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MIT Technology Review

50 Smartest Companies 2014

June 15, 2015

50 Smartest Companies

  • 1

    Illumina

    • Headquarters San Diego, California
    • Industry
      Biomedicine
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2010 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $28 billion

    Summary

    The leader in commercializing the rapid sequencing of human DNA, the company reported a steep drop in sales last fall, suggesting that the market for its sequencing machines might be saturated. Three months later it unveiled a new machine, NovaSeq, that it says is capable of sequencing as many as 48 entire human genomes in two and a half days—and someday pushing the cost of sequencing down to $100, potentially low enough to significantly expand what researchers can learn about diseases.

    $850,000:

    price of the cheaper of its two NovaSeq models
  • 2

    Tesla Motors

    • Headquarters Palo Alto, California
    • Industry
      Transportation
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2010 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016
    • Valuation $28 billion

    Summary

    Tesla topped this list last year for its plan to extend its battery technology from cars to residential and commercial applications. This year, Tesla’s Autopilot technology stands out for the way it integrates feedback from a camera, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS to aid drivers on highways, help them avoid collisions, and assist them in parking. Besides advancing semi-autonomous driving, Tesla is also making electric vehicles more accessible by introducing its most affordable car yet, the $35,000 Model 3.

    50 percent

    According to CEO Elon Musk, drivers have a 50 percent lower chance of having an accident when driving with Tesla Autopilot.
  • 3

    Google

    • Headquarters Mountain View, California
    • Industry
      Internet & Digital Media
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2010 , 2011 , 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015

    Summary

    Its Loon balloons are designed to broaden Internet access.

  • 4

    Samsung

  • 5

    Salesforce.com

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 6

    Dropbox

  • 7

    BMW

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 8

    Third Rock Ventures

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 9

    Square

  • 10

    Amazon

    • Headquarters Seattle, Washington
    • Industry
      Connectivity
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $479.3 billion

    Summary

    Amazon is using a range of AI technologies, including computer vision, machine learning, and natural-language processing, to reinvent mobile computing and shopping. The company’s voice-activated assistant Alexa now controls everything from TVs to cars and is poised to be the next important computing platform. Amazon is also streamlining the brick-and-mortar shopping experience through its Seattle-based Amazon Go convenience store. Customers simply enter the store, scan an app on their smartphones, and walk out with the items they wish to purchase. Amazon uses AI, cameras, and sensors to identify the products they have selected and bills them automatically—no lines or checkouts necessary.

    12,000:

    number of programs that software developers have published for Alexa
  • 11

    Tencent

    • Headquarters Shenzhen, China
    • Industry
      Connectivity
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $350 billion

    Summary

    It’s been a blowout year for Tencent, which owns China’s biggest social network, WeChat, and is also the world’s largest video-gaming company. Though WeChat already boasts more than 900 million monthly active users, Tencent keeps expanding the mobile app so that it now offers messaging, online gaming, shopping, music, videos, and peer-to-peer payments. The breadth of features attracts new users and keeps existing ones active inside WeChat, which enables Tencent to sell more ads and services. In April, the Internet giant passed Wells Fargo to become one of the world’s 10 most valuable companies by market capitalization, thanks to growth in its gaming, online advertising, and payments businesses.

    50 percent:

    proportion of WeChat’s 770 million daily users who are on the service at least 90 minutes a day
  • 12

    Snapchat

    • Headquarters Los Angeles, California
    • Industry
      Internet & Digital Media
    • Status private
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2015 , 2016
    • Valuation $20 billion

    Summary

    Snapchat is still experimenting with innovative new content, which was the reason it made this list last year. This year, Snapchat’s most significant moves relate to expanding its advertising business. Advertisers value Snapchat as a way to reach consumers aged 13 to 34, but they have criticized the company for charging high rates without sharing much data about ads’ performance. Snapchat recently addressed these concerns by signing deals that let Viacom sell ads on its behalf and allow Nielsen to supply campaign data to advertisers.

    10 billion

    Number of videos that are seen on the app every day.
  • 13

    Cree

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 14

    Box

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 15

    BrightSource Energy

  • 16

    Wal-Mart Stores

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 17

    General Electric

    • Headquarters Boston, Massachusetts
    • Industry
      Advanced manufacturing
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2017
    • Valuation $237.4 billion

    Summary

    More than 120 years old, General Electric has readjusted its strategy many times, and under its newly announced CEO, John Flannery, may change yet again. But in recent years its focus has been on investing aggressively in forward-looking industries like wind and renewable energy and building up its data-driven services. Its large services business, built around monitoring of existing products like aircraft engines, locomotives, and gas turbines, is an area where the company has been focusing on capturing and interpreting data. These systems now incorporate artificial intelligence both to track performance and to predict failures in advance. GE’s stated goal is to become one of the world’s top software providers by 2020, even as it competes against longtime rivals like Siemens and newer ones such as IBM that are now expanding into industrial analytics.

