A Look at the Success of Two of 2023’s Emerging Programs: Creator Economy and Smart Plants

January 9, 2024

Every year in January, Gray Decision Intelligence hosts a webinar featuring five emerging academic programs with high potential for higher education. Gray DI conducts months of research to identify these programs, combing through venture capital investments, Defence Advanced Research (DARPA) funding, the general press, and colleges’ new program announcements. We explore fields ranging from science and technology to culture and clothing. It is pretty thrilling. 

But how did we do? Did our winners rocket into orbit or fizzle on the launch pad? Let’s look at the first two of last January’s emerging programs and see how they’ve fared.  

2023 Emerging Programs Prediction 1. Creator Economy

In 2023, according to Goldman Sachs, spending on influencers grew 23%, from $4.9 billion to $6.16 billion. Marketers across a widening array of products and services are investing in influencers, creating opportunities for more influencers. However, earnings for full-time and part-time influencers remain low, with 48% making less than $15k per year. From: Creator Earnings Benchmark Report 

“As the ecosystem grows, the total addressable market of the creator economy could roughly double in size over the next five years to $480 billion by 2027 from $250 billion today.” From: “The creator economy could approach half a trillion dollars by 2027.” Goldman Sachs 

The creator economy encompasses more than just folks dancing on TikTok. During 2023, there was rapid growth in professional creators, a focus on the importance of community building, and the integration of AI technologies to enhance creator productivity and offerings. From: The State of Influencer Marketing 2023: Benchmark Report Influencer Marketing Hub

Creators are expanding beyond traditional ad-share and brand deals to direct-to-consumer product offerings, such as online courses and digital products. In March 2023, creators on Kajabi, a platform developer, reached $5 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV), highlighting the rapid growth in this sector​​. From: The 2023 Creator Economy: A deep dive into the business and culture of these comms allies as the sector grows exponentially. Agility PR 

Overall, the influencer and creator economy in 2023 represents a diverse, highly fragmented, and growing sector. It reflects broader digital media and marketing trends, where individual creators can significantly increase brand awareness and influence consumer behavior. The creative economy will continue to be a strong influence in 2024.

In our view, the Creator Economy could draw thousands of new students. Millions of potential students know about the creator and influencer economy – and many participate. It promises a way to pursue their dreams and make a living. It also requires various knowledge and skills, ranging from video production to fashion merchandising or construction. However, making a living as an influencer remains problematic. Still, a deep understanding of influencer marketing may give graduates a leg up in more traditional marketing roles (e.g., working in an ad agency).

2023 Emerging Programs 2. Smart Plants 

Are your plants talking back? Smart plant research is determining how plants communicate and the potential applications of this technology. We reported that researchers were exploring the possibility of an “Internet of Plants,” where plants might remove toxins, detect odors, and even assist in monitoring medical conditions. Harnessing how they talk to each other through chemical communication is another area of smart plant research. 

Advances in smart plant research can get eclipsed in the media by the more immediate focus of quickly addressing global challenges in food security, sustainability, and climate change resilience, such as developing pale green crops, which offer a more sustainable approach to agriculture. The reduced pigment in these crops allows for deeper light penetration, facilitating better photosynthesis​​. From: Smart crops for a changing world: novel insights from the Italian plant science community Botany One. But this is the Italian plant science community, and in my opinion alone, they can be a little conservative regarding the science of their food. 

See Also Cellular Agriculture Programs Gray Decision Intelligence

Now for something really exciting. Smart plant research also incorporates bioacoustics (or is that perhaps flora-acoustics?) For a study published this year (2023), researchers put tomato and tobacco plants in an acoustically isolated box to see if they would talk to each other. AI helped the researcher interpret the recorded ultrasonic sounds the plants produced. From: Sounds emitted by plants under stress are airborne and informative Cell

Measuring the Opportunity for Emerging Programs

Looking back at two of last year’s emerging programs reveals a fascinating landscape of growth, innovation, and potential that has marked this year as a significant period in both fields.

The Creator Economy is blossoming into a robust and multifaceted sector. We’ve seen a surge in marketing investments in creators, underscoring the pivotal role influencers now play in shaping digital marketing strategies. The integration of AI technologies and the development of diverse revenue models are propelling this industry. 

On the other front, Smart Plant technology has opened up new horizons in understanding plant communication. While focusing on global challenges like food security and sustainable agriculture remains paramount, fascinating progress has been made in plant communication. This year’s studies, including the groundbreaking research on plant interactions using ultrasonic sounds, have pushed the boundaries of what we understand about plant communication. That said, this looks more like a niche program for now.

Click here to register for our 2024 Emerging Academic Programs to Watch webinar.

Mary Ann Romans


Mary Ann creates, defines, and executes marketing strategy at Gray Decision Intelligence.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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