25 Emerging Businesses That Nobody Saw Coming

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Woman wearing a virtual reality headset
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Global industry doesn't stand still for very long, and there are quite a few disappearing industries — but what is taking their place? What came out of nowhere while people were reading their newspapers, talking on landline phones, and considering baseball a growing, thriving sport? We took a look around the business landscape and found several industries that seemed to appear from nowhere … at least to those who weren't paying attention.

Professional video gamer
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Video game tournaments date back to the late 1970s, but esports as an industry wasn't remotely feasible until the late '90s. Consider that in 1998 there were nine tournaments; midway through 2018, there's been 1,481, according to E-Sports Earnings, and the top-earning player has earned $3.7 million in prize money. Twitch-fueled, league-driven, NBA-beloved, ESPN-approved esports were valued at $500 million in 2016 by Goldman Sachs, which expects the market to grow into a $3 billion annual proposition.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency
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Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency. Bitcoin alone has a market cap of more than $125 billion, and there are at least 19 others surpassing or nearing the $1 billion mark. But it takes a whole lot of energy to mine cryptocurrency — with units being created and handed out to "miners" using specialized hardware and software to take part in the decentralized record of transactions called blockchains. Some of the greatest business minds still aren't convinced it isn't a scam.
Marijuana leaf on a U.S. bill
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The District of Columbia and 30 states have legalized marijuana in some form. Eight states and D.C. have legalized it for recreational use. Though most governments are proceeding slowly, legal sales were worth $9.2 billion last year and are expected to hit $47.3 billion in a decade. That's a lot of cultivators, retailers, and sommeliers to hire to keep the good times rolling.
Amazon packages at a door step
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Amazon and eBay arrived nearly 25 years ago, but the following combination of bricks-and-mortar retail bankruptcies and an expected rise in personal disposable income just means more online buying and selling. Considering that Cyber Monday sales didn't eclipse $1 billion until 2010 and were $6.6 billion last year, there's still plenty of room for growth.
Drone flying over a city at dusk
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The Federal Aviation Administration didn't permit small drones until 2016, but PayScale notes that now drone pilots can earn about $24 an hour as use grows from the military to construction, firefighting, crop inspecting, filmmaking, and package delivery. Insurance companies even used them after Hurricane Harvey to inspect damage. The drone market was expected to close at around $18 billion globally in 2017, but hit around $49 billion by 2023.
Fracking drill
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While the hydraulic fracturing process dates back to the 1800s, it wasn't used in conjunction with horizontal drilling to extract oil and natural gas from shale until 1997. Even then, it was after 14 years of trying and still required a great deal of innovation in the 2000s to perfect. It's been only a decade since prices at U.S. gas pumps hit $4 a gallon, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics believes oil and gas extraction jobs will increase by around 34 percent through 2026.
Office workers taking a stretch break
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A "corporate wellness service" is what companies bring in when they don't want to pay more for health care — consultants, wellness fairs, and employee fitness incentives used to create healthier employees or at least get a company off the hook for their care. Annual growth for these services was 1.3 percent a year from 2011 to 2016, IBISWorld notes, and through 2021, this industry is projected to grow another 7.8 percent each year.
Kombucha
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

It's been nearly a decade since Kombucha was declared "the most liberal product in America," but the fermented beverage, which dates back to 200 B.C., now has a corporate stamp of approval — PepsiCo invested in 2016 — and North America's 40 percent of global kombucha market share is expected to grow by 25 percent here annually until 2020, when the value of its corner of the industry will reach $1.8 billion.
East Side King, Austin, Texas
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Food trucks took off in Los Angeles in 2008 during the recession, leaning heavily on social media for promotion, and are still in only the first decade of their current incarnation. Now, independent restaurants are closing fast enough, unable to pay real estate and other costs, to drag down U.S. restaurant numbers overall. But after growing more than 7.9 percent annually over the past five years, according to IBISWorld, the U.S. food truck industry is a $2.7 billion industry boasting more than 4,000 food trucks — and will keep growing roughly 4 percent a year during the next five years.
Grocery delivery
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Let's just start the timeline at June 2017. Sure, there were already grocers with online ordering and services such as Peapod and Instacart, but it was Amazon buying Whole Foods that really changed things. With Aldi, Costco, and Kroger jumping on with Instacart after the Amazon deal and Albertsons expanding delivery, annual growth expectations are now 30 percent annually, the Freedonia Group reports. Walmart says it'll do 40 percent.
Stevia in a wooden spoon next to the plant
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We don't mean sugar. More "natural" alternative sweeteners such as stevia are getting the nod over synthetic counterparts such as sucralose, says Christine O'Keefe of the Freedonia Group. With plant-extracted stevia approved as an additive here in only 2008 and in Europe in 2011, its "natural" corner of the alternative sweetener industry is relatively new, and natural alternative sweeteners are expected to grow 7 percent per year through 2021.
Child playing Angry Birds on a tablet
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Hey, remember when you were excited to play "FarmVille"? That was only 11 years ago. Remember "Angry Birds"? That was six years ago. Even after data scandals resulting from both games, when "FarmVille" parent Zynga went public in 2011, annual growth for social media game companies was roughly 17 percent a year for the next five years. It created its own ongoing video game industry, though this one often wants more than just the initials next to your high score.
Self-driving Uber vehicle
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Autonomous cars have existed as novelties since the 1920s and were tested by the U.S. government in the 1990s. But it wasn't until Florida, California, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., approved autonomous vehicle testing in 2015 that the push was on. Granted, autonomous cars have had some frightening difficulties in testing, but Alphabet, Apple, Uber, and nearly all the major automakers have invested in the technology. That all happened in just three years, and while the cars aren't currently going many places, the industry isn't — so to speak — going anywhere. There may yet be 10 million driverless cars on the road by 2020.
Solar panels on the roof of a house
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Renewable energy sources such as rooftop solar panels and electric cars seem like mainstays now, but were practically nonexistent as recently as 2005. Including solar, wind farms, and other green energy initiatives, this corner of the industry employs nearly 3 million people in the United States, with nearly 10 million people employed in green-energy jobs globally. With growing economies such as China's on board, an attempted U.S. coal revival isn't likely to disrupt global growth.
Woman wearing a virtual reality headset
Photo credit: alvarez/istockphoto

