A Collection of Articles

50 Smartest Companies 2017

Our editors pick the 50 companies that best combine innovative technology with an effective business model.

  • June 27, 2017

Each year we identify 50 companies creating new opportunities by combining important technologies and business savvy. Some are large companies that seem to be growing ever larger, like Amazon and Apple. Others, like IBM, or General Electric are old-guard giants betting on technology renewal. And the list is full of ambitious startups like SpaceX, which is changing the economics of space travel with reusable rockets; Face ++, a pioneer in face recognition technology; and additive-manufacturing firms Carbon and Desktop Metal. For additional perspective on the list, which starts below, please see our essay, "It Pays to Be Smart." 

1

Nvidia

  • Headquarters Santa Clara, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $90.9 billion

Summary Though Nvidia still makes most of its money from selling graphics chips for video games, it has established itself as the leading provider of processing power for AI software, and its newer, AI-related businesses are growing quickly. During its most recent financial quarter, revenues from its data-center and automotive businesses increased by 186 percent and 24 percent, respectively, over the previous year. The company says all the major Internet and cloud-service providers use its chips to accelerate their processes, and a number of large carmakers, including Toyota, are using its autonomous-driving technology.

$3 billion: spending on R&D to create its new data-center chip

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2

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

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3

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

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4

23andMe

  • Headquarters Mountain View, California
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $1.1 billion

Summary A pioneer of direct-to-consumer genetic testing since its founding in 2006, 23andMe ran into trouble in 2013 when the FDA barred it from distributing health information. But this year the regulator changed course and reopened a major business line for the company, permitting it to market genetic reports on risks for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eight other conditions. After extracting DNA from the cells in saliva samples sent in by customers, the company uses a DNA-genotyping chip made by Illumina (No. 22) to capture features related to health and ancestry—information customers are then able to access online. 23andMe now has more than two million customers worldwide, and its products have been used in a number of research projects, including studies of female fertility, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and even nail biting.

1 million plus: number of customers who have consented to have their genetic information used for scientific research

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5

Alphabet

  • Headquarters Mountain View, California
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $673.9 billion

Summary Alphabet’s subsidiaries are technology leaders in AI, autonomous vehicles, and AR and VR, among other areas. Its DeepMind division keeps devising new ways for AI systems to mimic human intelligence and learn more quickly. Its self-driving-car project, Waymo, continues to improve performance and has aggressively defended its intellectual property by suing rival Uber after a top engineer switched teams. Google, Alphabet’s best-known and largest subsidiary, is collaborating with hardware makers to create standalone VR headsets for its Daydream VR platform. The new models will have built-in displays and processors rather than relying on users’ smartphones, and will use sensors to better track peoples’ movements in virtual worlds.

40 percent: amount of energy the company says it saves applying machine-learning algorithms from its DeepMind subsidiary to cooling its data center.

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6

iFlytek

  • Headquarters Hefei, China
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $6.8 billion

Summary iFlytek already dominates China’s voice recognition market and is now expanding into voice-activated command systems for cars, homes, robots, and schools. In the past year, it launched systems that enable people to control their cars, TVs, and home appliances via voice; invested in a startup that makes home robots; and established a joint venture to develop educational products that incorporate its instant translation features. It also established a multimillion-dollar fund to invest in AI-related startups around the world. It says that more than 160,000 developers use its software and more than 400 million people use its products.

70 percent: iFlytek’s share of China’s market in voice-based technologies

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7

Kite Pharma

  • Headquarters Santa Monica, California
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $5.7 billion

Summary This immunotherapy company is taking the body’s T cells, which naturally fight infections, and engineering them to fight cancer. It is farthest along with its therapy for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with more than a third of one study’s participants showing no sign of disease six months after treatment. There were two deaths associated with the therapy based on its known side effects—approximately 2 percent of study participants—but it seems to be nearing FDA approval.

