Lessons From “The 50 Smartest Companies”

| April 6, 2014

the_50_smartest_companiesThe MIT Technology Review has released its annual list of “The 50 Smartest Companies” with many names both familiar and unfamiliar to the general public. A study of the list, and what merits inclusion on the list, is both an exciting look at what new products are about to come on the market; and a revealing insight into what makes for great business success.

The exact criteria for selection is not really explained, but the running theme is that the “smartest companies” are doing more than excelling in their market – they are working on something that will dramatically alter it. They are rethinking the really big problems in medicine, energy, agriculture, web technologies and other fields; and bringing new ideas to bear in them. Often these “new ideas” are not really new at all, but are ideas that have been tried and failed; but they have great potential and so are worth another effort with a new game plan.

The editors of MIT Technology Review explained that “it might sound difficult to define what makes a smart company, but you know one when you see it. When such a company commercializes a truly innovative technology, things happen: leadership in a market is bolstered or thrown up for grabs. Competitors have to refine or rethink their strategies.”

At the top of the list is ILLUMINA, which is driving down the price of DNA sequencing to levels that will change the practice of medicine. Almost 25 years after the Human Genome Project launched, and a little over a decade after it reached its goal of reading all three billion base pairs in human DNA, genome sequencing is ready to move from being just a research tool to practical and affordable use in pinpointing medical problems and identifying treatments. Illumina has positioned itself to be in genomic medicine what Intel was to the emerging Personal Computer market—the dominant supplier of the fundamental technology.

Two automobile manufacturers appear in the top ten. TESLA MOTORS makes the list because of its leading technology in electric cars. In its first full year of sales for its Model S luxury sedan, Tesla sold more than twice as many cars as either Nissan or GM did when they introduced their battery-powered vehicles; and it did this without a dealer network, due to the strength of its battery technology. The other automobile manufacturer is better known – BMW – which is at the forefront of adding self-driving capabilities to its cars.

Rounding out the top ten are GOOGLE (for its continual release of new software); SAMSUNG (vertical integration in the smartphone market); SALESFORCE.COM (data incorporation); DROPBOX (cloud file storage); THIRD ROCK VENTURES (seeking a treatment for ALS); SQUARE (for new ways for merchants to process payments); and AMAZON (for creating new expectations for what e-commerce can deliver).

The remainder of the Top 50 makes for interesting and exciting reading, with a look at what new products and ideas are moving off of the drawing board and towards commercial reality, like making gasoline from natural gas that would cut the cost in half (SILURIA TECHNOLOGIES); or a digital foreign exchange system that would make transfers faster and less expensive, serving a global marketplace (RIPPLE LABS).

The list of companies and ideas is inspiring. It is a reminder to businesses to not just survive in their marketplace, but to find new and innovative ways to excel and change it. New and better ideas attract new customers, offer new products and services, and remakes the old business model from the ground up. The full list and discussion of the 50 Smartest Companies, is available here.

Category: Technology