted to take a look at a few hot sectors that are providing great opportunities for startups. If you know a thing or two about these areas, and have the entrepreneurial mindset, you'd be wise to take a closer look at how you can get in on the action.

1. Mobile health

The size of the mobile health (mHealth) market is astronomical. Currently worth $14.5 billion dollars, the market –the fastest growing in the app sector– is expected to quadruple over the next five years to almost $60 billion. The greatest thing about this particular sector is its scope. There are countless innovations, from those popular fitness trackers, to electronic forks that aid portion control, to sleep monitors and stress checkers, to those providing real-time monitoring for people with certain chronic medical conditions. One particularly innovative success story is the medicine adherence app Medisafe, which has raised over $7 million in investment to date and currently boasts over 2.3 million users. The very simple idea is an app that lets you or a loved one track the medications you take, reminding you when it's time to take them. If you fail to check in with the app, it alerts another user who is signed up along with you.

2. Business and productivity apps

As tablets and mobiles overtake laptops and PCs as our go-to business devices, the market for business apps has naturally exploded. While enterprise software spending overall already exceeds $620 billion, the mobile business app market is expected over the coming years to stretch into the hundreds of billions as well. Again this is a market with a lot of diversity: there are apps for time-management, task-management, payroll, accounting, scheduling, document scanning, collaboration, simple note-taking and much more. While several business heavyweights occupy this space –Microsoft, Adobe, Sage and the like– the vast majority of the highest grossing apps come from independent developers. Perhaps the most notable of these is Invoice2go, a simple, easy-to-use invoice and expense-tracking tool, ideal for small business owners. When founder Chris Strode couldn't find an invoicing application that suited his needs, he decided to build his own. In the years that followed Invoice2go has raised over $35 million in funding, while the app has been the number one highest grossing business app in 59 countries.

3. Yoga

Ok, so this one may come slightly out of left field, but trust me, yoga is big business. With hundreds of millions of hardcore "yogis" worldwide, the market is worth an estimated $80 billion– and growing fast. Already practiced by many here in Dubai, it is set to see a huge spike in popularity in 2016 after the announcement of XYoga Dubai, described as a year-round celebration of the ancient practice. The initiative kicked off with a public yoga session on the beach opposite Jumeirah Beach Residence on January 1, and the main event is set to take place on February 19, when over 10,000 people are expected to attend a two-day yoga festival (set to become an annual fixture going forward). All of which makes now a better time than ever to launch a yoga startup– be it a studio, clothing or equipment manufacture, an accompanying app or anything else your business brain can think up. You could even follow in the footsteps of British startup Dogamahny and run classes for pets and their owners (although I really wish you wouldn't).

4. Internet connected devices and appliances

The dawn of smart technology has seen Internet connectivity embedded into everything we own, from TVs and thermostats to toasters and refrigerators. In fact, so many of our day-to-day items are now hooked up to the World Wide Web that Cisco believes by 2018 there will be more machines communicating over the internet than humans (over 26 billion of them, to be exact). The industry is one of the fastest growing on the planet, and is expected to generate around $14 trillion in profit up to 2022 for those involved in the space. With a market of this size growing at this pace, and with such scope for innovation, it is perhaps unsurprising that a plethora of entrepreneurs have moved into this space to launch their business ideas. This young industry is already home to a host of success stories, including Enlightened, the energy efficient smart lighting startup that has raised over $36 million in funding to date.

5. Corporate wellness

There is a huge need for companies and organizations to bring down spiraling healthcare costs. That's where the corporate wellness sector comes in. With a focus on the promotion of health and wellbeing in the workplace through incentives and organized regimes, it's a sector estimated at over $7 billion in revenue each year and growing at an annual rate of 10%. The runaway success story in this space has to be Fitbit. You'll of course have heard of Fitbit for private use, but the company's corporate wellness package is in fact used by organizations the world over, including BP, Diageo and Adobe. Founded by entrepreneurs James Park and Eric Friedman, Fitbit launched a range of wearable technology back in 2007, and is today the biggest player on the wellness landscape.

The industries listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many great ideas to be brought to life across so many more sectors, and while it sounds trite, I will say it anyway: the potential is truly unlimited.

It's about solving problems, making life easier or more efficient, and finding new and better ways to do just about anything. What I believe is very important for any aspiring startup entrepreneur to hear and remember is that the best ideas are often the most simple. In my line of business I get a firsthand look at so many startups, and those entrepreneurs who seem to build up momentum quite quickly out of the gates are so often those with an idea so simple I say to myself, "Of course!"

Last year's Forbes list of the 50 hottest startups for 2015 –which includes the likes of Uber and Slack– raised $7 billion in venture capital and have a total valuation close to $120 billion. While these figures may seem a world away from your current projections, keep in mind that every one of these success stories started as a small, simple, singular idea, and it was an entrepreneur just like you who came up with it.

Neil Petch

Founder and Chairman, Virtugroup

Neil Petch actively assists over 300 entrepreneurs and startups to conceive, plan, and build their businesses on a monthly basis.

After launching Virtuzone as the first private company formation business in the region over 10 years ago, Neil has led the company to set up more than 16,000 businesses, making it the largest, fastest-growing and best-known setup operator in the Middle East.

As the chairman of the holding company, Virtugroup, Neil also leads VirtuVest, an in-house angel investment vehicle; Virtuzone Mainland, a provider of directorship services, corporate sponsorship and facilitator of local Dubai and Abu Dhabi company setups; and Next Generation Equity, a citizenship-by-investment firm. Virtugroup has invested in and supported the growth of multiple companies and delivered passports in over 10 different jurisdictions. Virtugroup also enjoys partnerships with Dubai FDI, the Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Holdings (ARN), VFS, Regus, Etisalat, KPMG, Aramex and Beehive, and has received awards from Arabian Business and Entrepreneur Magazine, among others.

In addition to starting up businesses, Neil has held leadership roles in several companies. He helped establish ITP, the largest media publishing house in the Gulf, which he oversaw growing from two to 600 employees. At ITP, he spearheaded the launch of over 60 digital and print titles, including Time Out, Harper’s Bazaar, Arabian Business, Ahlan and Grazia.

As Managing Director of ENG Media, Neil launched the Coast FM radio station and numerous magazines, including MediaWeek. For the last seven years, Neil has also served as Chairman of GMG, the world’s first interbank financial brokerage based out of Dubai, with offices in DIFC and London. Due to his extensive knowledge and expertise, Neil has been appointed a member of the ‘Ease of Banking’ panel organised by the Chamber of Commerce.

Having lived in over a dozen countries and with a career spanning over 25 years in the UAE, Neil has the ability to merge astute cultural insight with fresh thinking, leveraging his seasoned business acumen, intuition and black book to repeatedly bring ideas to living, breathing success stories.

Neil has appeared in BBC (Dubai Dreams) and ITV (Piers Morgan) features on Dubai, as well as programmes on BBC World and Sky. He has participated as a judge on the radio programme Falcons’ Lair, an entrepreneurship reality show loosely based on the BBC production Dragons’ Den, as well as a similar TV competition hosted by MAD Talks. He now hosts Starting Up on Dubai Eye 103.8FM, the only national weekly show for the startup community in the world’s startup capital.

Neil also lends his in-depth market insight to fellow entrepreneurs and helps cultivate Public Private Partnerships as a Task Force Member of the Advisory Council, a coalition of key decision-makers and prominent movers of the UAE business landscape, led by EMIR and the Ministry of Economy.

He is also a regular speaker, panelist, and economic commentator, specialising in the SME sector.

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