39 percent: proportion of study participants very sick with lymphoma who showed no sign of the disease six months after a single treatment with Kite’s therapy

8

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

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9

Regeneron

  • Headquarters Tarrytown, New York
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $55.5 billion

Summary A well-established biotech with a track record in treating eye and other diseases, Regeneron emphasizes the use of genetic information to focus its drug development efforts. In March it announced that, along with the U.K. Biobank and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, it would be sequencing genetic data from 500,000 volunteers to help support research into drug development and the connections between DNA and disease. It’s also put a focus on creating “off-the-shelf” engineered T cells to target tumors without requiring a patient’s own immune cells to be used, an approach that could make this field of treatment much easier to scale. Company revenue for calendar year 2016 was $4.9 billion, net income nearly $900 million.

500,000: number of U.K. volunteers whose genetic data it is helping sequence

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10

Spark Therapeutics

  • Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $1.9 billion

Summary In addition to its treatment for a progressive form of blindness, the company has also been testing a way to combat hemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder, by intravenous treatment with viruses carrying a corrected version of the gene that codes for a blood-clotting protein called factor IX. This is one to watch because the disease, which affects one in 5,000 men, is expensive to treat conventionally.

1 in 30,000: estimated number of individuals affected by the disease, Leber hereditary optic neuropathy

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11

Face ++

  • Headquarters Beijing, China
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $1 billion

Summary Facial recognition services are prevalent in China, and Face++’s software powers many of the country’s most popular applications. Alipay, the popular online payment platform, uses the technology to let users log in and make payments using their face as ID; ride-sharing provider Didi Chuxing uses it to verify the identity of its freelance drivers; and smartphone app maker Meitu uses it to offer highly detailed photo-retouching features. The five-year-old startup is believed to be the first facial recognition “unicorn,” having raised at least $145 million in recent years, including at least $100 million in December 2016.

106: maximum number of points on a person’s face that its technology tracks

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12

First Solar

  • Headquarters Tempe, Arizona
  • Industry Clean energy
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $4.3 billion

Summary Landed some of the biggest solar-plant deals in the world last year, including a 140-megawatt solar farm in North Queensland, Australia, the largest in that country. The company, which develops, constructs, and operates photovoltaic power plants connected to the electric grid, also continues to invest heavily in its cadmium telluride cells, a promising alternative to silicon solar cells that are making big advances. This year is off to a good start too, with the company reporting better-than-expected results in the first quarter of 2017 and raising expectations for its current quarter as well.

$2.9 billion: estimated 2017 revenue

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13

Intel

  • Headquarters Santa Clara, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $160 billion

Summary Intel is benefiting from a series of AI-centric investments and acquisitions it made to offset the decline of its main market, chips for personal computers. In the past year, it bought the deep-learning startup Nervana, the computer-vision chipmaker Movidius, and Mobileye, a supplier of assisted-driving systems. The Movidius purchase enabled Intel to sell chips to drone giant DJI, while the Mobileye acquisition brought it autonomous-driving partnerships with BMW and Delphi Automotive. In March, Intel launched an AI products group to further accelerate its AI efforts.

46 percent: portion of revenues derived from areas beyond PC chips

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14

Quanergy Systems

  • Headquarters Sunnyvale, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $1.6 billion

Summary There are many startups trying to create compact, low-cost, high-quality lidar systems for autonomous vehicles, but Quanergy was the first to develop one using solid-state technology, which increases the reliability of the laser-scanning radar. The startup’s lidar is also relatively cheap to make because it uses some of the same materials and manufacturing processes as computer chips. The sensors, which are small enough to be embedded in car headlights, can be used in advanced driver-assistance systems and will be integrated into autonomous vehicles by 2021.

$250: price of its S3 Lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles

15

Vestas Wind Systems

  • Headquarters Aarhus, Denmark
  • Industry Clean energy
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $19.1 billion

Summary In recent months, Vestas cemented its position as the world’s largest wind turbine supplier and edged ahead of General Electric to lead the market in the United States. Overall, it added nearly 6,500 megawatts of capacity in the second half of last year, according to Navigant Research. The Danish wind giant also quadrupled its net income in the most recent quarter, marking its 14th profitable quarter in a row. The company is now looking to make investments in energy storage, an effort to expand wind power’s market and potential.

