This week the World Economic Forum, an independent, not-for-profit international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Per their website, the Technology Pioneers programme is the World Economic Forum’s way of identifying and integrating those companies – normally in a start-up phase or in their first rounds of financing – from around the world that are involved in the design and development of new technologies. The innovations of these companies reflect society’s attempts to harness, adapt and use technology to change and improve the way business and society operate.
Each year, approximately 30 are recognized as Technology Pioneers in three categories:
1. Energy and Environment
2. Information Technologies and New Media
3. Life Sciences and Health
Below are the 2011 winners, followed by my quick observations. Additionally, here are links to WEF’s offical document recognizing the winners, plus Techcrunch and the Huffington Post’s articles about the winners.
Some quick Observations
- Of the 31 winners, 13 were Energy and Environment, 13 were Information Technologies and New Media, and 5 were in the Life Sciences and Health
- To no one’s surprise, the innovation in energy efficiency, smart grid, renewable materials, and green building materials continues to have rapid improvements.
- The real innovation opportunities to me now are in the Energy and Environment and Life Sciences and Health.
- In the Information Technologies and New Media areas, looking at the list of companies, the innovation isn’t about as much about breakthroughs in technology as has been in the past, but often about dynamic shifts in usage models and media shifts.
- High-tech sector technology improvements over the last 15 years have often been about building faster processing capabilities, cheaper storage, or more ubiquitous bandwidth – arguably, the bulk of these challenges in many ways have been met. Most applications can’t perform at the levels of performance that today’s processors support, storage has become quite cheap—look at Amazon’s S3 service, and bandwidth has been overbuilt in many parts of the world.
- Companies like Foursquare, Spotify, SecondMarket, and Reputation Defender in the technology category really are creating new usage models in the social networking, online entertainment, financial markets, and living in the online worlds…not really making huge technology improvements. In fact, Reputation Defender’s innovation could be argued as not having a single thing to do with technology.
- One area in the technology sector I expect to see more of in innovation lists like this is the analytical arena, where Aster Data plays. With the Internet and the mounds and mounds of customer and user behavior data that is able to be collected, better tools to make sense of it is needed…tools that not only help the engineering, statistical and technical resources who have an analytical mind to begin with, but really help the marketing, sales, HR, and certain management and other functions that may not be analytical. Real innovation opportunity here.
- Some of the most exciting companies on the list to me are Opower (energy efficiency), Aster Data (analytics), Foursquare (a powerful new intersection of online interactions and local businesses), Medicine in Need (a medical not-for-profit doing good particularly in the developing world).
It will be fun to watch the progress these companies make and while not all of these individual companies may ultimately succeed, innovation around what they’ve stared will build and will have meaningful contributions to the world. Congratulations to each of them!