The 5 Biggest Startup Trends for 2021

From 5G related startups to telehealth, these areas have seen tremendous growth—and will continue booming next year.

Richard Liu
Oct 16, 2020 · 7 min read
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Source: Canva Images

here is no doubt that 2020 has been a rollercoaster for startups. Although Covid-19 may have forced some industries to pivot completely, others have managed to thrive.

With the huge shift to online working, shopping, socializing, and more, we’ve seen some major pushes for certain technologies, especially ones that have capitalized on this digital focus.

As Dan Higgins and Nicola Morini Bianzino write for Harvard Business Review:

“[A]s businesses look to embed lessons learned in recent months and to build enterprise resilience for the future, they are due for even more transformation. As such, most organizations are voraciously evaluating existing and future technologies to see if they’ll be able to deliver the innovation at scale that they’ll need to survive and thrive.”

Here, some startup trends that have grown in 2020 and will continue to thrive in 2021.

1. Remote working

This might have been an obvious one to start with, but there is still huge room for growth for the remote working segment. Even with many companies switching to a remote working model in 2020, we saw many issues.

Recently Techcrunch went to six leading investors to discuss the remote working situation, and there was one common theme that popped up.

VCs did not believe that the current services and tools out there solved remote working completely. In fact, they weren’t shy to say that there was a lot of work still to be done.

“All the security [and] compliance while being remote is still largely untapped as companies are figuring out the answer,” said Techstars’ Cazalot, to pick one quote from a few.

Of course, security would be a major issue (e.g., Zoom security concerns), but other opportunities were also mentioned, such as front of office collaboration and personal remote process automation.

This all means that remote working is still young, and there are huge opportunities for startups to tackle these problems. Many have started to do so during or pre-COVID-19, and there will be expected growth going into 2021 in the remote working tooling space.

Here are some cool examples to take a look at:

  • Abodoo — a platform that lets those seeking remote or flexible work create a free skills profile that matches them with opportunities
  • Figma — founded in 2015 but already well known in the design space, Figma is a cloud-based tool for collaborative interface design.
  • Bluescape — a SaaS company that focuses on creating a visual collaborative platform

2. Robotic delivery

The use of robotics for delivery has been slow due to the willingness to adopt the technology. What seemed complicated and more expensive compared to using humans for delivery has now become one of the hottest focuses to emerge from 2020 and into 2021.

Of course, China is one of the first countries to jump on the bandwagon, ramping up its deployment and use of robots to deliver orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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Source: https://www.techinasia.com/chinas-ecommerce-robots-delivery

Delivery apps like Meituan Dianping have started using autonomous vehicles to help send grocery orders to customers. Although the company tested this technology last year, Meituan has recently started to launch the tech publicly.

“This project is to minimize the risk of potential infections caused by human contact and meet the needs of customers in this special time,” Meituan said.

It’s not only China that is looking to push robotic deliveries into its next phase. Startups such as Manna, Starship Technologies, and Nuro are also attempting to tackle this problem in the Western world.

For Nuro, their partnership with Kroger has helped push their R2 robot forward, having started tests in 2018 in Arizona with their R1 vehicles.

“This is a new experience for people that takes some getting used to. Once they get used to it, then it becomes habitual,” Estrada said (Chief legal and policy officer of Nuro)

With grocery e-commerce almost doubling in 2020, initial timelines for this technology's deployment have now since been accelerated to help meet the future growing demand as we head into 2021.

3. Virtual and telehealth care

Institutions, especially in healthcare, are attempting to lower the exposure of COVID-19 to patients and workers. From this fact alone, there is no doubt that many private and public practices have started implementing many telehealth offerings.

The in-person nature of primary care especially stems from a need to ‘see patients’ in person. This is especially the case for relationships between PCPs (primary care physicians/providers) and patients.

Studies show, however, that 80% of primary care services can be, in fact, delivered virtually. In fact, telehealth visits have surged by 50% over pre-pandemic levels.

IHS Technology predicted that a few years ago, 70 million Americans would use telehealth by 2020. Since then, Forrester Research predicted this number to surge to close to a billion by the end of 2020.