14: consecutive number of profitable quarters

16

Apple

  • Headquarters Cupertino, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017
  • Valuation $761.4 billion

Summary Derided of late for a lack of innovative new products and tepid customer response to Apple Pay and the Apple Watch, Apple has launched a Siri-enabled speaker called HomePod to compete with Amazon’s Alexa-equipped Echo speaker. It’s also begun to tout its AI chops, including acknowledging its work on autonomous-driving systems. For some time Apple has been quietly hiring some impressive robotics and AI talent for its project, and its history of smart design and smooth integration of hardware and software may prove valuable assets.

$257 billion: cash on its balance sheet, more than the entire market value of General Electric

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17

Merck

  • Headquarters Kenilworth, New Jersey
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $182.5 billion

Summary This pharma giant has one of the most successful immunotherapies on the market. Following a big jump in the number of lung cancer patients being tested to see if they would benefit from the treatment, sales are predicted to grow significantly. Keytruda has been approved in testing in some people who have not had chemotherapy, putting it a step ahead of rivals in immunotherapy.

$39 billion: estimated 2017 revenue, buoyed by sales of Keytruda

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18

Carbon

  • Headquarters Redwood, California
  • Industry Advanced manufacturing
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $1 billion

Summary Using its process for rapidly printing objects with high-performance polymers like polyurethanes and epoxies, four-year-old Carbon is pursuing an approach fundamentally different from other methods of 3-D printing, which put down layers of plastic one at a time. The company says this technology enables it to print polymer objects rapidly, in some cases thousands of times faster than other 3-D printers, and use a wider range of materials, including rubber-like elastomers and durable, hard plastics. Carbon has a growing number of clients, including Adidas (No. 38), which is using its technology to manufacture elastomer midsoles for athletic shoes. Other customers are using it to print parts for electric motorcycles, server farms, and cooling systems, all of which have been difficult to make with other methods.

100,000: number of pairs of shoes Adidas will print by the end of 2018 using Carbon technology

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19

Desktop Metal

  • Headquarters Burlington, Massachusetts
  • Industry Advanced manufacturing
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary With nearly $100 million from VC firms, GE, Alphabet, and others, this startup is trying to use 3-D printing, a technology that has focused on plastics, to reinvent how we make the metal parts essential to much of manufacturing. Making this kind of printing easy and cost-effective is a challenge, but Desktop Metal has laid out the pricing for its products, a promising indication of progress toward commercialization. Its first offering, including a printer and sintering furnace, will cost $120,000. Its full production system, to begin shipping in 2018, will cost $420,000. Renting is also an option.

$120,000: cost of its first product, to begin shipping in September

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20

Ionis Pharmaceuticals

  • Headquarters Carlsbad, California
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $6.9 billion

Summary Along with Biogen, Ionis developed Spinraza, a novel type of drug called an RNA therapeutic. Approved in 2016, it combats spinal muscular atrophy, a condition difficult to treat successfully with existing options. The drug is a chemically enhanced strand of RNA that is matched up with a mirror copy of the genetic messenger molecule in a patient’s cells, allowing the patient’s body to correctly assemble a protein that nerve cells need. Other Ionis drugs are being tested against five additional rare but severe genetic disorders.

36 plus: number of its RNA-targeted drugs in development

21

Gamalon

  • Headquarters Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary Many of today’s most popular AI techniques require massive amounts of data to train their systems. Gamalon claims its probabilistic programming algorithms are far more efficient because they can learn from just a few examples, and they can run on an iPad or laptop rather than pricey servers and graphics processors. The startup, which emerged from stealth mode in February 2017, currently helps e-commerce and manufacturing companies structure and match text data from disparate sources, such as inventory databases. It has raised $4.45 million in seed funding and has $7.7 million in government contracts.

100 times: its technology’s efficiency advantage over other machine-learning methods

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22

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

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23

Facebook

  • Headquarters Menlo Park, California
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $447.9 billion

Summary It’s been a tumultuous year for Facebook, but the fierce debates surrounding its role in disseminating “fake news” and violent content via its social-networking app have not stymied its progress in AI. The company has leveraged computer vision and neural networks to develop greater capabilities for “M,” its AI assistant, and new ways of searching photos that don’t require captions or tags. Facebook is using some of these technologies, such as algorithms that identify potentially suicidal messages and pro-terrorism propaganda, to counter public criticism of its services.

