January 25, 2021 12:41 am
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Views from the Front Row: Startups and research innovation predictions for 2021

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We learn so much from the founders, creators and innovators we have the pleasure to work with in our Oracle for and Oracle for Research programs. Having a front-row view into the world of startup and research innovation ecosystems provides a wealth of insights and learnings. In a highly unpredictable 2020, we got a few guesses right with last year’s predictions piece. Here are things I believe we’ll see happen in 2021.

Voice innovation booms as the future of customer engagements

Voice-enabled technologies will boom with innovation advancements and adoption. COVID was an accelerant, but customers and employees will increasingly come to expect it. According to a Capgemini Research report, more than 77% of customers expect to interact with “touchless” interfaces like voice assistants. And companies are increasing their resources to meet those demands.

AI-powered startups are playing a big role in this revolution. Loud Voice Services is a Cannes Lions award-winning startup using its AI platform to handle customer service engagements through voice, saving customers up to 70% in costs. DeepZen creates ultra-realistic emotional and expressive human voice offerings with its unique AI solution. The startup helps industries like media and publishing cut the production of audio books from weeks to hours — saving time and money. Cloud, AI and startup ingenuity are driving these voice solutions. 2021 will see a big spike — both with innovation and adoption.

Food insecurity inspires innovation and partnerships to increase

Food insecurity and hunger aren’t new issues. But just like everything else, they’ve been accelerated because of COVID. Due to pandemic shut-downs, social distancing and job losses, 50 million new people have entered into poverty conditions and food insecurity in 2020. And those numbers are conservative. In our increasingly virtual world, with less quality food easily available, the numbers will only increase. But there’s hope.

I think 2021 will see ingenuity and strategic partnerships sprout due to the fast-rising need, human awareness and compassion. The private sector will join forces with the government to see the beginnings of change. Companies like Whole Foods, Walmart, Uber and others will partner with innovative founders and builders to provide solutions that can be boosted by our government. We are seeing it with the innovators and researchers we work with at Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research. In fact, I believe our programs will see a 20% increase in technologies trying to solve for food insecurity and food sustainability.

Middle East innovation drives global business growth

The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will unleash innovation and business opportunities not just for these unique ecosystems but worldwide. Israel is the Startup Nation, but the UAE has been earning its own technology and entrepreneurial chops. Look for benefits to go both ways. Israel gets access to the UAE’s investors and the ability to collaborate on tech, and vice-versa. While Israel has traditionally focused on the United States and Europe, the UAE has ties to the east and can help open opportunity to new markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Israeli startups are known as pioneers. Leading in agritech, AgroScout’s AI drone platform is boosting crop production and food sustainability. We’re also seeing sharp increases across the Middle East with innovators like Awini App (Riyadh), Reengen (Istanbul), and Mawlny (Jeddah). Growth from startups joining our program from the Middle East is up 297% YoY. Their collective innovation will unlock and unleash new business opportunities across the globe.

Construction and engineering industry steps up with innovation

It might not be the most glamorous industry, but it’s ripe for disruption. We’re seeing it with many startups that are using and integrating with Oracle’s construction and engineering products. ATLAS, a complete digital solution for healthcare construction, is making sustainable, cost-effective and scalable facilities available to improve global healthcare access. German-based ConcR uses IoT and sensors to provide real-time quality and insights about concrete — making “dumb concrete smart.” And Reconstruct uses its 3D visual platform to make remote construction monitoring possible.

Whether it’s innovations in brand-new construction, or rethinking and optimizing building space for a new remote-working world, this industry will see massive innovation this year. The United States saw a slowdown within the supply chain for construction, but an increase in demand for new building and home improvement. The industry will remain strong through 2021 and will create areas of innovation opportunities as people need to collaborate, design and execute on projects.

High-performance computing no longer just for big companies and researchers

Cloud-based high-performance computing (HPC) capacity is allowing even small startups to compete with established players in fields that require storage, processing, and analysis of massive amounts of data. Think biomedical research, video streaming, AI analysis, and advanced engineering. Data volumes are exploding. The global datasphere will grow from 35 zettabytes in 2020 to 175 zettabytes by 2025, according to IDC. That’s an incomprehensible 1 + 21 zeros. Consider that nearly 30% (and growing every year) of that data requires real-time processing, and you understand why startups are claiming their place at the HPC table.

The number of AI, machine learning, and big data companies enrolling in our Oracle for Startups program has grown more than 20% this year. Among them, AI and analytics startup Kinetica is tapping Oracle Cloud HPC capacity to analyze huge datasets, including drone data collected on the San Francisco Bay to combat pollution.

Sound board governance and board integrity returns

The board of directors is one of the most integral parts of a startup’s internal management structure. These individuals have great responsibilities, including fiduciary and ethical duties, to act in the best interest of the company. It’s an honor and a privilege that requires dedication, discipline and integrity. Unfortunately, the role has also become lax in today’s capital-flushed investing world where seemingly anyone with a checkbook can qualify as a board member. And even some seasoned venture capitalists have come into question.

We’ve seen many epic fails where sound board governance didn’t prevail. But it is happening with lower profile startups, and it can greatly harm innovation for the startup and the ecosystem. Growth-at-all-costs mantra is a failed experiment. Yes, more money can help build a competitive moat, but it can also lead to blind spots and stupidity. Sound business principles and fiscal responsibility will make a return. That starts with board members leading with integrity. I alluded to this in last year’s predictions. So, pardon my wishful thinking for this year.

Multicloud is the future — 2021 will see advanced adoption

Today’s cloud technologies are becoming increasingly more commoditized and portable. And while cloud providers are showing their strengths (think Oracle and HPC), the strategy of using multiple cloud providers is the future. Think of recent outages that have taken down a big chunk of the internet and many businesses. With a multicloud strategy, these businesses could have shifted resources to another infrastructure provider and not missed a beat.

Public clouds have tremendous benefits — but lock-in should never be one of them. Price-performance, interoperability and security will drive your partner selections.

The author is Global Head and VP of Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research. Views are personal. This article is adapted from his Medium page. It was first originally published in Chief Executive.

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