The World Economic Forum recently announced its 2016 list of Technology Pioneers: around 30 early-stage global companies that the WEF recognizes each year for their great potential to impact business and society through the design, development, and deployment of new technology.
As in previous years, the 2016 Technology Pioneers represent a broad cross-section of geographic and sector diversity. This year’s companies come from seven different countries and operate in many different industries, including agriculture, finance, health, and IT. What unites these distinct companies is their crucial focus on innovation. But what does such an all-encompassing term really mean in this context?
In a recent article for the WEF, Fulvia Montresor, director and head of Technology Pioneers at the WEF, answers this question, citing the three critical traits that today’s truly innovative companies share and drawing on specific examples from this year’s class of Technology Pioneers. Read on for an overview of each of these qualities.
They combine innovations.
Unlike the technology pioneers of previous generations, today’s innovators are not focused on a single, new technology at a time. Nor are they intent on introducing new technologies in isolation. Rather, they are exploring the powerful new world that opens up when people combine multiple technologies and innovations. This new emphasis on plurality has helped give rise to such broad innovations as big data, the Internet of things, 3-D printing, and cutting-edge satellite imaging—all advances from the Fourth Industrial Revolution that are prompting sweeping transformations across multiple industries and sectors. This year’s Technology Pioneers that embody this trait include the following companies:
Cylance—This company is taking a new approach to cyber security by applying principles of artificial intelligence and machine learning. By taking on malware at the level of its “DNA,” Cylance can help predict, neutralize, and prevent cyber-security attacks.
Orbital Insight—This geospatial big data company uses sophisticated satellite image analysis to reveal social, economic, and agricultural trends. With this “macroscopic” technology, the company can analyze any type of aerial imagery, helping to deliver insights and reveal trends that otherwise cannot be perceived by the human eye.
Voxel8—Thanks to its specially created multimaterial 3-D printer, Voxel8 has the ability to 3-D print embedded electronics. This eliminates the step of making a separate circuit in advance, thus reducing how many materials are used in object production, simplifying and streamlining object development, and allowing for the perfect integration of electronic components.
They have an extremely fast-paced rate of innovation.
When compared with the pace of innovation in today’s world, it seems hard to believe that the ground-breaking inventions and technologies of the past took years or decades to spread. (The first industrial revolution, which brought us steam power and the factory system, was in development for nearly 80 years!) Today, new technologies can become obsolete after just a few months on the market, and companies that are only a few years old can be leading the way in their fields.
Rather than fighting this ever-increasing pace, today’s innovative companies, including these 2016 Technology Pioneers, are embracing it:
Kensho—This company targets investment professionals with its next-generation analytics and knowledge platform, which automates knowledge work that was previously human-intensive. Thanks to a combination of massively parallel statistical computing, big data, machine learning, and natural language inputs, Kensho’s intelligent computer systems can answer complex financial questions that are posed in plain English.
Magic Leap—Focused on mixed reality, Magic Leap’s virtual retina display and software allow real things and virtual objects to interact in an entirely new way: as virtual images are projected directly on to the retina, the neurological effect is the same as when humans perceive real-life objects.
PrecisionHawk—Working with unmanned drones, artificial intelligence, and remote sensing technologies, the data acquisition and analysis company PrecisionHawk helps data-intensive industries improve their daily business operations and decision-making processes with sophisticated aerial data gathering.
They tackle global challenges.
Today, a true measure of an innovative company is the degree to which it prioritizes finding solutions to global challenges. In terms of issues like climate change, food security, and other pressing concerns, the world is rapidly approaching a tipping point and, unlike their predecessors of a generation ago, today’s innovative companies are determined to seek solutions to these challenges rather than simply chasing profits at any cost. The 2016 Technology Pioneers taking on significant global issues include the following:
Farmers Edge—Seeking to enable productive and sustainable farming through precision agriculture and data management, Farmers Edge integrates highly accurate data science with farm services. Its sophisticated data collection and aggregation helps growers make the best operational decisions that lead to higher and better quality yields and reduced environmental impact.
Synthace—This synthetic biology company creates new bio-based chemical products by leveraging the unique ability of microorganisms to generate products from renewable feed sources. By working with a high-level biology programming language, Synthace uses computation and automation to create high-yielding bioprocesses.
WaterSmart Software—This company works to help water utilities engage and educate their customers about saving water and money. Using cloud technologies that combine modern design techniques with behavioral and data science, WaterSmart generates personalized water reports and facilitates utility-customer communication about water usage, quality, and other important topics.