20: number of natural-language data sets built into the company’s AI research tool, ParlAI.

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24

Udacity

  • Headquarters Mountain View, California
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $1 billion

Summary After stumbling in its attempt to make money from free online courses, Udacity now offers classes that teach specific skills needed by technology companies, such as data analysis, digital marketing, and engineering for self-driving cars. Most of the startup’s “nanodegree” programs cost $200 a month and take six to nine months to finish. Five of the classes are part of an additional, paid program that promises graduates a job within six months or a full refund of their tuition. To boost its students’ job prospects, Udacity frequently asks large companies to help develop curricula and agree to consider hiring graduates. It also recently launched a program called Blitz that matches alumni with tech companies for contract assignments.

15: number of “nanodegrees” the company offers in skills for selected jobs

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25

DJI

  • Headquarters Shenzhen, China
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $10 billion

Summary DJI continues to lead the consumer drone market by making smaller, more capable aircraft at lower cost. Its $999 Mavic Pro drone boasts advanced flight features like obstacle avoidance and can be transported in a backpack thanks to folding arms and propellers. The company’s latest drone, the $499 Spark, fits in the palm of a hand, weighs less than a soda can, and can be controlled with hand gestures. DJI is also targeting the more lucrative enterprise market with a rugged drone, the Matrice 200, designed to do industrial inspections and search-and-rescue missions. The company rang up $1.4 billion in sales in 2016 and expects revenues to exceed $1 billion in 2017.

50 percent: estimated North American market share

26

MercadoLibre

  • Headquarters Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $12.1 billion

Summary MercadoLibre, based in Argentina, is Latin America’s biggest e-commerce and online payments platform—essentially, the region’s Amazon, eBay, and PayPal. The company is beating Amazon in the one market they share—Mexico—and is active in 17 other countries, including Brazil and Venezuela. Founded in 1999, it continues to expand into new markets, make acquisitions, and deliver strong financial results, despite the sluggish Latin American economy.

182 million: number of registered users, a 20 percent increase over the previous year

27

Microsoft

  • Headquarters Redmond, Washington
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $549.7 billion

Summary Its cloud business is growing, reducing its reliance on PC sales and increasing its margins. Its consumer products have been reenergized with the Surface Book, Studio, and Laptop and its HoloLens augmented-reality headset. More futuristic initiatives include its work on using DNA as a storage system for data and on its particular approach to quantum computing, focused on manipulating a subatomic particle called the Majorana fermion.

$15 billion: projected annual revenue for its commercial cloud business

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28

Rigetti Computing

  • Headquarters Berkeley, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary Rigetti Computing not only aims to build the world’s most powerful computer using quantum computing, it also plans to make that computational power accessible to a range of companies. The startup has already created a prototype quantum chip and is developing a cloud computing platform that will leverage the chips to support AI and computational chemistry. Large companies—among them Google, IBM, and Microsoft—are also researching quantum computing, but Rigetti thinks its approach is lower in cost and can be scaled up more quickly.

$64 million: venture funding raised by the company in the past year

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29

Kindred AI

  • Headquarters San Francisco, California
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary Unlike other AI startups, Kindred envisions a future in which intelligent machines work together with people to increase the efficiency of both. Its system pairs robots with human “pilots” who are outfitted with VR headsets and handheld motion-tracking controllers. The robots use machine-learning algorithms to operate, but if one runs into problems—say, while grasping and placing items inside a warehouse—the human can temporarily take control, and the robot will improve its performance via reinforcement learning. The technology could lead to a new type of AI and general-purpose robots that are capable of multiple tasks.

Immersive teleoperation: the type of technology the company makes, in which a human controls a robot via a wearable device

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30

Sophia Genetics

  • Headquarters Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary Sophia Genetics uses AI algorithms to sort through patients’ DNA sequences in an attempt to diagnose cancer and other illnesses more quickly. The company’s business model is to charge hospitals and doctors a fee—reportedly between $50 and $200 per test—each time they use the tool. It does not sell directly to the consumer. The company’s expectation is that as the number of patients increases, the sophistication of its analysis will improve. The technology is now being used in more than 300 hospitals in 50 countries mostly in Latin America, Europe and Africa.

