Ben Little from innovation consultancy Fearlessly Frank provides his Top 5 Unicorns to look out for in 2017.

From the Silicon Valley to our Silicon Roundabout here in East London, new tech businesses are launching daily, each with a huge ambition to replicate the success of recent companies before them. When someone describes their business as “It’s like Uber, only for [insert category]” or “AirBnB for [insert audience demographic]”, hidden in the description is “It’s going to be big” because the truth is that it could be.

We live in a time full of opportunity: not since the industrial revolution has there been the right conditions for the ‘new’ to overpower the ‘old’ and for growth to be achieved with such amazing speed, as seen with companies like Uber and Airbnb. However, although the conditions are right, the truth is only one in thousands will achieve the success of these amazing businesses, making them very rare and quite fascinating. It’s not surprising we’ve begun calling them unicorns because they are.

  1. Turo is the Airbnb of cars. Anyone who’s been through the hassle of renting a car will appreciate how Turo lets you rent a car wherever and whenever you want. But it’s also a business putting money in the pockets of car owners who don’t need their vehicle every day. 38% of urban residents could easily imagine living without a car, which makes sense since in major cities the cost of congestion to individual households is over $4000 a year. The fact remains though those cars are still incredibly useful at certain times, so peer-to-peer car sharing is surely the next big place for disruption in the automotive space. 2017 should be a big year for Turo.
  2. Everyone is talking about VR but these guys 8i are going deeper. We think there is a good chance they are going to make it onto the unicorn list this year. 8i specialises in volumetric human capturing and is building an agnostic platform for creators to build their own content on – so this is VR going beyond gaming. Co-founder Linc Gasking says it’s all about the human dimension. They’re from New Zealand but have expanded to LA and San Francisco. Looking forward to seeing them everywhere else in 2017.
  3. With all the news around the pressure the NHS is under, and Trump throwing out ObamaCare, is 2017 the year of the tech MD? Technology enabled healthcare solutions have been around for a while, but perhaps people are now more willing than ever to give them a go. Companies like Babylon Health promise to connect you with a doctor in minutes. With amazing AI and bot technology on the rise, people will be able to seek immediate healthcare advice at the touch of a button. It isn’t surprising that the NHS has been quick to partner with them: the BBC said it was “…as easy as ordering a cab on your phone”. Uber for your GP sounds like it has unicorn potential to me. The question will be how they take an idea like that to market. It won’t be cheap, but the upside could be a totally new way for people to seek the help they need.
  4. Vero: The unicorn club has never been complete without a social network or two, Snapchat being one with its recent IPO filing revealing that the company grew revenues by 600% to $404 million in 2016. But it’s an industry that’s growing up quickly. It’s strange to think that an industry only formed in the last two decades could be ripe for reinvention, but the big five – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, are no longer networks, loved and celebrated by the users, but instead are media channels structured to serve up intelligent advertising solutions for brands. Perhaps a percentage of the billions of us who use social media sites might well be interested in trying something new, where the user is put first and their experience and data is protected. The rapid introduction of Snapchat and Instagram into a market we all thought was saturated proves it’s possible. Some have recently tried and failed. Yubl, the social messaging platform that was like Snapchat combined with WhatsApp, had a hugely successful fundraise but sadly couldn’t sustain the investment needed to compete in a tough market. One contender, we have been working with could, however: the next generation social media platform Vero combines privacy with ease to create a strong user experience that also doesn’t require advertising to make it profitable and grow. It’s less of a media platform and back to the basics of a social network with all the makings of a unicorn…watch this space.
  5. Faradion: One thing holding back the entire smartphone industry is the electric battery. These guys in Sheffield recently picked up some investment that will help them scale. Perhaps Samsung’s $3.1B loss on exploding batteries will turn up at Faradion, who are 25% cheaper than current batteries. 2017 should be big for sodium-ion battery tech.

Entry to the Unicorn Club is getting harder. Imagine the next generation of companies existing on a tree of opportunity, the successful companies powering their way into the club have been the low hanging fruit. The next generation of unicorns are going to have to think bigger and aim higher.

The environment that has made start-up success so possible, has now entered the mainstream – big businesses know they need to innovate to survive. If these companies can adopt the behaviour of these successful startups, be willing to enter a parallel universe to try new things and keep both businesses a success – anything is possible.

When you hire well, be daring and have the resource and funds to do it, new insights and ideas can come from dab hands and entrenched brands.

Ben Little

Co-founder of Fearlessly Frank
Ben Little is the co-founder of London-based innovation consultancy Fearlessly Frank whose clients include HTC, Nissan and Jimmy's Iced Coffee.

Ben's commitment to creative excellence and innovation has made him one of the industry's most exciting talents, recognised by clients as an insightful thinker whose non-traditional background enables him to take a wider commercial view than most of his peers.

Recent projects include developing a new urban mobility project for Nissan, turning millions of HTC users into philanthropists and launching the category-redefining Jimmy's Iced Coffee.

He speaks regularly on creativity and innovation and has appeared on Sky News and at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona amongst others.

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