Forget patents or profits, truly innovative companies are the ones achieving breakthroughs that will ultimately define their fields. Here’s part 1 in the list of the top publicly traded game-changers…
What fact-finder doesn’t like a good list to impress their friends with?
MIT Technology Review’s list of the 50 Smartest Companies is a solid contender, especially when their findings are not based on quantitative measure such as patents or R&D spending, but rather on displays of impressive innovations over the past year.
The companies highlighted by MIT are, to a certain extent, reinventing the wheel for their respective industries.
Their actions shake up the competition and raise the bar for what’s possible.
In previous years we may have seen the likes of Apple or Facebook appear on the list for obvious reasons.
Heck, even Research In Motion (now Blackberry Ltd.) would have been in the running at some point.
But in 2013, none of these companies made the list.
Nonetheless, we saw a diverse crop of public and private names, some much bigger than others…yet all of them managed to set themselves apart from the herd in one unique way or another.
Here’s a snapshot of the top ten companies that are publicly listed.
10.Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT): 16th overall
The retail behemoth has been aggressively growing its eCommerce business.
At the core of it is @WalmartLabs, a technology group and innovation hub within Walmart that is responsible for harnessing mobile technology, big data, and social intelligence.
They are looking at ways of seamlessly combining their online, mobile, social, and physical stores to give to customers what they call an “anytime, anywhere, shopping experience”.
Among other technical innovations, Walmart has its own search engine and price-check tools with predictive algorithms, as the Company is committed to in-sourcing its own eCommerce tools rather than partnering with a third party.
The Company is also improving on its connection with online fulfillment centers, store distribution centers, its logistics network, and its more than 4,000 stores to deliver products to people faster.
On the social media side, Walmart saw great success when it was one of the first big box stores to introduce discovery shopping through “product pins” on Pinterest.
With mobile, the Walmart smartphone app offers a “Store Mode” which shows store specials, has price scanning capabilities, has a product locator, and is currently undergoing testing for payment solutions using your phone.
9. Cree (NASDAQ:CREE): 13th overall
There’s reinventing the wheel, and then there’s reinventing the light bulb…and that’s exactly what North Carolina-based Cree does.
In a very short time, the Company has gone from supplying components to other LED makers to manufacturing its own LED-based bulbs.
But these are not just your garden variety high-efficiency bulbs which have long replaced the Thomas Edison-inspired incandescent bulbs.
Cree has actually developed bulbs which resemble the old-style filament ones, but with a significant technological difference.
Within each of their bulbs is a series of LEDs, each about half the size of a typical pencil eraser. These LEDs are made on silicon carbide wafers, allowing the company to produce more light from an LED chip than competitors that use sapphire substrates.
At $14 apiece, Cree sold $500 million worth of products — comprising nearly 10% of the North American market, according to Carnotensis Consultancy.
In the not-too-distant future, Cree predicts it will be able to match traditional lighting on price.
8. Tencent Holdings (HKG:0700): 11th overall
They are China’s most powerful Internet company, boasting nearly a billion users and has a market value of $139 billion.
They’ve been successful acquiring new users in parts of southern Asia and India, and now they’re looking to seize some of the lucrative market share in the U.S.
Its primary business strategy has been to hone in on the proliferation of smartphones — its social media platform functions like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Whatsapp, Uber, and Zynga, all at once.
And it continues to add new apps that keep users excited and spending.
One of their latest offerings is the rollout of a new virtual credit card system where users can scan QR codes with smartphones to process payments.
According to Reuters, China’s mobile payment market spiked by more than 700% in 2013 to $1.22 trillion yuan (US$199 billion) worth of transactions. That is more mobile payments than PayPal and Square Inc. combined.
While the US has been gradually warming to mobile commerce, Chinese Internet conglomerates Alibaba and Baidu Inc. have wasted little time developing rival applications to try and compete with Tencent.
We’re just starting to see what smartphones are capable of, and Tencent is at the head of the pack.
7. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN): 10th overall
Amazon knows a thing or two about doing e-commerce right and profitably: its sales are equal to twelve of the world’s top online retailers, according to MIT.
That gives them the financial leverage to truly think outside the box when it comes to new ways to appease customers.
They’ve been experimenting with same-day delivery of groceries in Seattle and other select cities, and more recently launched a robotic prototype drone to drop off parcels.
Clearly, Amazon is looking to take shopping beyond both bricks and clicks and want to close the gap on delivery time. But they’re also treading the strategy patiently and methodically.
In other words, they do not want to go the way of delivery startup Webvan, which burned through $800 million in two years before going bankrupt a dozen years ago as it tried expanding in multiple cities at once.
Market research firm Forrester predicts that 10% of the $600 billion a year US grocery industry will come via e-commerce in 2017.
Without a doubt, Amazon will be taking a huge chunk of that.
6. BMW (GR:BMW): 7th overall
As written previously, self-driving vehicles is an emerging trend that could catch fire and take off in a few short years.
From its many safety and time-saving benefits, along with better control of gas mileage and wear and tear, autonomous cars have a strong business case to be widely adopted by the mass consumer.
Already, we’re seeing the positive responses to cars that can self-park, and brake or accelerate through state-of-the-art motion sensing technology.
But BMW has upped the ante.
In early January, BMW unveiled its ConnectedDrive platform with ActiveAssist technology.
A prototype M325i demonstrated that it was not only able to steer on its own, but take a corner and drift at high speeds.
Cool as it may be, the central message BMW was trying to convey was that it has developed a technology that’s capable of quick reactions to dangers that can happen during turns, lane changes, and hydroplaning.
BMW expects to start selling autonomous vehicles by 2020.
In part 2 of our countdown, we’ll reveal the top 5 companies that have been instrumental in reviving one of the world’s most vital sectors: manufacturing.
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