106,000: number of patients tested to date

31

Tesla

  • Headquarters Palo Alto, California
  • Industry Transportation
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $64 billion

Summary There are certainly concerns that Tesla is overextending itself, between its giant factory buildouts and its acquisition of SolarCity. Autopilot accidents and car maintenance issues add to the negatives. Still, the company continues to make bold bets. Among businesses focused on sustainability, Tesla remains the best example of a brand success, advancing the technology and economic viability of electric vehicles, energy storage, and solar. Tesla flipped the switch on its massive battery factory earlier this year, and this summer the company expects to roll out its next product, the more affordable Model 3, introducing its vehicles to a far larger market. Its 400,000-plus preorders show there is demand.

400,000 plus: number of preorders for its lower-cost Model 3

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32

Oxford Nanopore

  • Headquarters Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $1 billion

Summary Its MinION, a DNA sequencer the size and weight of a deck of cards, reads DNA as it’s pulled through around 500 nanoscopic pores by measuring an electrical signal produced by each DNA letter. The size and design of the device, which has taken 12 years and $200 million to develop, enables sequencing to be done in remote locations. Especially useful for identifying and studying bacteria and viruses, it was used in Brazil in 2016 to sequence the genome of mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus, providing clues about the epidemic’s origins. Now the company is working to prove that its technology can be widely useful in a market for high-speed DNA sequencers currently dominated by the faster and more accurate machines made by Illumina (No. 22).

882,000 letters: record length of a single DNA strand read continuously by one of its machines

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33

Foxconn

  • Headquarters New Taipei City, Taiwan
  • Industry Advanced manufacturing
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $160 billion

Summary The maker of iPhones and a dominant force in contract manufacturing in China, Foxconn is considering a $7 billion investment in a U.S. display-making facility and could employ tens of thousands, according to statements by chairman Terry Gou. At the same time Gou is talking up the possibility of employing U.S. workers, the company is investing in automation in its home market, a response to rising labor costs there. Foxconn makes its own manufacturing robots, known as Foxbots, 40,000 of which are already in operation. Eventually, Foxconn executive Dai Jia-peng has said, the company aims to fully automate the making of PCs, monitors, and, yes, iPhones.

60,000: number of jobs automation eliminated at a single Chinese factory

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34

M-KOPA

  • Headquarters Nairobi, Kenya
  • Industry Clean energy
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary The largest off-grid solar operator in sub-Saharan Africa, it offers clean power to consumers in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania for a daily fee. It connected its 500,000th home this spring, to sells its products through the major communications company Safaricom and others, and that it has put its new solar TV systems in 60,000 households.

500,000: number of homes connected as of this spring

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35

ForAllSecure

  • Headquarters Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary ForAllSecure’s cybersecurity tools, which automatically find and fix vulnerabilities in software, draw upon more than a decade of research from Carnegie Mellon University. The Pittsburgh startup spun out of CMU in 2012 and attracted global attention in 2016, when its cybersecurity system outmaneuvered more than 100 automated machines to win DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge. The contest was the first to prove that fully automated systems could protect people from software vulnerabilities in real time. The company is now signing up its first customers, which are likely to include federal government agencies, financial services companies, and manufacturers of Internet-connected devices.

14: number of previously undiscovered vulnerabilities in networking devices the company’s tools have found

36

Flipkart

  • Headquarters Bengaluru, India
  • Industry Finance
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $11.6 billion

Summary Amazon’s aggressive investments in India have upended the country’s e-commerce industry, but Flipkart—India’s largest online marketplace—keeps battling back. In April, the homegrown e-tailer raised $1.4 billion in funding from several global tech giants, including Tencent, eBay, and Microsoft. As part of the deal, Flipkart will acquire eBay’s India unit, which will bring it more international customers and enable its third-party sellers to sell products across borders. To further boost its competitiveness, Flipkart is expanding its private-label product lines and hiring AI experts to improve product search and recommendations on its website.

