Start Smart

by Doug Powell

Maybe you’re a designer who has that entrepreneurial itch. Maybe you’re one of the scores of laid off casualties of the recent economic rough patch. Or maybe you simply need to inject some new energy into a creative career that doesn’t feel very creative anymore.

But which business categories are most ripe for startup activity? After surveying the top entrepreneurship publications and blogs, here are five industries that are getting a lot of attention:

Niche Consulting
The remarkable number of lay-offs in the last few years has resulted in a glut of highly skilled, mid-career professionals looking to repurpose their skills. The good news is that firms that did the laying off now have a need for short-term help. This is a very competitive category, but the barriers to entry are pretty low—especially for designers, most of whom already own the basic tools to do their work (ie: a computer and a wireless connection). One of the hottest areas of niche consulting is environmental, or “green” consulting, which is expected to show steady growth for the foreseeable future.

Language and Translation Services
The world is getting flatter and smaller. The fact that we don’t all speak the same language is an opportunity for multilingual entrepreneurs. Translation services are one of the fastest growing startup categories with prime customers in the federal government, healthcare, and import/export businesses. With more design services crossing borders, one can envision an emerging sub-category that combines design and language services.

Repair Services
One sign of the rough economic times is that people are choosing to repair and maintain their possessions rather than buying new ones. Whether it’s home improvement, auto, or personal technology, repair services are showing steadily rising revenues. An aging population and sluggish housing market suggest that this trend will continue. For designers, this trend might materialize in the computer repair realm, or there might be an opportunity to design home studios for all those designers who will now be starting their own consulting biz.

Weddings and Online Dating
Demographic trends suggest that the “millennial generation” (born in the 80s and 90s) will be hooking up and getting married at high rates over the next decade. Online matchmaking has become much more acceptable in recent years, and this industry has a relatively low barrier to entry and high profit margin. Designers might consider the swirl of sub-categories that stem from the wedding planning experience. Think: clothing, catering, flowers, travel, and videography/photography.

Location-Based Social Media
Designers are classic early-adopters of new technology and we have been at the front edge of the current trend in online social media. The space for so-called “location-based” smartphone apps is exploding and is expected to become a $13 billion industry by 2014. The movement in this area appears to be toward a more specific experience, like finding the nearest cheap gas (GasBuddy), and geo-gaming (Turfwars, Geocaching). Who knows how long this trend will last, but savvy entrepreneurial designers will be observing the increased use of the smartphone as a central tool of daily life.

Looking for whats next? Here are five industries that are ripe for design entrepreneurs: Niche Consulting, Language and Translation Services, Repair Services, Weddings and Online Dating, and Location-Based Social Media.

Quick Tip
Regardless of trends, barriers to entry, and other factors, entrepreneurial designers will have the best chance of success in an industry where they have a personal interest and passion. An avid snowboarder, for instance, will have a deep and detailed knowledge of this area that will give her valuable insights, credibility, and a competitive edge. Plus it will be a whole lot more fun!

Dig Deeper!
1. publishes a highly regarded annual listing of top startup industries

2. Business on Main, the small business forum by MSN, published 10 Hot Businesses to Start in 2011

3. Teresa Pesina’s blog post 5 Hot Industries for Starting a Business in 2011 is insightful

4. Read Niall Harbison’s great post about social media trends on the Simply Zesty blog