What is hot at MWC21? (and it’s not just the weather)

MWC21 hot MWC
Startups on display at MWC21

The weather this year at MWC is very different from the usual February weather. It’s much hotter. But there are some hot products, too, and very different from other years. We do not see so much of the typical network equipment, mobile phones and signal analyzers. Instead, there are plenty of startups, SMEs and companies supported by national export support organizations from different countries. It gives us some idea of what is hot right now in the innovation and startup space.

We can pick three especially hot business areas in this year’s event:

  1. Health and wellness technology and services;
  2. Security, identity and privacy management;
  3. Environmental solutions, some including also ethical and other sustainability aspects.

Generally, these areas indicate an evident change in the focus of new digital services. We could even claim that this is linked to mega-trend changes, where ecological, personal wellbeing and privacy are becoming more important to people, and businesses must react to the changes, and there are many new business opportunities in those areas.

Health and wellness service companies were probably the most visible in the 4YFN area. This includes various companies, mainly startups, from healthcare-related data and software companies to self-treatment, individual sport and wellbeing support services and remote health care. It is clear data analytics, digital services and AI are becoming a more important part of all health services. The Covid time has accelerated this development.

Anyway, this is not only about health care as such. Wellness is becoming more mainstream, and data analytics and AI are coming to that area, too. Wearables and sensors are an essential part of this development where individuals can access their wellness data. As a curiosity, I had an interesting discussion with a toothbrush company, whose toothbrushes collect data such as how long you brush and how well you clean different areas, then analyze it. The user could access this information, combine it with other health data and provide their dentist with their history. Data now comes from so many personal devices, and it can be combined with other data sources.

Security in digital services is becoming increasingly important, and the pandemic has also accelerated this development as people handle all kinds of tasks digitally. Digital identities, privacy, trusted communications and secure transactions are the basis of all digital services, and several startups are innovating new solutions in that area.

Those services are suffering the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma. Identity, data management and secure transaction services can become popular only when multiple services and applications utilize them. Still, service and application developers seem only to want to use solutions that are already popular. Those companies that make the solutions and can develop popular end-user applications to utilize them will become winners in this area.

Environmental solutions also include many kinds of new services and products. They can be, for example, new, more ecological materials; technology to make agriculture more ecological; solutions to save energy; industrial solutions to make processes and supply-chain more effective and many other innovations to make business and lifestyle more sustainable.

One could also say these now growth areas represent a kind of generation shift. It is not just to build infrastructure solutions and solve technology needs to build a big business, but also to make life and our environment better and healthier. This probably also indicates what kinds of startups younger generations are keen to build.

This doesn’t mean mobile networks, clouds, backbone components and services become irrelevant. On the contrary, they are still important, but they become less visible to users, and services and applications on them become more significant and also a more critical part of the value-add and profit of digital services. Networks years ago became bit pipes and connectivity a commodity, but the same is happening now for clouds, data storage, IoT (sensors) and basic AI engines.

Business data and services that utilize it have been the big success story of the last decade. During this decade, more personal services have offered greater opportunities. As a result, people can better live their digital life with better security, privacy and fully utilize personal data to live better and make the environment better. This year’s MWC companies indicate that change, although it could simply be a coincidence when big tech companies were afraid to participate, that startups jumped at the opportunity.

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