$11.6 billion: company’s current valuation, the highest for any Indian e-commerce startup

37

Bluebird Bio

  • Headquarters Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2015, 2017
  • Valuation $4.5 billion

Summary About 300,000 people are born each year with sickle-cell disease, a condition caused by a faulty gene involved in the development of red blood cells: it can put them at increased risk of anemia (characterized by tiredness and shortness of breath), serious infections, and other dangerous conditions. Some patients require regular blood transfusions to manage the condition, and people of specific origins—including African, Middle Eastern, and Asian—are more likely to be affected. In March, it was reported that 15 months after undergoing a new treatment in a Paris hospital, a teenager with sickle-cell was symptom-free. The treatment, a gene therapy that alters the DNA in bone marrow, was created by Bluebird Bio. Bluebird is also investigating treatments for adrenoleukodystrophy (the Lorenzo’s Oil disease) and beta thalassemia, an inherited blood disease that can cause severe anemia.

66 percent: increase in stock price over the past year

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38

Adidas

  • Headquarters Herzogenaurach, Germany
  • Industry Advanced manufacturing
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $39.5 billion

Summary The sneaker maker is changing the way it manufacturers shoes, launching a robot-intensive microfactory in Ansbach, Germany, where it will begin to produce locally and on demand later this year. A similar factory offering customization and faster reaction times to local fashion trends has been announced in the U.S. This marks a shift of commercial production from Asia. At the same time, Adidas is working with 3-D-printing company Carbon (No. 18) on new ways of manufacturing materials, including the lattice-structured midsole used in its Futurecraft 4D shoes. One hundred fifty different iterations of the elastomer used to print the midsole are being tested.

300 million: number of pairs of shoes Adidas makes each year, largely in Asia

39

IBM

  • Headquarters Armonk, New York
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • 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

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40

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

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41

Alibaba

  • Headquarters Hangzhou, China
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $363.7 billion

Summary Alibaba is already the world’s largest e-commerce company, and now it’s taking on Amazon and Microsoft as a provider of cloud computing services. Like Amazon, Alibaba originally invested in cloud infrastructure to support its online stores and payment services before deciding to offer it as a service to other companies. The company’s Alibaba Cloud subsidiary is now its fastest-growing business and extends beyond mainland China, with data centers in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and East Asia. Alibaba is also leveraging the cloud to deliver big-data services to small and medium-size companies around the world. The initiative is part of its “electronic world trade platform” project, which aims to help small companies do more business across national borders.

57 percent: Alibaba’s share of Chinese online commerce

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42

HTC

  • Headquarters Taoyuan, Taiwan
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2010, 2011, 2017
  • Valuation $7.3 billion

Summary HTC has pivoted successfully from a declining business (smartphones) to a growing one (VR). Though it continues to make a few high-end smartphone models a year, its current focus is its motion-tracking Vive VR system, which enables users to walk around virtual worlds instead of simply moving their heads and arms. HTC will also be one of the first companies to create, through a collaboration with Google, a “standalone” VR headset that doesn’t require smartphones, PCs, or cables to work. And it has invested in more than 60 VR startups globally through its $100 million accelerator program, Vive X.

1,500: number of pieces of content outside developers have created for its VR system, Vive

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43

Blue Prism

  • Headquarters London, United Kingdom
  • Industry Intelligent machines
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $591.5 million

Summary If companies could hand off their mundane administrative tasks to software robots, employees could focus on higher-level work. That’s Blue Prism’s pitch, and an increasing number of companies—in finance, health care, law, and other industries—are receptive. Blue Prism’s “Robotic Process Automation” software mimics the way humans complete rules-based tasks, such as manually entering data from a paper form into a database. The U.K.-based firm recently expanded its U.S. and Australian operations and signed partnerships with Accenture and IBM. It is currently worth about 500 million pounds, a tenfold increase in value since it went public in March 2016.

189: number of deals the company signed in 2016, more than four times its 2015 number

44

Jumia (Africa Internet Group)

  • Headquarters Lagos, Nigeria
  • Industry Finance
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $1.1 billion

Summary Founded in 2012, Jumia (formerly called Africa Internet Group) last spring became the continent’s first “unicorn” startup, valued at over $1 billion during a $327 million funding round that included Goldman Sachs among its investors. Now operating all its consumer Web services—shopping, travel, food delivery, real estate, cars—under the Jumia name, the company is working to overcome the challenges of e-commerce in the region—clogged roadways, skeptical consumers, lack of Internet penetration in some market—to unlock the spending potential of an expanding middle class. To that end, Jumia is launching programs like a network of commissioned sales agents it calls J-Force, which can place orders for clients who have limited online access or are not comfortable ordering themselves.

