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Innovation Trends to Watch in 2021

BY HEATHER BAKIRE | 3 min read

When future generations look back to 2020, they’ll probably picture us holed up inside our houses waiting for the miracle vaccine to arrive as we ration out our remaining rolls of toilet paper. Or they might think of us masked in the grocery store, spraying fruit with sanitizer before putting it in our freshly sanitized shopping carts.

What they might miss is this: even in the chaos of 2020 (and at times because of it), we have become more innovative.

Don’t believe me? Think about the explosion of productivity tools like Zoom, Asana, and Microsoft Teams, all of which were doing fairly well prior to the pandemic but grew exponentially in 2020. They have inspired brand-new platforms like Topia and Around, which offer an innovative approach to virtual meetings. The work-from-home environment has become the new normal and has spurred businesses to find cutting-edge solutions for their teams.

Or consider the innovative recent advancements in telemedicine that might have taken decades to develop if not for the pandemic. Don’t forget about the brilliant minds that have confronted the problems of mask shortages, ventilator availability, and vaccine safety.

Overall, the innovative trends that intensified in 2020 look like they will continue to grow in 2021. Here are a few you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on, especially if you’re concerned about making your company more innovative.


1. Green innovations

While climate change has been a hot topic for many years, it seems like there has mostly been a lot of talk without meaningful action. With the prevalence of wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and coastal erosion coming to a head in the past few years, people are finally realizing it’s time to find solutions. They’re looking to big data, AI, and other technological advancements to lead the way.

We expect to see green innovations come to the forefront in a variety of areas, including renewable energy, sustainable farming, transportation, and desalination. Green startups are positioned to receive more funding as they create innovative solutions like energy sharing, commodities trading, and green ride-sharing.

Photo by Zhang Kaiyv from Unsplash


2. The international scope of innovation

Gone are the days when Silicon Valley stood alone as the major technological hub of the world. Yes, Silicon Valley is still at the top...but there are other emerging economies and startup ecosystems threatening to displace it. They aren’t just in North America, either.

According to Startup Genome, the top 10 global startup ecosystems of 2020 include London, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, and Stockholm. Closely following are Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Singapore, and Seoul. This has huge implications for the globalization of innovation and illustrates the importance of diversity in finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems.


3. Artificial intelligence

For many years now, artificial intelligence (AI) has been the subject of ethical debates, sci-fi movies, and important board meetings. AI was even involved in COVID-19 vaccine development. We expect this trend of AI growth to continue in 2021, especially in the areas of autonomous driving, quantum computing, cybersecurity, and healthcare.

It’s important to note that AI development is still too expensive for most small and mid-sized companies. This means that the prominence of AI as a Service (AIaaS) will likely continue, which gives virtually all companies the ability to benefit from AI capabilities. While the top players in the AIaaS space are who you’d expect (Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Amazon), there will probably be a surge of other companies looking for more innovative ways to offer AIaaS solutions due to the high demand.

Photo by Vitaly Vlasov from Pexels


4. Consumer privacy

Between the 2020 release of Netflix’s The Social Dilemma and the infamous privacy breaches that have occurred in the past few years, people are painfully aware that their data is not as safe as they’d like it to be. This calls for innovation in the consumer privacy sphere, which will only become more important as companies need to share sensitive information online with their remote workforces.

Because most consumers are concerned about how their data is treated, businesses are looking for innovative ways to protect customer data. Many companies choose to rely on third-party risk management providers and are holding these vendors to a higher standard than ever before. Governments all around the world are proposing data protection regulations to mitigate the issue. 


5. Open innovation

2020 was a real downer for lots of industries (think gyms, airlines, hotels, and amusement parks), but not for open innovation. In fact, the pandemic precipitated several shifts that have caused many businesses and organizations to consider open innovation for the first time. Managers are reluctant to spend money on traditional in-house R&D, especially when their teams are working remotely.

Open innovation provides companies with the opportunity to look outside for solutions to their problems, both big and small. It’s often cheaper, more convenient, and more effective than traditional R&D. HeroX offers the leading open innovation platform, which has hosted the two biggest open innovation challenges in history (both sponsored by NASA). Open innovation is on the rise in 2021, and your company can get in on the action by sponsoring a challenge with HeroX.


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