13 business trends and venture opportunities for 2021

After the turmoil of 2020, we’ve opened our 2021 calendars with renewed optimism. We’re still feeling the effects of COVID-19, social unrest, and political strife – and will be for a while still – but in its own strange and somewhat masochistic way, last year paved the way for opportunity. Here are 13 business trends and venture opportunities we think are poised to take off this year and beyond. 

  1. Digital transformation
    No surprise here. According to McKinsey, the first few months of the pandemic accelerated the digitization of business operations by roughly seven years. While many companies were basically forced to go digital, the resulting efficiency and business continuity left them ready for more. We expect the move to SaaS to continue to grow.

  2. Unsexy products in unsexy industries
    We’re not shy about our preference for the unsexy – the often not-super-visible solutions that have the potential to transform industries in need of disruption. That rise we mentioned in digital transformation opens the door for more of these under-the-radar products to hit the market and make a big impact.

  3. Black founders and investors
    2020’s push for social equality renewed our focus on the stark data on Black founders (who get a miniscule percentage of the venture pool) and Black investors (there aren’t many). Organizations and programs (like our own Black Venture Institute) are working to address this, and we both expect and look forward to seeing more efforts from more sources this year.

  4. Investing in companies with diverse teams
    The landslide of evidence proving diverse teams are more effective than homogenous ones has investors piqued. A silver lining of 2020’s racial reckoning is that leaders are working harder to build inclusive teams, rather than reach for the low-hanging fruit in their current networks – which is great since investors everywhere are eager to showcase more diverse portfolios.

  5. Diversity on the cap table
    And speaking of diversity, more and more venture-backed companies are taking a hard look at who’s on their cap table these days. Sure, many of them still want traditional VCs, but savvy founders are also seeing the benefit of bringing in diverse voices, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. We especially love seeing more women on cap tables and anticipate those numbers to grow stronger this year. 

  6. Disruptive models
    We’re seeing a rise in founders who start from scratch, dismantling the traditional way of doing something in favor of building a company from the ground up (SetSail and Cube, for example). Some of these are first-time founders or new to the industry – founders who don’t come in with preconceived notions of how things should be done. We appreciate this trend and look forward to seeing more of it this year.

  7. Women CTOs and technical co-founders
    Let 2021 be the year of technical women. We’ve seen a slow-but-steady increase in technical women leaders over the past decade, and we expect that number to begin climbing higher and faster – this year and beyond. We’re proud that 30% of our portfolio companies have a female CTO or technical co-founder, and hope to increase that number ourselves.

  8. Workplace flexibility
    One thing we learned last year is that employees want and need greater flexibility in order to thrive. Just as companies have worked hard in recent years to create personalized experiences for their customers, now they’re starting to create personalized experiences for their employees, and that includes the freedom to decide how and where they work best.

  9. The globally connected economy
    Great minds, ideas, and employees are not limited to one area, and the increase in video conferencing and virtual events brings the entire world within reach. Yes, our world is full of distinct, separate economies, but we expect to see more togetherness – more global collaboration and global investing this year.

  10. Models like Goldbelly
    Goldbelly was a 2020 highlight for us. From rainbow cakes, PieCakens, and giant cupcakes to breakfast favorites, bacon samplers, and New York bagels, we tried a ton – and there’s still much more on our wishlist. This model brings the world to you; Goldbelly, specifically, lets you try famous foods from across the country and support these small businesses when they need it most. We foresee its popularity translating to new areas.

  11. Content marketing in b2b
    The content revolution has been strengthening for years, but it’s just one more thing elevated by the pandemic. We’re hungry for something (anything!) to consume – blogs, podcasts, webinars, videos – and the content marketing and social media worlds feed right in. Savvy businesses (Fast is a great example) are building enthusiastic followings on social media, and then have an incredible way to disseminate their messages.

  12. Athleisure
    We’ve been living in sweat pants for nearly a year, and honestly there’s just no going back. It’s why established consumer brands are doubling down on their work-life hybrid products, and new brands are popping up like mushrooms to compete. So go head and get going on those branded joggers you’ve been thinking about. Also, Crocs – Can we just go ahead and remove the stigma already?

  13. Work/life balance apps
    Several weeks into the pandemic, many of us had to take a step back from work; we were spending far more hours at our desks and in front of screens than we did pre-COVID. Work/life balance doesn’t happen magically; it’s up to us to create and enforce it. So look for related business opportunities to help, like apps for scheduling, productivity, fitness, wellness, self improvement, and more.  

What else is on the rise in 2021? 

So what’d we miss? We’d love to know what business trends and venture opportunities you see on the rise in 2021. Send us a tweet at @OperatorCollect with your thoughts. 

From all of us here at Operator Collective, we’re wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous year. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.