Start-up Business Trends - Are you a Zebra?

By Protolabs

While investors may be looking for the new unicorn, it may actually pay for your business to be a Zebra - a company that is profitable, sustainable, and beneficial to society.  This is one of six trends that you could profit from as a start-up.

In the last few years, start-ups have had to pivot as a result of covid, there is now more interest in investing in companies that can alleviate problems that the pandemic put pressure on. That coupled with the increased interest investors are showing in sustainable start-ups, likely an effect of COP26, means the that way money is invested has shifted. There are several stand-out trends in the start-up industry that this article will highlight.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

This is about you investing in AI to improve efficiency.  It means that your company will learn faster and get better results. It may for example provide a high-level or personalisation to a user experience.

Integrating AI into core systems of the economy is key going forwards, such as investing in technologies that automate warehouse distribution, or take over repetitive tasks to free up employees to focus on more creative work.

Integrating new AI or software may seem daunting for a small business, however, it is much easier to implement into new agile companies immediately. In larger companies it takes time, testing and more testing, by the time it is setup they do not want to change it again as it’s something so heavily invested in. This is where smaller business and start-ups can leap ahead.

  1. Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming a more prominent topic for many businesses and investors. Since COP26 this has increased hugely. Governments such as the UK are now prioritising investment in green, clean innovation, in an aim to encourage sustainable economic growth and create new jobs. This is where the zebras shine.

We are also seeing an emergence of workers, the younger generation, who have a keen interest in the environment and being part of companies that are sustainable and ethical.  And remember that talent is scarce and hard to recruit!

  1. Smart Operations

The pandemic highlighted weaknesses in many supply chains, so companies are now re-evaluating how they work with others geographically. Outsourcing is being brought back home, in the search for local, faster options, to avoid supply chain disruption.

Those start-ups pioneering smarter, more resilient internal processes that alleviate pressures caused by the pandemic will be of bigger interest to investors. An interest in smaller productions and global logistics coordination, rather than mass production in one place, will alleviate the risk of supply chain disruption.

Agile manufacturing is also key. As a start-up you can pivot quickly to keep up with rapidly changing consumer behaviours and successfully do this with the support of integrated AI systems.  Cloud systems will also allow you to be agile and flexible without having to purchase and manage IT infrastructure. This is something that is becoming increasingly important with the new hybrid way of working.

  1. Investment Trends

There is also increased interest in security & privacy, which is becoming more important as more things move online and become automated, so make sure your business complies.4.               Investment trends

There’s been a shift in where venture capitals are looking since the pandemic.  Previously the money always tended to be invested in the same sort of companies, the unicorns. Since then, there has been a pivot towards the sort of start-ups that can optimise solutions for pressures that the pandemic brought.

If you are involved in Financial technology (Fintech), AI or in a sustainable venture then you will benefit from the increased investment interest over the last couple of years.

But venture capitalists are only one source of funding; it’s also worth exploring crowdfunding. This is where non-traditional, unaccredited investors to put money forwards with groups of other small investors.

  1. Personalisation

Personalisation and customisation are leading the way. Many larger companies are finding that consumers are willing to pay premiums on products that they can customise. Not just personalisation of products, but also personalisation of marketing content, tailoring content towards a specific audience and what may be of interest to them.

If you are a small agile manufacturer then this is a trend that you could profit from. There are more niches so find one and exploit it!

  1. Remote/Hybrid Working

Remote and hybrid working is another shift caused by the pandemic. There is space for start-ups to incorporate remote/ hybrid working into their ethos, whereas an older, existing company may struggle.

This remote way of working also extends beyond the office, it has affected events. It is now more common to not only have large and small in-person events, but for each of these to now have a virtual component. Not only does this fit in with the remote way of working, it also aids in a step towards a sustainable working environment.

It means that people working for you don’t need to be on site and if you offer such flexibility it will be easier to employ scarce talent.  Taking this one step further it also enables you to link into the expertise offered by your supply chain who may employ experts to offer specific advice - for example in rapid prototyping to test your concepts.

As a start-up you need to evolve to reach your potential. The market is volatile and is easily affected and influenced by what is going on in the world; but as an agile company you can pivot more quickly to pick up on opportunities and solve pain points than larger manufacturers. And this could just be the key to your success.


*Privately held company that has reached $1 billion valuation.