This year, when the editors of MIT Technology Review began our annual search for the smartest companies, we did not have trouble finding big ideas. To make the list, a company must have truly innovative technology and a business model that is both practical and ambitious, with the result that it has set the agenda in its field over the past 12 months.
No. 1, Tesla Motors, has added another audacious idea to go with its electric cars. In April, it announced it would be spinning off a line of batteries in service of a big goal: remaking the energy grid for industry, utilities, and residences.
Of all the sectors we cover, biomedicine has had the biggest year. Companies have turned research breakthroughs, many powered by genomic analysis, into products that treat challenging diseases. Gilead Sciences, No. 15, sells the first pill that can cure most cases of hepatitis C. Bristol-Myers Squibb, No. 26, is selling an immunotherapy drug that is saving the lives of people with skin and lung cancer.
By contrast, energy companies have been far less innovative, it seems to us, so that sector plays a smaller role on this list. One highlight is No. 6, SunEdison, which is electrifying developing countries.
As always, many newer, private companies can be found here, starting with No. 5, Counsyl, a startup whose cheap, automated DNA analysis is expanding from prenatal testing to cancer screening.
A few giants return after an absence from the list: Microsoft, at No. 48 for its wearable HoloLens device that blends virtual reality and the real world, and Apple, No. 16, for its well-designed smart watch and digital-wallet service. All share one feature: they are innovations with impact.