Your Next Big Thing: Survey Says

Written by ProfitGuide Staff

The December issue of PROFIT magazine features our 10th annual opportunities guide in which we identify today’s best bets and tomorrow’s growth markets. As part of that package, we asked business leaders and experts in research and marketing what they would say to an entrepreneur who asked where they saw a trend or opportunity that offers great business potential. Here are their answers:

Web only: Andy Macaulay, founding partner, ZiG, Toronto
“There’s a market for a concierge service for boomers, to take care of all those little tasks around the home: trimming the tree, getting the fridge fixed, taking care of car maintenance, walking the dog and shopping for groceries. Even if boomers know how to do these tasks, they don’t have time, or they want to spend it on more enjoyable activities. If the business is to be volume-driven, it can’t be a luxury for the rich. The challenge will be finding inexpensive labour so it can keep its price point low. The winner will be whoever delivers superior customer service.”

Web only: Elyse Allan, president & CEO, GE Canada, Mississauga, Ont.
“There is a need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy and for more abundant clean water. At GE, we have an Ecoimagination program, a whole host of products that leverage technologies to help companies meet environmental challenges. But it’s not an idea exclusive to us. There will be opportunities to make more efficient motors and turbines, and in waste management for companies that can use waste to generate energy. Many countries in Europe already process their garbage and use it to produce energy. Also, there are opportunities to develop water-purification technology to clean dirty water so it can be reused.”

Web only: Jean-Marc Léger, president, Léger Marketing, Montreal
“We’ve entered the cyber-era with an aging society. It’s become a necessity to use more techie products, but older people are having a difficult time adapting. So manufacturers that can simplify technology products that are in wide use, such as e-mail, cellphones, the Internet and iPods, will have an advantage. Additionally, there will be a great need for consultants and trainers to show us which of these products to buy and how to use them.”

Web only: David Foot, professor of economics, University of Toronto
“The boomers need financial-planning and wealth-management services. They also have the money to buy second homes, so security-system suppliers will do well. They’re interested in upmarket travel, especially trips that focus on nature, history, spirituality and genealogy. However, the travel companies offering these specialized trips must be knowledgeable and well-connected, because boomer travelers are looking for a unique experience, not a cheap trip. And there’s a great opportunity to start a business teaching boomers how to use technology (e.g., how to create a digital photo album) or to fix their devices, such as computers.”

Becky McKinnon, Executive chairman, Timothy’s Coffees of the World Inc., Toronto
Social and environmental aspects of business are becoming increasingly important. People want to buy high-value products from companies that demonstrate corporate responsibility. In our business, coffee, there is a need for scientists working in agronomy who can develop organic products that will still allow farmers to be productive, and for creating a natural way to get rid of pests. As well, there’s a need for marketing consultants who can figure out how to communicate complex messages of social responsibility to consumers in a way they can relate to.

Richard Branson, Founder and chairman, Virgin Group Ltd., London, England
The only way space is going to be properly explored is to have private enterprise out there battling to come up with new ideas. NASA has never thought about giving the public a chance to go into space. A private company can. We’re now making this dream a reality with Virgin Galactic Airways. When we announced it had bought the intellectual property rights to SpaceShipOne and would start offering suborbital space flights as early as 2007 or 2008, 40,000 people registered. Of those, about 100 have already paid the full US$200,000 ticket price.

Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party, Ottawa
With the expansion of the $100-million federal program to retrofit homes, energy-efficient renovation is a huge growth industry. There is a need for businesses that do caulking, insulation, replace windows and upgrade furnaces. There are also niches for energy-service companies, developers and contractors specializing in energy-efficient work, and consultants who do energy-efficiency audits. Many existing buildings pay too much for energy. And you can start small, building by building. You don’t have to compete with huge companies. Those looking at water purification for remote and rural communities also have an opportunity. There’s a huge demand for portable water-purification systems.

Les Mandelbaum, President and co-founder, Umbra Ltd., Toronto
Go East, young man! In Canada we have a mature economy, but in China the economy is growing tremendously. There are business opportunities for people who can bridge the gap between East and West. There is a need for those who can teach Mandarin to North American businesspeople and English to Chinese
businesspeople. And there’s even more of a need for consultants who can help North Americans navigate the cultural and political system in China and those who can teach management skills to the Chinese.

Jim Pattison, Chairman, President & CEO, The Jim Pattison Group, Vancouver
Looking for the hottest opportunity is fine, but you’ve got to make sure you’re suited to that business. Figure out what you’re good at, then pick a business in a field that uses your skills and talents. Some of the most successful people I know love farming. There’s a growing opportunity in organic foods because of the ongoing health trend-people are exercising and eating better. So if you’re a farmer, growing organic food makes sense. However, if you have retail skills, it would be better to open a store specializing in organic food. But you’ve got to start with what you’re good at.

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