Trends entrepreneurs should watch in the year ahead
Entrepreneurs who have promising technologies and services aimed at reducing carbon emissions will be in luck. With climate change a major issue across the globe, "there are great prizes out there for companies able to do creative things around reducing carbon emissions," says Mark Milstein, director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University. He also sees openings for entrepreneurs offering cheap technology in less affluent markets around the globe. Less certain is whether the federal regulatory landscape will change. Milstein is betting that because 2008 is a Presidential election year, there will be more hot air than new laws coming out of Washington.
Big opportunities await entrepreneurs with global ambitions in 2008. Mauro Guillén, director of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, says the weak U.S. dollar means entrepreneurs who export to Europe and Canada "will experience a windfall." Continuing fallout from manufacturing troubles in China could give an edge to companies that manufacture in the U.S. or have their own, well-run plants in that country. And with entrepreneurship blooming in Latin America, particularly in Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, more U.S. businesses will hit those markets, notes I. Elaine Allen, associate professor at Babson College and co-author of the 2006 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's Report on Women. Says Allen: "That is good for U.S. business owners because it is opening up new markets and gives them the ability to partner [with entrepreneurs in those regions]."
Look for your phone to become your PC. Mobile smartphones are the new must-haves, and they're a boon to small businesses, says Mark Anderson, technology analyst and CEO of Strategic News Service. Business owners can use them to do everything from locating employees with GPS-enabled devices to notifying customers of discounts, say, or delivery delays. The phone's growing list of Web-based applications for accounting, human resources, and sales will also make life simpler. Tim Bajarin, an industry analyst and president of Creative Strategies, says: "They will allow small business owners to be even more mobile than they already are."
A full-blown credit crunch may have been averted, but banks still are ratcheting up lending standards for startups and small companies that want to expand. That trend will continue if banks find themselves with more bad mortgage loans on their books. And with home prices expected to continue falling, "small companies that use real estate for collateral will find it particularly tough to borrow," says Tun Wai, chief economist for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
What will drive small business owners to the polls in 2008? Tax relief and health-care reform, more than anything. But until the Presidential race becomes a two-person contest, most entrepreneurs probably will pay more attention to local races than to the national prize. "Small businesses are taking a wait-and-see attitude until the rhetorical clutter of the primary season goes away," says Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. Politicians, on the other hand, may be waiting for more interest from entrepreneurs. "Candidates recognize that small business owners make up a large part of their voting base," says Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Assn. "But they aren't convinced that they vote as small business owners rather than around other issues." For now, call it a standoff.
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