2021 Innovation Trend Leaderboard


What innovative breakthroughs and solutions can we expect 2021 to bring, across fields and industries?

Gaining a competitive edge in an ever-developing market is of the utmost importance for any future-forward business. All the more so in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has required startups and corporations of all shapes and sizes to adapt to new business models, and innovate new solutions remains a core enabler of not only survival, but also a success, now, and for years to come. 

As we usher in yet another new year, we take pause to monitor and reflect upon what we believe will be the biggest, most impactful trends in 2021, across a variety of industries. Together, these developing and expanding innovations will shape the coming twelve months for citizens of (smart) cities worldwide, enabling more people to enjoy smarter, safer, more connected, and more seamless daily lives.

Here are some of the emerging innovation trends to watch this coming year.

Remote work: Introduction of new videoconferencing solutions

It’s safe to say that 2020 was the year of Zoom. The influx of people working and studying from home as a direct result of Covid-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders caused a surge in the videoconferencing platform’s popularity, usage, and market worth. Even communities have turned to the platform for socialization purposes, using the digital space for all sorts of events: lecture series, paint parties, and even escape rooms! 

While we’ll be more than happy to return to face-to-face social gatherings once the pandemic no longer requires social distancing, 2021 is expected to bring continued use and further development and expansion of this and new video conferencing platforms for remote work and school purposes, to enhance productivity, enable greater flexibility, and promote better user experiences. Be sure to keep an eye out for emerging industry players that enable better content creation and sharing, project tracking, and real-time communication, across media.

Fulfillment: Contactless shipping and delivery

What once seemed the makings of a great science fiction flick is now slowly becoming part of our new normal. Covid-19 drove a serious push towards contactless shipping and delivery, with many businesses, particularly those in the food and beverage industry, already offering no-contact drop-offs. But while in 2020, these services largely involved placing an order via a dedicated website or mobile app and a delivery person bringing and leaving said order on the buyer’s front doorstep without so much as a hello, the delivery landscape is poised to evolve and look quite different in the near future.

Meituan, a Chinese delivery startup, was the first to test out contactless fulfillment using autonomous vehicles. Initial testing was so successful that the company officially launched its contactless delivery program last year. And in the US, small startups, as well as large companies like Wal-Mart, are testing out the use of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, such as drones, to smartly drop deliveries off at buyers’ destination addresses, rapidly and without human contact. The potential for faster, smarter, and more hygienic delivery in 2021 looks bright, and we can’t wait to see its effect on the consumer market.

Smart cities: Expansion of 5G development & applications

2020 saw rapid growth and implementation of 5G technology and infrastructure, which brought with it its fair share of controversy. That being said, the World Economic Forum, predicts that by 2035, the fifth-generation mobile network will have reached a global economic output of $13.2 trillion, creating 22.3 million jobs in the process. This is largely due to the technology’s ability to significantly and reliably speed up connectivity, ensuring continuous and uninterrupted communication, for business and personal activities.

In 2021, more and more telcos will continue to develop and deliver 5G to cities worldwide with new infrastructure and applications rolling out and enhancing the experiences of businesses and their customers across the globe. It is expected that the coming year will see 5G supporting the scaling of smart cities, allow for new advancements within the unmanned and autonomous vehicle industry, and allow for greater communication on the factory floor, by employees and machines alike.

Urban mobility: Micro-mobility vs. autonomous driving experiences

The urban mobility landscape is constantly evolving and teeming with new, innovative solutions that meet the needs of city-goers everywhere. While 2020 initially saw a reduction in demand for micro-mobility solutions, it was a mere, momentary dip caused by widespread lockdowns. Now that people are once again out and about, micro-mobility solutions like e-bikes and e-scooters, are in high demand once more. After all, riding outdoors, on your own is about the safest, most socially-distant method of transportation one can use. It is expected that in 2021, this market will continue to grow, as more startups devise strategies to better integrate micro-mobility within the sharing economy and promote a more cost-effective and eco-friendly approach to transportation within urban environments.     

But wait – there’s more. 2021 is also expected to bring us that much closer to the ultimate autonomous driving experience. Autonomy development has remained ongoing throughout the past year, with major players such as Ford, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz seeking to integrate autonomous driving capabilities into their vehicles and ride-sharing into their offering. Billions of dollars have already been spent acquiring domain-specific startups by automakers like GM, and tech companies like Intel, alike. And this trend seems to only be picking up momentum in 2021. 

Bottom line

2021 is expected to be a year of tremendous growth, innovation, and opportunity across all sectors. From advancements designed to make the world safer while we cope with Covid-19, to technologies poised to help us emerge from the pandemic stronger, smarter, and more connected than ever before. At Highroad, we’re excited to see what the coming year has to bring and promise to remain at the forefront of trending innovation developments that promise to reinvent your everyday life, every day. 

Think your startup could climb the innovation trend leaderboard? Talk to us about joining our next Highroad Launchpad cohort. 

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