When most people hear the word "innovation," the first companies that come to mind are the classic consumer-facing innovation superstars like Apple, Google or Netflix. It might come as a surprise, then, that automaker Nissan has just been named one of the Top 5 Most Innovative Companies in the world by Fast Company magazine, for building the first mass-market, all-electric vehicle: the Nissan Leaf. When you think of electric vehicle innovation, the tendency is to think of a sleek, futuristic company like Tesla Motors and not an established company like Nissan. This is true within nearly any industry, which leads to the obvious question: Which companies will become the new global innovation market leaders?

It turns out that there are small clusters of innovation being created all over the world, in some places you might least expect. Of course, five of the top 6 companies in Fast Company's annual survey of the most innovative companies are the usual suspects - Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Groupon and Google. However, within the Top 10 are two companies that are probably unfamiliar to most: Dawning Information Industry (#7), for building the world's fastest supercomputer; and Epocrates (#10), for giving doctors and nurses instant drug reference information.

Rounding out the Top 50 are a number of other unsung global innovation stars: ARM (#12), for efficiently powering the Kindle, iPad, iPhone and nearly every other mobile device; Kosaka Smelting and Refining (#14), for turning old cellphones into "gold mines"; Huawei (#18), for building the future of telecoms; Syncardia (#20), for giving mobility to artifical heart recipients; Yandex (#26), for its prowess in search; and Amyris (#30); for using its biofuel expertise to save malaria victims. Others in the Top 50 include: Double Negative (#31); Kaspersky Lab (#32); Snohetta (#35); Solarcity (#38); Shaadi.com (#39); Voxiva (#40); Enerkem (#42); Changchun Dacheng Industrial Group (#46); Azul (#47); Stamen Design (#48); FX (#49); and Madecasse (#50).

Perhaps not suprisingly, a number of these innovation superstars are starting to appear in the world's BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations. For example, Yandex (at #26) is the Russian home-grown version of Google; Azul (at #47) is the Brazilian version of Jet Blue.

In addition, many of these Top 50 companies are innovating within the alternative energy and healthcare fields, both of which are hundred-billion-dollar market opportunities. New innovation clusters will occur for these fields, just as they did for high-tech and the Internet. Surely, this is an auspicious moment for up-and-coming cities new to the world stage - both in the U.S. and abroad - to make a play to attract these industries and cultivate the next generation of global market leaders.

[image: Nissan LEAF]