    60,000:

    number of jet engines GE says will be connected to the Internet by 2020
  • 18

    Qualcomm

  • 19

    Kaggle

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 20

    Second Sight

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 21

    SpaceX

    • Headquarters Hawthorne, California
    • Industry
      Transportation
    • Status private
    • Years on the List 2011 , 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $12 billion

    Summary

    In 2017, SpaceX proved it’s possible to fly a rocket into space carrying a payload, bring it back, refurbish it, and launch it again with a new payload. Reusable rockets make space travel far cheaper and faster: they are critical to SpaceX’s long-term goal of establishing an interplanetary transport system. The startup also compressed the time needed to refit its recycled rockets (from one year to a few months) and began preliminary tests of its Falcon Heavy booster, which is expected to be the world’s most powerful rocket when it is completed later this year.

    10 percent:

    price discount being considered for customers who agree to fly their payloads on reused rockets
  • 22

    Kickstarter

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 23

    Hanergy Holding Group

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 24

    Siemens

  • 25

    1366 Technologies

  • 26

    Uber

    • Headquarters San Francisco, California
    • Industry
      Transportation
    • Status private
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2015

    Summary

    It’s testing ideas like ride-share services and driver deliveries.

    162,037

    Number of active Uber drivers as of December 2014
  • 27

    Evernote

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 28

    Baidu

    • Headquarters Beijing, China
    • Industry
      Intelligent machines
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $61.1 billion

    Summary

    Baidu keeps pouring money into AI research despite declining revenue growth and the defection of some prominent AI experts. In January, it launched a voice-enabled smart assistant called DuerOS, which is similar to Amazon’s Alexa. To bolster its driverless-car initiative, Baidu also acquired a computer-vision startup, signed partnerships with component makers Bosch and Continental, and announced plans to release its self-driving hardware and software as open-source technology. While it remains to be seen whether Baidu can commercialize these projects, the Chinese government signaled its confidence in the company by choosing it to lead the country’s first national AI research lab.

    1,300:

    number of employees dedicated to working on AI
  • 29

    GitHub

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 30

    Xiaomi

    • Headquarters Beijing, China
    • Industry
      Computing & Communications
    • Status private
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2015

    Summary

    Fast-growing smartphone vendor is maturing beyond its original “cut-price Apple” model with ideas like flash sales over its mobile messaging platform.

    $45 billion

    Most recent valuation for the private company
  • 31

    Oculus VR

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 32

    Qihoo 360 Technology

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 33

    Monsanto

    • Headquarters St. Louis, Missouri
    • Industry
      Biotech
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2016
    • Valuation $44 billion

    Summary

    Monsanto is using RNA interference to create alternatives to conventional genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Already able to kill bugs by getting them to eat leaves coated with specially designed RNA, the company is now trying to develop sprays that penetrate plant cells to block certain plant genes. Potential applications include ideas like a spray that causes tomatoes to taste better or one that helps plants survive a drought. In May, Bayer made a $62 billion offer for the company, which Monsanto turned down, though management did indicate an openness to discussing further offers.

    $1.5 billion

    Money invested last year in research on new biotech traits, genomics, and more.
  • 34

    Aquion Energy

    • Headquarters Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Industry
      Energy
    • Status private
    • Years on the List 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016
    • Valuation Valuation not available, $190 million raised

    Summary

    Aquion continues to raise money for its innovative batteries, which have made it a successful startup in a notoriously tough industry. Investors include Bill Gates and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as the corporate venture capital arms of energy industry giants Shell and Total. Invented by Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Whitacre, the batteries are made with nontoxic materials that can provide long-term storage of energy from solar, wind, and other intermittent sources at a very low cost. Whitacre says the company’s been disciplined in its development of a manufacturing process, basing it on existing models and materials to improve its chance of working.

    Backers

    Include Bill Gates, Shell.
  • 35

    IBM

    • Headquarters Armonk, New York
    • Industry
      Computing & Communications
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2010 , 2011 , 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017
    • Valuation $145.4 billion

    Summary

    IBM continues to invest in a range of emerging technologies that it thinks will yield sustainable growth, such as the distributed-ledger technology blockchain. With IBM’s help, corporate customers such as Walmart are using blockchain to track products as they move through global supply chains. Though IBM has yet to deliver the financial turnaround it has been promising investors for years, its newer businesses—including blockchain, cloud computing, and AI services—brought in more than 40 percent of the company’s total revenue in 2016. IBM also continues to develop quantum computing technology, which it plans to sell as a cloud service.

    400:

    number of customers the company has worked with on blockchain applications
  • 36

    Jawbone

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 37

    Medtronic

  • 38

    Valve

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 39

    Genomics England

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 40

    D-Wave Systems

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 41

    Siluria Technologies

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 42

    Kaiima Bio-Agritech

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 43

    Datawind

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 44

    Freescale Semiconductor

    • Headquarters Austin, Texas
    • Industry
      Computing & Communications
    • Status public
    • Years on the List 2014 , 2015

    Summary

    Pioneering technology to be used in advanced computer vision systems for cars.

    $12 billion

    Freescale’s value in a proposed acquisition by a Dutch semiconductor maker
  • 45

    Upworthy

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 46

    LG

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 47

    Expect Labs

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 48

    AngelList

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 49

    Arcadia Biosciences

    • Years on the List 2014
  • 50

    Ripple Labs

    • Years on the List 2014