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Source: https://www.intel.com.au/content/www/au/en/corporate-responsibility/covid-19-telehealth-article.html

This has given companies like Teladoc opportunities to lead the charge who has since increased their projections to double its 2019 visit volume.

For startups, especially within the healthcare space, this raises an opportunity to grow and compete against larger players.

“We can fill in and help the primary care physician with those acute episodic visits which we can do in a high-quality way off a virtual-care platform,” Dr Carroll says (Hims & Hers)

For startups like K Health, 98point6, and Eden Health, these opportunities a huge. Beyond the telehealth focus, there are many other focuses on healthcare that we will see exponentially in 2021.

These include:

  • Advancements in Biotech
  • AI and Machine Learning opportunities to help support diagnosis as well as admin work. Suki AI, for example, offers a voice-enabled and AI-powered platform that helps automate clinical note documentation as well as billing inquiries.
  • Robotic Healthcare

4. Startups using 5G — Smart cities, autonomous ships

Even with all the conspiracy theories around 5G and COVID-19, there is no doubt that the demand for higher speed internet and a shift for well-connected homes has pushed the advancement of 5G.

Source: Telstra Twitter

This is because, for better connectivity, we need better networks.

Although COVID-19 may seem like it stalled out the rollout of 5G, it actually has pushed the deployment ahead.

Many telcos worldwide are on track to deliver 5G, with Australia having rolled out the technology years before, even before COVID-19. Verizon recently announced the huge expansion of its 5G network in October, which will reach more than 200 million people.

In China, 5G deployment has been happening rapidly, with Ericsson leading the charge. Some other interesting stats include:

  • There are over 380 operators currently investing in 5G
  • 35+ countries have already launched commercial 5G services

This has proved a nesting ground for startups that can utilize 5G within its services. Although some startups like Movandi are working to help 5G transfer data at greater distances, there are many other exciting areas to look at.

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Source: https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/5-top-5g-solutions-for-smart-cities-out-of-125/

One key area, for example, is how 5G is impacting smart cities across the world. For startups like Novalume, they help municipalities manage their public lighting network and smart city data through sensors. These can be connected from cities all the way to connected farms.

In another example, in Spain, startups like Nido Robotics will be using drones to explore the seafloor. Through 5G networks, these drones can help navigate better and use IoT to help communicate with devices on board.

Sticking to the theme of water, companies like Seadronix from South Korea use 5G to help power autonomous ships. 5G networks enable the devices to work together in real-time to help avoid collisions and help enable vessels to travel unmanned.

These are just some of the cool applications 5G has helped enable across the world and with its rapid deployment, expect growth from startups looking to utilize this technology.

5. Online education

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Source: Co-founder and Chief Andrew Barnes of GO1

It’s certainly a no brainer why online education has had a huge growth spurt in recent months.

There is a huge opportunity in the market with schools, colleges, and even coaching centers conducting classes via video conferencing. Many of these institutions have actually been recommended to complete a portion of their curriculum online even after everything returns to normal.

For startups like GO1, they’ve managed to secure funding even as COVID-19 continues to run a rampage. For GO1, their focus is on corporate online education, a sector that is also growing year on year.

“The awareness that organisations and individuals have around the importance of continuing to upskill and re-skill is really at the forefront, particularly as people get back into a new state of normal,” Andrew Barnes (GO1) suggests.

Either way, there is a huge opportunity in online education from corporate to secondary and higher education. We will expect this growth to continue into 2021 and beyond.

Final thoughts

Many of these startup trends have already taken off in 2020 and will continue growing tremendously in 2021.

For some, it’s just the beginning (I mean, how cool is autonomous ships), and 2021 will be an exciting development year for startups, especially off the back of a shaky year.

Even with many startups forced to pivot, we have seen opportunities in many other areas, making it an exciting next few years.

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Thanks to The Startup

Richard Liu

Written by

→ Join me for the latest startup, growth and marketing updates: https://cornertechmarketing.substack.com ✦ Love Startups and Sushi ✦ Co-Founder @ Yought.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

Richard Liu

Written by

→ Join me for the latest startup, growth and marketing updates: https://cornertechmarketing.substack.com ✦ Love Startups and Sushi ✦ Co-Founder @ Yought.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

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