Alongside the annual Innovation Leaders analysis of large organizations’ performance, we also identify upcoming companies that are seen as potential future catalysts for change. While these are organizations that are yet to achieve global scale, they are already making significant impact. They are the companies that are inventing new technologies, applying new business models and creating value in new ways that may well have significant global influence in the years ahead. Some are new ventures; others have been around for a few years and are building momentum.

Over the past decade, start-ups and fast growing companies identified in the analysis have included the likes of Airbnb, ARM, Deep Mind, Didi Chuxing, DropBox, Qualcomm, Spotify, Space X, Tesla, Uber, Xiaomi and Zipcar. For 2017 we see that there are the 15 firms that are the Innovators to Watch. Those we have selected operate in the energy, data, health, finance, water and space sectors. They are profiled on the Innovation Leaders website as well as in this slide-share presentation.

In the energy sector, which is a major focus area for many companies and countries, there are three organizations that we see as making significant moves: Two are addressing the energy storage challenge: MIT spin-off 24M is re-inventing lithium-ion batteries and Aquion Energy has developed a range of safe and sustainable saltwater batteries. The third, Carbon Clean Solutions has fast become a leader in carbon dioxide separation technology.

As we gradually move towards a carbon-free world, these are some of the key areas that may help to bring a potentially 100-year future forward by a few decades. While a growing number agree that a largely solar driven renewable energy system is the likely end point, many see that, in the journey, the challenges of more efficient energy storage and long-distance DC transmission are just as significant as driving down the cost of PV. Equally, as we manage the transition period – whether that be over 20, 50 or 100 years – CO2 separation and sequestration are pivotal technologies that will enable lower carbon energy supplies such as natural gas to play a role in the bridge to carbon-free.

Within healthcare, always an interesting arena for new innovations, another trio of companies are making very strong progress: UK based Oxford Nanopore is leading on DNA/RNA sequencing in real-time with no capital cost, while another MIT related venture, Moderna Therapeutics is pioneering a new class of medicines made of messenger RNA and San Francisco’s NGM Bio is delivering a biology-driven approach to drug discovery excellence.

With increasing demand for healthcare being accompanied by rising costs, affordable healthcare is a growing concern for most economies. Although many advocate limiting budgets, and some countries, such as the UK, are seeking to reduce spend per capita against global trends, others see alternative routes. Foremost in this is improving the efficiency of diagnostics and therapeutics. As politicians struggle to contain the ageing-driven health-debt time bomb, it will be the companies that provide credible, scalable solutions to improve healthcare efficiency that gain greater focus.

Moving on to data analytics and visualization, fields full of interesting start-ups, two in particular stand out: Lattice Data is busy unlocking the value of dark unstructured data, while New Zealand based Soul Machines is taking interactive, animated, virtual psychobiological simulation forward, most significantly with Baby X – a ‘live’ interactive simulation than can speak and hear.

As big data, AI, analytics and machine learning all evolve, scale and go further into the mainstream, anticipation about the role that a more digitally enabled ecosystem can play is growing. In the AI sector, which is driven by the momentum behind the likes of Google’s DeepMind, many researchers see that we are moving ahead far faster than many expected. The analytics that link together disparate data sources is an increasingly vital ingredient. Equally if we are to move beyond Amazon’s initial Alexa voice-driven dialogue towards a fully ‘human’ experience then the world of effortless visualization and interaction will be pivotal.

Within the financial services arena a further three companies are addressing smoother payments and new insurance models: Lemonade is leading the way in transparent, technology-driven peer-to-peer insurance by taking some of the insights learned from P2P lending into the insurance world. Stripe has very much set a new standard in online payments while Trōv has created a very interesting platform that delivers on-demand insurance from your phone.

With Fintech one of the hottest areas for VC activity, it is little surprise that greater automation is increasingly being coupled with improved customer experiences. While many of the large existing banking and insurance companies have been focused on largely digitizing their interactions and legacy products, others are busy reinventing the underlying models. Many are focused on ‘good friction’ and taking out pain points in the user experience. Cutting across the sector, and led by the likes of Zopa and Funding Circle, peer to peer is evidently a core element of a more real sharing economy and so an area that is also fuelling considerable innovation.

And lastly on the 2017 list, we have four other companies, each driving change in other fields: Stack is winning multiple awards maximizing comfort and efficiency in a simple, seamless way, making control of household devices intuitive; Takadu is powering efficiency in smart water grids; World View is radically rethinking access to space by using high altitude balloons and, finally, Zipline has developed a great low cost solution for drone based medical supply delivery in remote areas.

All four of these companies are delivering potentially greater and significant efficiency. Although operating in very different areas, they are all helping to do more with less – whether than be energy, water or other resources and, in doing so, have greater impact. Organizations that can improve net system efficiency often gain considerable benefit from their leverage – both in terms of improving the status quo and in addressing previously unmet, or poorly met, needs.

As we continue to monitor the global innovation landscape, we will note how these companies develop and, in due course, potentially become the innovation leaders in their respective sectors. Where relevant, we will also monitor individual stock performance as part of the ongoing assessment of the link between innovation and sustained growth. As was successfully achieved with the early highlighting of the likes of ARM, Inditex, Nvidia and Tesla, it will be interesting to see which ones of these subsequently turn into major investment successes.

About Innovation Leaders

The Innovation Leaders research that identifies the companies that achieve the most from their innovation activities and deliver tangible, sustained growth. Now in its 16th year, this annual analysis profiles the global leaders across 25 different sectors, highlighting the shifts taking place and identifying new achievements. Undertaken by members of the Growth Agenda team, its aim is to inform organizations on the most effective approaches for success. It is regularly used by governments and companies around the world to inform policy, guide investment and refine growth strategies. The analysis and insights are widely shared via multiple platforms.

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About the author

Dr. Tim Jones is a recognised expert in innovation, growth and futures. He is the author / editor of eight books and a regular speaker on innovation leadership, growth platforms and future trends. For over twenty-five years he has worked with many leading multinationals, governments and universities identifying emerging opportunities: A leader in collaborative programmes, Tim has made his name in helping organsiations to see the world through a different lens and so reveal new areas for potential growth. Tim is Programme Director of the Future Agenda – the world’s largest open foresight programme; leads the annual Innovation Leaders analysis that profiles the companies making the most of their innovation investments and is also co-founder of a global advisory network, The Growth Agenda.