The top startup accelerators have a history of seeing the future in ideas that sounded silly at the time. After all, who would have foreseen billion-dollar businesses based on renting your air mattress to strangers, or shopping for their groceries?
So when prestigious accelerators invest around common themes, it’s worth taking note of what’s resonating.
With that in mind, we mined Crunchbase data on new seed investments by top-ranked accelerators, looking for similarities in their vision of where consumer and enterprise tech is headed. The data set looks for companies that raised first-time funding in the past six months from accelerators in North America with a standout record for backing startups that go on to secure much higher valuations.
Here are the startup trends that are capturing the imaginations, and wallets, of top accelerators.
AI bots for businesses are big
The bots will help you. Accelerator-backed startups are building a lot of AI-enabled tools to help businesses with customer support, sales and marketing. There’s Claire, a bot for testing consumer products and ad campaigns, and Scribe, an AI-powered “sales development representative” that can identify new leads.
For customer support, there is Eloquent Labs, which uses AI to augment and replace live chat customer support agents at e-commerce companies. And if you are an airline and in need of better customer support (which is pretty much every airline), there’s Techstars-backed ICM Hub, a developer of “artificially intelligent virtual agents.” These are just a few of the AI-enabled business apps that raised seed funding this past year.
The rise of the AI-powered consumer digital assistants
It may sound far-fetched in 2017 to trust your finances to an AI-powered digital assistant with a cutesy name, but accelerators are betting that in a few years, that’s going to change. One case in point is Penny, a Y Combinator-backed mobile app that functions as a personal finance coach. It’s one of several personal finance apps accelerators are rolling out.
Real estate gets more temporary, efficient and on demand
Sure, you can still show up in person and sign a long-term lease on a home, office or shop. But a lot of startups are coming up with both simpler and more temporary ways to secure space. Perhaps part of the impetus is that two of the most famous and valuable private venture-backed companies — Airbnb and WeWork — are real estate-related, so it’s a proven sector for generating a massive valuation.
It’s entirely possible that technologies initially targeted for one industry will end up deployed in another.
On the temporary space front, there’s Bulletin, which pitches itself as “WeWork for retail space,” and LoftSmart, which finds rentals for students. On the efficiency side, Ikos is aiming to make renting easier for residential landlords, while Rezi pays landlords directly to rent their apartments. See a fuller list of accelerator-backed real estate startups here.
Taking smart transportation to the next level
Alongside increased interest in smart buildings, ride hailing, mapping apps and real-time traffic updates have already done much in the past few years to transform how we get around town. Now, accelerators are hoping to take things to the next level.
A number of transport startups have launched with an analytics focus, such as Revmax, a vehicle routing tool, and Gridwise, which helps ride-hailing drivers maximize earnings. And for those worried that all these mapping and traffic analytics tools are making for inattentive, screen-gazing motorists, there’s Text to Ticket, which lets users submit videos of distracted drivers.
Pivots come next
Interesting as many of these startups seem, it’s worth noting that hardly any accelerator-backed startup grows up into a big company without at least a few dozen business model pivots along the way. So it’s entirely possible that technologies initially targeted for one industry will end up deployed in another.
For now, however, we can sit back and enjoy (or fear) the vision of a future chatting with humanoid bots en route to one’s temporary home or office using the most efficient route that technology can provide.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias