Market niches set to explode in 2012, according to the UK's most successful entrepreneurs

Stelios, Will King, Match.com’s Karl Gregory and more

Gulp! 2012 is almost here, and there are lots of reasons to feel trepidation (our 27 reasons to fear economic apocalypse, for a start). But there will be bright spots. Even during the Great Depression some industries bucked the slump, such as radios and cigarettes.

So what are the outperforming niches going to be in the New Year? We asked London’s richest entrepreneurs to tell us.

Budget travel

Stelios owns 22 brands under the easyGroup umbrella, from van hire to gyms. So what’s he backing? He tells us: “Both easyBus and easyHotel.com seem to be benefiting strongly from the recession as consumers trade down seeking value for money.” He’s also investing in a clever new car business with Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman. Consumers will be able to rent out their car to strangers via the scheme - a perfect model for the recession.

Prime London property

Not all of London will prosper. Just the prime spots. Barry Gilbertson, former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, says: “Despite all the evidence to the contrary there are still parts of the London property market that will thrive in 2012. Yes, really thrive. The best investment properties are in the West End, Mid-town (around Holborn), Canary Wharf and, especially, the City of London.”

The reason? “Prices will continue to escalate due to the scarcity of good product and the growing currency arbitrage caused by the uncertainty of the Eurozone economy.” Gilbertson says property in these areas will rise in price even in the face of a double-dipper.

Hydrogen batteries

At last! Stephen Voller’s been working on hydrogen fuel cells for donkey’s years. Every year there are predictions that batteries with extraordinary long life are about to be launched. But where are they? Well break out the champers, because Voller tells us that he’s launching his prototype next year. His firm Cella has invented tiny hydrogen cell cartridges for laptops, BlackBerrys, iPads and iPhones which last a whole week. Godspeed you Mr Voller!

Online dating

When times are tough we need more than ever a bit of love and romance. Which means bumper business for those cupids of cyberspace, the online dating agencies. The industry is projected by Mintel to grow from £95m in 2009 to £150m in 2015. Karl Gregory, UK managing director Match.com, tells us that a range of factors mean that 2012 will be a great year, including people living longer, rise in broadband access, people moving for work, as well as a growing perception that online dating is a logical thing to do and less sleazy than bar-crawling.

Pop-up shops

Retail is full of dead time. Just look at Canary Wharf on a Sunday. Or Carnaby Street in February. Pop up shops are an increasingly popular way to sell goods on the high street without incurring the costs of being out of season. Will King, founder of King of Shaves razor brand, says its going to really take off in 2012. He reckons the key is to offer something “niche and unique” and which isn’t available online. “It needs to be worth going on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon stroll to look for.”

Lunchboxes

Food is the new British obsession. And Dan Black’s been a big part of it. His superlative design firm, Black + Blum, makes ergonomic kitchen utensils from potato mashers to BBQ pots. So what’s cooking in 2012? “Our lunch box products are continuing to sell increasingly well. I really believe they must have found a gap in the market or picked up on a new market trend. Obviously ideal for people wanting to save money by taking lunch to work with them. Plus there are added health benefits.” Bad news for Eat and Prêt a Manger.

Crowdfunding

Angel investments are hard enough to find during the good years. During a recession? Painful! But savers are getting thwacked by low interest rates… hence the sudden rise of internet-based crowd-funding. Funding Circle lets investors lend direct to businesses. Average returns are 8.4 per cent. And Crowdcube gives investors the chance to acquire tiny slices of equity in start-ups. There are 6,700 investors registered with the site (signing up is free). Start-up, the Personal Development Bureau, raised £25,000 through Crowdcube, at a cost of 15 per cent of equity. One firm, The Rushmore Group, raised £1m from 143 investors. 2012 is the year crowdfunding goes mainstream.

Mobile advertising

Gartner forecasts mobile ads to grow from $3bn today to $20bn in 2015. London firm Adfonic, which is Europe’s biggest native ad platform with clients such as Tesco and Peugeot, grew revenue 10-fold in the past year. Adfonic’s boss Victor Malachard tells me he plans to expand headcount 150 per cent in the next year as the industry continues to boom.

Mobile apps

The iPad gave apps a shot in the arm and mobile app designers are expecting a barnstorming 2012. Sarat Pediredla, founder of Hedgehog Lab which produces apps for the likes of News International and Statoil, can barely contain his excitement: “I think 2012 will be THE year for the mobile industry in general but mobile agencies especially. Given that smartphones and tablets have only been around for a few years, the explosion and growth of mobile focused digital agencies like ourselves is astonishing. On average, agencies are seeing growth between 400 per cent to 1,000 per cent.”

Freelancers & consultants

In a recession hiring labour as and when it is needed is highly appealing. And the launch of a string of online recruitment sites makes the process easier than ever. PeoplePerHour.com offers workers by the, er, hour. MBA and Co offers MBA grads and PhDs by the project. Simon Dolan, founder of SJD Accounting and pioneer of Twitter investing, says: “With employment legislation still too harsh and the economy struggling to recover I think more and more companies will make greater use of the flexibility offered by consultants and freelancers. This will be great news for existing consultants but also for anyone made redundant recently as the skills they have may well be more marketable in this way.”

Utility firms

The price of energy can make a grown man cry. The performance of Britain’s utility firms is likely to remain buoyant in 2012. Richard Davis, founder of Virtual Gym VT, says grimly: “Utility firms continue to profiteer disproportionately to wholesale energy prices. We all know the model, as wholesale prices increase theirs increase within hours (proportionately). As wholesale prices reduce, consumers don’t see the effect for weeks or months and they don’t see the full reduction either. Same for the major petroleum companies.”

W1

There’s not much of a recession on London’s legendary shopping strips. Jane Asscher, chairman of marketing agency 23red, says this won’t change in 2012: “Bond Street’s luxury stores seem as recession-proof as their oligarch customers.”

Niche dating categories

Oliver Jameson, founder of Cougared.com, the dating site where the women have to be over 40 and the men under 35, says: “Niche dating categories are thriving. Cougared is gaining 150 members a day. 2012 is going to be the year when women stop being ashamed of being Cougars, and start being proud.”

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