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Controversial Industries See Major Startup Growth

Some of the hottest industries for startup entrepreneurs in 2018 – according to data culled from online design marketplace 99designs – are also some of the most controversial.

99designs identified four themes—the rise of cryptocurrency, cannabis, virtual reality and alternative travel businesses—in an analysis of design projects launched on the site at the end of 2017 as compared to those launched four and two years ago (see right panel).

The most dramatic increase in design projects revolved around cryptocurrency, which is an industry not without its skeptics. Not only does the price of digital coinage fluctuate wildly, but there are great concerns regarding security and sustainability. Cybersecurity company Imperva, for example, released its Q3 Global DDoS Threat Landscape Report, which found that it mitigated DDoS attacks at three out of every four bitcoin sites it serves. Additionally, bitcoin was one of the top-10 targeted industries, despite its relatively small size.

As for sustainability, it was reported by Grist.org that by July 2019, bitcoin will require more electricity than the United States currently uses. By February 2020, it will use as much electricity as entire mankind does today.

The world is clearly changing as not only could the dollar be antiquated, but so could laws banning cannabis. Entrepreneurs are looking to cash in on this increasingly legal industry, as the whole West Coast allows for recreational use as do Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

While not as heated, the two remaining top startup industries—virtual reality and alternative travel—bring about a certain amount of debate as well. Virtual reality, for instance, is associated with some ethical issues such as real-life detachment; alternative travel companies (like airbnb) are facing legal issues because some argue they are acting as hotels without permits and without paying hotel taxes.

1) Cryptocurrency businesses.

Bitcoin has been all over the news, attracting a lot of attention to the cryptocurrency industry in general. Projects with the term “cryptocurrency” showed a whopping 458 percent increase since 2015 (and an 821 percent increase over four years ago).

2) Cannabis businesses.

Whether for recreational or strictly medical use, marijuana is now legal in more than half of U.S. states, leading to an industry that has more or less “sprouted” overnight. Projects with terms “cannabis” or “marijuana” in the title increased 55 percent in the past 2 years (and 833 percent since 2013).

3) Virtual Reality (VR) startups.

In 2018, VR becomes more “reality” than “virtual,” with many new players entering the game. Projects with the terms “augmented reality” or “virtual reality” were up by 38 percent over 2015 (and up by 514 percent since 2013).

4) Alternative travel businesses.

Boutique hotels, voluntourism, RVs, Airbnb rentals... staying at a hotel is so 2017. According to 99designs intel, projects with the terms “boutique hotel,” “airbnb,” “van rental” and “camper van” increased by 27 percent in the past two years and are up by 211 percent since 2013.
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