SCORE

Life’s not fair.

That’s what some people say to justify inequality, injustice, and exclusion, anyway. Life’s not fair, but what can you do?

I’ll tell you what smart entrepreneurs can do. They can identify problems faced by underserved markets, come up with a solution, and build a business or product providing it. Every business begins with opportunity, after all, and targeting niche demographics with unique needs is a huge one.

Savvy business professionals should examine demographic trends, consumer data, and the latencies of existing products and services to turn such opportunities into a profitable and purposeful business. Here’s how.

First, identify the underserved

What is an underserved market? While there’s not a hard and fast definition, generally underserved markets are sizable groups of people that have been ignored or overlooked by profit-oriented business enterprises. Besides having unmet needs, these markets mark an opportunity for businesses that are people-minded and profit-minded. If an incumbent entrepreneur can alleviate their issues, a sizeable deficit becomes a sizeable gain.

I know because I’ve been there. As an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, I’ve noticed far too many groups that are underserved by our current healthcare delivery system and the companies that work within it. After realizing that New York City’s seniors were chief among these underserved markets, I decided to found a better model to provide quality, affordable, and innovative services to this vulnerable and growing group of people.

Underserved markets exist in all industries; healthcare just happens to be one with especially high stakes. If you work in hospitality, you may discover that cat owners are desperately in need of cat hotels, or that vegans in your neighborhood just don’t go out because there are no options for them. If you work in finance, you may find that Hispanic Millennials are having trouble securing loans, or that suburbanites lack ATMs. The point is, these markets are everywhere if know where to look.

Next, uncover specific issues and needs

Identifying an underserved market goes part in parcel with identifying that market’s needs. Still,  it’s worth digging into this task a bit more. It’s not always obvious what people are lacking (which might be why they’ve been left out in the first place). Sometimes there are structural circumstances holding people back that make it very difficult to provide lasting solutions. Other times, there’s a lack of awareness about their problems, so much so that the group itself might not even realize what they are missing. At other times, the existing provider of the relevant  services is a monopoly that provides overly-broad or simplistic solutions, without expending the required effort to ensure quality and targeted services for all people.

Whatever the case, the first way to identify needs is to ask. Go out there, in the field, and ask people about their problems. Are they having trouble reaching their doctor? Buying fresh produce? Getting a cell phone connection? Finding odd jobs? Are there potential solutions that appeal to them?

Compiling data and research can be helpful in this regard as well. To what extent is the market underserved? What do they need, and what can they afford? Consult professionals with experience in your identified niche. Nailing down a trend, backed by facts and figures, is necessary before you move ahead with a business plan.

Last, be better than whatever's out there

It’s easy to spout potential fixes, but difficult to come up with solutions that are also viable business plans with potential for scalability. In order to be the best and more reliable solution out there, entrepreneurs will need to be very prepared on all levels.

Identify and research what competition, if any, you’re up against, and what gives you an edge by comparison. Meticulously devise a business plan that takes into account what funding you need to get off the ground, what ROI you can expect over time, and a plan to scale the company. If your plan is not airtight, someone else will swoop in on the market in your stead — or worse, the market will stay underserved because of your flaws.
Remember, as an entrepreneur the task is yours to provide the best product or service possible. It may be true that life isn’t fair, but it’s also true that we have much to gain by making it so, turning the underserved into happy, loyal customers. I do my best every day to live up to this duty and advise other entrepreneurs to do good first if they want to do well.