1. Energy – low-cost energy directly increases the quality of life.
Generally speaking, anything you can create to make energy from current energy sources cheaper will be revolutionary. Same goes for extracting energy out of new sources. The newer sources of energy are solar, wind, ethanol biofuels, biofuels from other sources, like Jatropha, geothermal, hydrogen, thorium, etc.
2. Artificial intelligence
This is just as revolutionary as it is overhyped. For all the talk, there has not been a practical breakthrough. Perhaps, it helps to point out there won’t be a single artificial intelligence machine. Rather products that will apply A.I. to create artificial creativity, artificial reasoning, etc. will be useful.
Robots are already here in manufacturing and military uses. There are few consumer robots yet. As with Garmin GPS, the breakthrough could come by adopting military technology for consumer needs rather than developing robotic hardware and software from scratch.
The ultimate promise of biotech to make us disease free and forever young, seems to be almost within reach now. The Human Genome project is finished. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to tweak the genes. There are moral considerations in this, too. A startup that addresses either side of this story would be revolutionary.
In the United States health care is far too expensive. And not as effective as it could be. A startup that would make medical insurance less costly, or better yet create a preventative healthcare system is worth funding.
Drugs should be developed faster, and less expensively. Preventative drugs, and drugs that enhance not patch up human health after the fact would be worth funding.
7. Food and Water
Between 1940s and 1960s Norman Borlaug led the Green Revolution that saved 1 billion people from starvation, especially after World War II. New uses of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers as well as new genetically engineered breeds of high yield crops were employed to greatly increase global food production. The new water and food crisis is inevitable as global population is rising. A startup that discovers new food sources, or optimizes the current ones, would save millions of lives. Same goes for water. Desalination of sea water that is commercially feasible will be a breakthrough.
Connecting students to the right disciplines and the right teachers would make the world population smarter. Although you can’t scale good teachers physically, you can scale their reach through the internet, even in one-on-one teaching. Education being the key to when all the things on this list happen, this may be a starting point for those reading this who are not sure what to do.
9. Internet Infrastructure
Internet is still vulnerable to governments, natural disasters, hacking, and it’s own size. Products that will keep the servers safe, boost security, and invent better ways to store vast amounts of information are worth funding.
Government is a very large client. Its software is routinely outdated or just plain bad. It can be done better with the efficiency of a startup.
11. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
It seems like it’s here but it’s not. VR and AR is still scary enough to not be a daily product most people use. A startup that makes it practical enough to “de-scarify” it is worth funding.
Only universities and large companies can afford large-scale scientific research today. They are not always efficient. Why couldn’t there be independent research labs? Perhaps, crowd-funded ones?
No one likes to commute. Yet, the real estate market shows that commuting won’t go anywhere for the next while. What we can do is make commuting more convenient. Small personal vehicles running on clean energy would be the key.
14. One Million Jobs
Many jobs will inevitably default to robots and computers over the next years. That does not means humans will be out of work. People will fill new professions altogether. But someone needs to educate and train for those professions of the future. Someone needs to build the robots.
Even given how in demand programming is, there is still a high barrier to entry. Not much has changed since 20 years ago. Programmers are still educated in the same way and work with similar technical issues. New programming tool and education can change that.
16. Hollywood 2.0
New talent is no longer scouted out by agents. The audience of YouTube can directly select who they like. And those celebrities can directly interact with their fans. A startup can help people discover talent on YouTube.
Some demographics have historically enjoyed less social and financial success. Does it have to be so? The education system and the work environment can be changed to make any ethnicity, race, and gender to perform at their top level.
18. Developing Countries
Many services and products are not available in the developing world simply due to poor logistics, not because of lack of demand. A startup that optimizes international delivering, imports, etc. is worth funding.
19. Enterprise Software
Software used by large companies has lagged behind the consumer market for a while. It’s time to change that. There is not reason you should even have to mail letters or fax receipts to get your refunds from large retailers, for example.
20. Financial Services
Unless you are particularly wealthy, financial services that help you grow whatever money you do have are almost non-existent. A startup that finds new ways to invest money for not-so-high-net-worth individuals is worth funding.
Other than Skype and Whatsapp, there has not really been a breakthrough in how we talk to each other at a distance. Communicating could be faster and simple with more effective usage of broadband.