2016 INC. 5000 RANK: 3707
HEADQUARTERS: Seattle, WA
YEAR FOUNDED: 2000
2015 REVENUE: $78.5 million
Impinj just might be the most ubiquitous tech company you've never heard of.
Last year the Seattle company, which makes radio-tracking tags, connected some six billion items around the world. Airbus Helicopters uses Impinj tags on its aircraft assembly lines; Macy's uses them to keep tabs on merchandise. Hospitals around the country rely on Impinj devices to track equipment and even patients. And every November, the organizers of the New York City Marathon stick Impinj chips on bibs to track the times and progress of some 50,000 runners.
It's a sweet, if mostly silent, world domination for CEO Chris Diorio, who co-founded Impinj with Caltech physicist Carver Mead in 2000 and took it public last year. "I look as far ahead as I can to what's possible and then try to figure out what it takes to get there," Diorio says. "And not just what's possible--but what's exciting, what's transformative."
That sort of long-distance planning and focus on innovation is common to all the founders whose companies made this year's Founders 10 list. Every one of them had an outstanding "score" of patents applied for and granted in 2016, according to IFI Claims Patent Services, which helped Inc. identify the entrepreneurs who now run America's most innovative public companies.
Yet new product development is not the only way these companies excel--they're financially outstanding, too. With the help of Ernst & Young (EY), which provided industry median benchmarks, Inc. crunched the numbers on the founder-led, patent-hungry North American companies that have gone public in the past three years. These 10 companies (including seven past Inc. 5000 honorees) have since matched or outperformed their peers, in terms of median annual revenue or profit recorded since the year of their IPO.
While Inc. usually focuses on private startups, once a year we shift our attention to those entrepreneurs who have recently decided to take on the public markets. One part of the IPO process is that you open up your books, which gives us an unusually wide window into company performance. Another part is that many watch only your stock price and your latest results--the short term rather than the long; or the wedding rather than the marriage, as Jacqueline Kelley, EY Americas IPO leader, writes.
The short term isn't always pretty. Newly public companies tend to underperform the stock market, and quarterly business results are often disappointing. Our Founders 10 members aren't immune to some of these struggles--but their founder-CEOs aren't letting the short-term results distract them from their long-term vision. This list recognizes those entrepreneurs who have maintained an innovative, forward-looking leadership during and sometimes despite the distractions of going public.
For Diorio, for example, outperformance has meant a regular willingness to pivot--and to plan ahead for the rapid evolution of digital technology. When he co-founded Impinj at the turn of the century, Diorio thought its new technology would improve the performance of radio frequency used by cell phones. But when the dot-com bubble burst, so did Impinj's early customers. So the Seattle-based startup shifted its focus to a still-developing technology: radio frequency identification (RFID), the use of radio waves, specialized tags, and readers to track the location of objects.
Today, Impinj's tags are a key part of the huge and growing tech ecosystem known as the internet of things. They inhabit sometimes-unexpected corners: The University of Tennessee Medical Center, for example, uses Impinj-equipped smart trashcans in its operating rooms, to better track supplies during surgery. Diorio continues to invest in improving Impinj's hardware and software--and to identify new markets for its use, such as tracking food preparation and service at restaurants. "In the same way that the internet expanded and changed how we interact with people, the internet of things, by connecting items in our world, will again change our lives," he says.
Impinj went public last July so it could raise capital to "turbocharge our efforts" and accelerate its already rapid growth, Diorio says. In its first year as a public company, Impinj financially outperformed the median for post-IPO tech companies; and Diorio credits the IPO process for forcing him to refine Impinj's priorities and innovative mission. "Maybe you thought you understood where you were going," he says. "But when you have to explain it in very simple terms, it helps you from a strategy perspective and from an innovation perspective."