SF Technotes

MIT’s 50 Smartest Companies of 2017

By Michael Castelluccio
July 27, 2017

MIT’s annual selection of the 50 smartest companies appeared in the July/August business issue of the MIT Technology Review. According to the senior editor for business, Nanette Byrnes, making the list doesn’t mean you’re the biggest in your industry or even the most profitable.











Market capitalization and number of patents aren’t used as measuring sticks. These organizations are the most technologically innovative with effective business plans. As editor David Rothman explains in his introductory essay (“It Pays to Be Smart”), “These are the companies with the inside track on the technologies, such as artificial intelligence, that will define the economy in the coming years—and have the best shot at building great businesses around them.”


Granted, a number of current “masters of the universe” are on the list, but their placement isn’t commensurate with their cash reserves. For example, here’s how the big five, corporations with the most impressive market capitalization, fared:


  • Apple ($807B) shows up in 16th place this year.
  • Alphabet ($690B) came in fifth.
  • Microsoft ($559B) came in 27th out of 50.
  • Amazon ($484B) pleasantly surprised the shareholders by taking third place.
  • Facebook ($447B), despite its omnipresence online, came in 23rd.


So that’s what the list isn’t. What it is, is many things to different people. To begin with, the list provides a general topography of where we are, mapping trends and progress this year, drawn by one of the more prestigious engineering and tech education centers.


In a more limited way, it can serve as a checklist for investors and other portfolio watchers. And for the curious, it can crack open a door to give us a glimpse of what’s next.




The list is international, and an interesting side note marks the geographic locations of the innovative leaders. The global map (see below), which appeared in the online version of the list, has a count identifying the hotbeds and the deserts. The United States fared well with a 62% share of the total list; China and Taiwan 18%; Europe had 12%; and Argentina, Nigeria, Kenya, and India together had a total 8%.

Click to enlarge.


TOP 10


We’ll look at the top 10 in this year’s list. An interactive copy of the entire list of 50 is available here: www.technologyreview.com/lists/companies/2017/.


  1. Nvidia

(Intelligent machines) The chip manufacturer that used to produce video-game hardware has now become the leading provider of processing power for AI software.


  1. SpaceX

(Transportation) Their ultimate goal is to manufacture reusable rockets for an interplanetary transport system.


  1. Amazon

(Connectivity) The company continues its development of AI technologies along with virtual reality shopping experiences. Developers have already produced 12,000 apps for Amazon’s assistant Alex.


  1. 23andMe

(Biomedicine) The Mountain View, Calif., company has created a genetic testing product that provides FDA-approved information about personal genetic vulnerabilities for a number of disorders.


  1. Alphabet

(Connectivity) The company has a number of subsidiaries, including Google, that lead in AI, autonomous vehicles, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality applications.


  1. iFlytek

(Intelligent machines) iFlytek leads China’s voice recognition market and is now moving into voice-activated command systems for robots, homes, schools, and cars.


  1. Kite Pharma

(Biomedicine) The company is working on engineering the body’s own T cells to directly attack cancer cells. Recent trial successes with a therapy for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have attracted a lot of attention.


  1. Tencent

(Connectivity) Shenzhen-based Tencent runs China’s biggest social network, WeChat, and is also the world’s largest video-gaming company. WeChat has more than 900 million monthly active users.


  1. Regeneron

(Biomedicine) A biotech noted for its success in treating eye diseases, Regeneron is now sequencing genetic data from a half-million volunteers to support drug development and to find connections between DNA and disease.


  1. Spark Therapeutics

(Biomedicine) The company has already developed a treatment for a progressive form of blindness and is now researching ways to treat hemophilia B.


The online listings show more information about each company, including valuation, whether the company is public, the location, and the number of years it has appeared on MIT’s top 50 list.




You might have noticed that in the top-10 portion of the list, the industry that appears most often is Biomedicine with Connectivity adding its three appearances for a total of 70% between the two in the top 10.


As you look over the 50 companies in the complete list, you’ll see the following breakdown by industry:

  • 30% Intelligent machines
  • 22% Biomedicine
  • 20% Connectivity
  • 10% Advanced manufacturing
  • 6% Clean energy
  • 6% Finance
  • 6% Transportation


Another interesting stat that the 50 Smartest Companies tracks is the number of years a company has appeared on MIT’s list. Some companies have quite a record. IBM, for instance, is number 39 this year, but Big Blue has shown up quite often in the past—2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017.






Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 23 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 20th year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.

2 + Show Comments

    DP July 28, 2017 AT 12:51 pm

    The graphic’s not drawn correctly in terms of the locations of both Kenya and India. (Please ignore the caps in the other messagE).

    pat dukes July 28, 2017 AT 6:19 pm

    Thank you for publishing the list.