The former managing director for the Dell Global Center for Entrepreneurship, Preston James is now co-founder and CEO of DivInc, an Austin, Texas-based pre-accelerator program for women and entrepreneurs of color. The 12-week immersive program provides budding entrepreneurs with mentorship, one-on-one access to investors, team dinners and other resources to launch startups.
We caught up with James to recap startup trends for 2017 and look ahead to what areas might prove popular for entrepreneurs in 2018.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
StartupNation: What are some of the popular startup niches where you’re seeing lots of excitement and innovation?
Preston James: From the technology perspective, we’re seeing some significant trends towards artificial intelligence and virtual reality, augmented reality. Then also, things that are happening on the financial spectrum, with Bitcoin and things of that sort. There’s also energy technology.
When I look at artificial intelligence, it offers some goodness and there’s also some scariness in how much control would we be giving up and how much dependence would we be creating in an artificially intelligent world.
The other side that I look at is trying to address long-term social challenges associated with maybe the justice system, education. How do we make lives better for a broader set of people? On a global scale, we’re recognizing that the problems with our education, health and social system are very challenging and we have to find new ways of addressing those before we leave too many people behind. That will be problematic for the economy as a whole.
StartupNation: Do you expect these areas of interest to continue in 2018?
Preston James: I definitely think so. I think we’re going to see a lot more engagement in those spaces. I think you’re going to see a lot more organizations and companies developing technology that’s more innovative in solving social problems. As a matter of fact, even here in Austin there’s going be a new hub for social innovation that’s being created.
StartupNation: What about the people behind these startups? Is that evolving?
Preston James: From the entrepreneur’s perspective, we’ve seen some very significant increases in the percentages of women entrepreneurs. Today, there are some 10 million small business owners who are women. We’re getting greater participation from women in general. And also, we’re seeing greater increases from ethnically diverse groups. We’re seeing some positive trends, but we still need to see greater successes coming from those groups, as well.
StartupNation: That fits right in with DivInc’s mission to help women entrepreneurs and people of color. Is that part of a broader trend? Are other programs doing similar work?
Preston James: Definitely. There are more popping up across the country. I don’t think it’s so much that some of these programs are saying, ‘hey, there’s racism happening.’ I think what’s happening is that these programs are popping up to serve a broader base of entrepreneurs who are interested and not necessarily able to access some of these cool coworking spaces and accelerator programs. Accelerator programs are very competitive in general, and so a lot of these ethnically diverse entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily able to get into those programs. But we need to find ways to bring them in and to educate and provide the opportunities for them. There are programs that are addressing those gaps.
StartupNation: What else do you expect to see happening in the startup world next year?
Preston James: I think we’re seeing people looking for better or more unique ways to access financial capital. You have the traditional venture capital, you have the traditional angel investment. I think people are seeking out ways to provide access to capital and make it more available for entrepreneurial opportunities. I don’t know if there are any easy answers to that, but I believe there’s energy being created to find better ways to access capital. It doesn’t always have to be venture based.
StartupNation: Is there anything else you want to add before we sign off?
Preston James: From my perspective, as we move into the future, the demographics of the United States and of the world are actually changing. Especially within the United States, demographics are changing where the majority of the population will be people of color or mixed races. As such, we have to do a better job of providing opportunities for our broader base of people, especially in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a pathway to wealth and job creation. If we continue on the path that we are today, then you’ll have a large majority population of the United States sitting on the bottom of the economic totem pole.
It would not allow the United States to become as prosperous as it could be. From my perspective, we have to find ways to broaden the entrepreneurship base and empower more people of color and more women to be successful entrepreneurs. They in turn will create the jobs, they will create wealth, they will create income that will allow the nation as a whole to be prosperous.