One industry that is always in full bloom at the start of every year is the prediction business. Yet amid all the apparent certainties of the next 12 months the converse of prediction is also gaining in popularity. In its latest issue American business magazine Fast Company spotlights the emergence of what it describes as 'Generation Flux' - an evolving workforce having to contend with a declining visibility of the future. "From the rise of Facebook to the fall of Blockbuster, from the downgrading of US government debt to the resurgence of Brazil, predicting what will happen next has gotten exponentially harder," the magazine argues.
While it remains fashionable to characterise the year ahead as one laden with unpredictability, the evidence used to support this view is still surprisingly selective and possibly too hastily assembled for comfort. At Index B we have taken a step back and created the Ones to Watch report, a shortlist of real companies that are as likely as any to embody the decade ahead. While the companies that have been selected are exemplars of broader business trends, collectively they also mirror the true business landscape of today in which smaller companies are the more dominant species.
Above all, these businesses are on trend. Take the transition in the use of internet from serving communication and entertainment needs to more functional, less sexy areas. Three of the firms featured in the report demonstrate this admirably. Evernote offers an ingenious way of capturing fragmented scraps of information that might otherwise escape our memory; Dropbox has simplified the business of accessing the things we keep online, while Groupspaces makes it less of a chore to organise work and leisure activities. All three are technically small businesses because they employ fewer than 250 people, though one of them was valued at $4bn last summer.
With the Smartphone set to become the most iconic device of the second decade of the 21st Century, companies involved in mobile applications might be expected to feature. Proxama is one of many involved in turning mobiles into payment devices, yet recognises this may require multiple routes to market rather than one killer app. Elsehwere, Metaio is a pioneer and leader in the game-changing technology of augmented reality, which allows mobile users to access, understand and enjoy digital content overlaid on the physical world. Again they are both small businesses.
Looking at sustainability, perhaps carbon emissions seem less important when debt and currency crises stalk the globe. So it will be interesting to follow the fortunes of companies like Closed Loop Recycling, which has repurposed 20% of the UK's plastic bottles and turned them into food-grade plastics. Also Whipcar, which has become the world's fastest growing car club in the space of 18 months, enabling car owners to share vehicles with neighbours when they're not in use.
The full report illustrates just how far small businesses may evolve over the next decade and shape the business world of the future.
To download the full report, click here