We know many of the chal­lenges of cre­at­ing inno­va­tion in today’s com­pa­nies. But what is rarely paid atten­tion to is what new start-ups are focused on – many of these new inno­va­tions will emerge and trans­form how we live, work and play – and change the play­ing field for exist­ing com­pa­nies and indus­tries. Through scan­ning some of the lead­ing ven­ture cap­i­tal (VC) firms’ port­fo­lios, some inter­est­ing themes emerge.

For exam­ple, cloud-based enter­pris­es are a clear win­ner for fund­ing – not much of a sur­prise. From data opti­miza­tion and stor­age, like Avere or Attic Labs, to cloud mar­ket­ing and sales like Bloom­reach or ClearSlide, to a time-machine for a company’s cloud infra­struc­ture, Rubrik, the extent of new cloud-based com­pa­nies is prob­a­bly over twen­ty-five per­cent of VC activ­i­ty. And, with more inte­gra­tion in cloud and enter­prise appli­ca­tions, more and more pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), such as Tel­lA­part for cus­tomer ana­lyt­ics, are being woven in for many of these new companies.

A relat­ed space is net­work secu­ri­ty and cyber­se­cu­ri­ty. As secu­ri­ty breach­es like Equifax (143M at risk) unfor­tu­nate­ly con­tin­ue, secu­ri­ty will like­ly be a con­stant theme for years. Com­pa­nies like Awake, Look­out, and Arc­tic Wolf, have dif­fer­ent secu­ri­ty solutions.

Two of the fastest grow­ing areas are mobile and per­son­al­ized video. Affirmed, for exam­ple, is all about adding more intel­li­gence to mobile data net­works. Mobile user expe­ri­ences at scale is what Mist is all about. House­P­a­r­ty is a new group video chat com­pa­ny and Musical.ly (which I love) is all about cre­at­ing new short videos with your favorite music. Eye­view, a per­son­al­ized adver­tis­ing tech­nol­o­gy, is help­ing to place video adver­tis­ing more seamlessly.

An inter­est­ing space is “stream­lin­ing” many func­tions and tasks, such as finan­cial ser­vices, cus­tomer ser­vice, even restau­rant man­age­ment. Affirm is a new finan­cial ser­vices that is tout­ing a new way of get­ting cred­it, right at the online point of sale. Com­pa­nies like Blend (U.S.), Red Car­pet and Fast Fox (India) are re-think­ing the mort­gage and real estate sec­tor. Glad­ly touts its new ways to improve cus­tomer ser­vice (dear­ly need­ed), while Upserve is a tech tool for restau­rant own­ers to bet­ter man­age their oper­a­tions. Stream­lin­ing is like­ly a long-term trend growth trend.

Two com­pa­nies that caught my eye are in the tal­ent man­age­ment area. It’s one thing for LinkedIn to be a leader in the job and recruit­ment space, but it is quite anoth­er to have new soft­ware capa­bil­i­ties, like Reflek­tive, to help man­age tal­ent devel­op­ment inter­nal­ly. Boun­ty Jobs took a dif­fer­ent direc­tion in con­nect­ing employ­ers with mul­ti­ple job ven­dors to find the right candidates.

For retail­ing, a focus is on more per­son­al­ized shop­ping. Like Ama­zon Prime send­ing you lat­est updates on your saved list, a new com­pa­ny, Per­so­n­et­ics, enables banks to bet­ter ana­lyze cus­tomer bank­ing needs – and offer per­son­al­ized solu­tions, even for retail. Oth­er com­pa­nies, like Stitch­Fix and Dote, are becom­ing one-stop shop­ping chan­nels with mul­ti­ple retailers.

And, as video and more social inter­ac­tiv­i­ty con­tin­ues to grow, more “expe­ri­en­tial” expe­ri­ences are emerg­ing. Think of Face­book on speed, but also more sen­so­ry-based. Bema, for exam­ple, is an app that allows users to cap­ture real moments around them – friends or even strangers – and send gen­uine reac­tions to your social net­works. Medi­um brings togeth­er dif­fer­ent ways to tell sto­ries – from text, video, audio – across top­ics. Whis­per takes this a step fur­ther: an anony­mous social net­work­ing ser­vice to allow shared expe­ri­ences, thoughts, feel­ings, even claim­ing emo­tion­al con­tent. As more immer­sive expe­ri­ences only grow online, it’s like an exten­sion of the gam­ing world, where over 500 mil­lion users glob­al­ly spend over 8 hours a day online!

These are just a few exam­ples of what a few VCs are fund­ing – and, giv­en the chal­lenges of new start-ups, 90% plus of these, sad­ly, will not suc­ceed. But there are some insights:

  • As more cloud devel­op­ment and sophis­ti­ca­tion con­tin­ues writ large, more inter­est­ing appli­ca­tions, soft­ware devel­op­ment and predictive/AI options will unfold. But, with all the focus on the cloud, what is often missed: what hap­pens if the cloud goes down?
  • Inte­gra­tion of not only func­tions and tasks, but more inte­gra­tion of all kinds of data­bas­es will con­tin­ue. Think of state and fed­er­al databases….then, think of all per­son­al data (a bit scary).
  • Com­bined video, text, audio – even vir­tu­al real­i­ty (VR) and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty (AR) will be a next wave. With Apple just releas­ing its lat­est iPhone (X), it is curi­ous that no VC fund­ed VR/AR com­pa­ny showed up.

Final­ly, as an exec­u­tive or man­ag­er in an exist­ing com­pa­ny, there are some impor­tant strat­e­gy ques­tions. Where are you with these themes or key inno­va­tion trends impact­ing you? Will it be eas­i­er to devel­op your own inter­nal capa­bil­i­ties or are you already explor­ing part­ner­ships with new start-ups? What are your com­peti­tors doing? Could sce­nario plan­ning — think­ing and explor­ing alter­na­tive futures — increase inno­va­tion with­in your firm? Rais­ing the impor­tance of inno­va­tion will allow increased oppor­tu­ni­ties – and min­i­mize risks — across an entire enterprise.