Sony, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, and others have all jumped into virtual reality since equipment become more widely available in 2015, resulting in an industry with revenue expected to top $7 billion this year but reach around $75 billion by the end of 2021. For that to happen, it has to expand beyond gaming for use in medicine, education, safety testing, and other fields, and it needs more people to do it, test it, and sell it.
Robotic lawn mower
Photo credit: Luca Piccini Basile/istockphoto

Husqvarna crowed last year when it sold its 1 millionth robotic lawn mower, part of a global lawn mower market estimated at $26 billion in 2016 — but that was 22 years after its invention, reasonable growth considering a robotic lawn mower costs $599 to $3,500, the same price as a riding lawnmower. Would you pay that much extra to have someone else mow your lawn? Freedonia Group analyst Elliot Woo thinks you will, and that U.S. robotic mower sales in the will triple between 2016 and 2021.
Installing wood vinyl flooring
Photo credit: Kenny10/istockphoto

If you've picked up vinyl flooring within the past decade, you aren't the only one. According to Freedonia Group, demand for wood-, PVC-, composite-, and stone-backed vinyl flooring has more than doubled since 2009. It may not feel like it, but it definitely looks like wood and stone, and is far less expensive. Multilayer flooring has crept into commercial usage and has room to grow.
Hospital orderly moving a woman in a wheelchair
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Oh, you say there's always been elder care? Not in the numbers we're going to need. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people 60 years or older will rise from 900 million to more than 2 billion by 2050, making up 22 percent of the world's population. In the United States alone, 1.2 million more home health care workers will be needed by 2026, with the need for those jobs increasing by 41 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts.
Young woman driving a car
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There was no Uber until 2009, which means we haven't even had a decade of ride sharing, but now Uber alone has 1.5 million drivers across 83 countries and 40 million people using its app. That's worked out well for the founders, but Glassdoor estimates that Uber and Lyft drivers make roughly $32,000 a year. With expenses, it's often far less.

Zenify relaxation drink
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

They used to just call this tea, but relaxation drinks — the counterweight to energy drinks — first appeared in the mid-2000s and have spawned hundreds of options. These drinks expanded their corner of the beverage industry by 16.3 percent annually in revenue between 2012 and 2017, with revenue climbing a whopping 24.8 percent a year in that time, IBISWorld notes. The downer version of energy drinks has the potential to be as much of a convenience-store staple as their counterparts.
Mobile phone with apps
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It seems as if they've been with us this whole time, but it wasn't until iPhones arrived in 2007 that apps found a broad audience. A global market of $1.3 trillion in 2016 is expected to grow to $6.3 trillion by 2021. That's created a world in which people spend $379 a year in apps (going up to $1,008 by 2021), generating revenue for companies through app sales, in-app ads, and ecommerce. It's also, in 11 years, created an entire industry of app developers who, according to PayScale, average $67,000 per year.
Social media strategy written on a clear window in an office
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At one point, social media was actually centered around social interaction; companies have made it more about branding and engagement. Your data and dollars are what companies are after, and within the past decade, having someone to manage a brand on social media has been a high priority for companies. On their best day — while making an average $48,000 a year — they're Wendy's or Merriam-Webster making a great quip; at worst, efforts can backfire completely and anger the followers a brand was trying to turn into customers.
Woman taking an online survey
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Online surveys are far less expensive than hiring a polling company or doing phone surveys (because who uses a phone as a phone?). That's created a glut of online survey companies, with the industry seeing 14 percent growth annually since 2013, IBISWorld notes. Still, with just two companies accounting for 41 percent of the industry's revenue, there's room for growth.
Young man sitting at an office desk
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You know all that data that Facebook and other social media have been harvesting and that Google and every other web entity has compiled from you? Well, they need someone to analyze and interpret it. That person had one of Glassdoor's top jobs of the past two years and made a median $110,000 a year for doing it, since the internet revolves around using your data as a commodity.
Woman taking a selfie for social media
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Twitter launched 12 years ago. Google bought YouTube that same year. Instagram didn't debut until 2010. At best, we've had social media "influencers" for a decade, but it's a lucrative industry. Remember that Grumpy Cat, a non-speaking non-human influencer, made $100 million in just two years. Kylie Jenner influenced her way to nearly $1 billion. Even more lowly influencers can make $5,000 per post or $100,000 per campaign.

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