500,000: number of African companies that use Jumia’s platform

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45

Veritas Genetics

  • Headquarters Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Industry Biomedicine
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2016, 2017
  • Valuation N/A

Summary This startup, spun out of Harvard University’s Personal Genome Project, raised $30 million last year from investors including Eli Lilly and China’s Jiangsu Simcere Pharmaceutical. After customers’ DNA is screened for a wide variety of mutations connected to health issues, the results are available in an app. There have been reports that DNA processing is slow, and it’s unclear how much demand for the analysis there has been. The company stepped into controversial territory this year with its offer to decode the genomes of newborns in China for $1,500 each, a service that some experts worry may lead to incorrect assumptions about the child’s future.

1,250: number of conditions, risks, and traits it will tell parents about in their newborns

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46

Daimler

  • Headquarters Stuttgart, Germany
  • Industry Transportation
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $78.3 billion

Summary Daimler AG is delivering electric vehicles to a broader class of customers with this year’s introduction of the Urban eTruck, the first all-electric heavy-duty truck. With a limited range of around 124 miles, it is intended primarily for city deliveries, offering a way to reduce noise and emissions in one important piece of the transportation puzzle. But given the continued high cost and weight of batteries, EV alternatives to gas-guzzling long-haul trucks don’t look likely anytime soon. The eTruck is expected to be on the market by 2020. Daimler is also working on vehicle connectivity and autonomous driving, including a project on an AI car it is developing with Nvidia (No. 1).

200 kilometers: range of its lithium-battery-powered eTruck

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47

Salesforce

  • Headquarters San Francisco, California
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $63.8 billion

Summary Salesforce and its platform for sales organizations hit revenue of $8.4 billion last year, and the company predicts that over the next five years artificial intelligence will transform the way people work and propel the growth of customer relationship management software like its own. After buying natural-language startup MetaMind in 2016, the company this year launched an algorithm that shows one way our work lives may be evolving. It summarizes documents using machine learning, producing coherent and accurate synopses, and could help us sort through e-mails or the day’s news stories. It is smart enough to avoid a common issue with summarization algorithms—producing too many repetitive strands of text—but does not yet the equal human-generated results.

20 percent: market share in customer relationship software

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48

Snap

  • Headquarters Los Angeles, California
  • Industry Connectivity
  • Status Public
  • Years on the List 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Valuation $21.1 billion

Summary Competition from Facebook and slowing user growth have weighed down Snap’s shares, which currently hover around $17, the price it set in its March initial public offering. Yet the company, which owns the messaging app Snapchat, continues to innovate by acquiring startups and using their technology to launch new Snapchat features. In recent months, it gave users the ability to share content on a map and Photoshop-like editing tools for images. The additions should help bolster Snap’s claims that it enables users to connect in ways that Facebook’s apps—including Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp—do not.

3 billion: number of snaps users create each day

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49

Ant Financial

  • Headquarters Hangzhou, China
  • Industry Finance
  • Status Private
  • Years on the List 2017
  • Valuation $60 billion

Summary Created by Alibaba (No. 41) in 2014 to operate its rapidly expanding Alipay mobile payments service, Ant Financial has staked out global ambitions, investing in financial ventures in India, Thailand, Singapore, and the U.S. The company executes over half of all mobile-payment transactions in China, with more than 450 million annual active users. (Apple Pay, by contrast, has about 12 million users.) Ant is building artificial intelligence into new products, including an insurance claim system that uses machine learning to process images of accidents taken on a smartphone, using them to determine how serious the damage is and begin to process the claim with an insurer. The company, which reportedly holds billions of dollars in customers’ money before and after executing transactions, has also begun to offer small loans to consumers, evaluating their creditworthiness partly on the basis of their spending history.

450 million: number of annual active users

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50

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

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