For deploying a safer and more economical way of collecting real-time data on the world's oceans.
Why It's Disruptive
Flying drones may get all the attention, but unmanned autonomous boats floating on the open seas are performing impressive feats as well. Saildrone's fleet of sailboats--which are outfitted with dozens of sensors, measurement tools, and cameras--can capture data on fish and wildlife populations, environmental health, ocean temperatures, weather, and climate change. They do the same work that dangerous manned missions have historically undertaken, but at a fraction of the cost. The company's data-as-a-service goes for $2,500 a day, and customers currently include commercial fisheries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security. (Saildrone's boats can also report to the DHS and the Coast Guard when they find narco-subs and boats smuggling drugs.) Saildrone says that it could eventually have enough drone boats to predict the world's weather with more precision than traditional satellites--something that private companies in shipping, oil, and plenty of other industries would surely want. By next year, founder Richard Jenkins hopes, there will be more Saildrone boats capturing data in the world's oceans than there are satellites in the sky.
Jenkins started Saildrone as a nonprofit endeavor with the backing of Eric and Wendy Schmidt's philanthropic foundation. In August 2015, Jenkins decided to turn it into a for-profit venture and raised $14 million from venture capital firms Social Capital, Lux Capital, and Capricorn Investment Group. Saildrone boats have collected data in the Bering Sea in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific, and have tracked 60,000 nautical miles.
Lux Capital investor Bilal Zuberi likens Saildrone's biggest challenge to the one Tesla faces. To become a leading electric car manufacturer, Tesla had to become the world's biggest battery factory. Similarly, to support its global data-collecting network, will Saildrone need to become one of the largest ship builders in the world? That's a future that will require a lot of capital. --Will Yakowicz
For trying to make a radical vision of high-speed rail a reality.
Why It's Disruptive
Hyperloop One had a big year in 2016. The company showed off a prototype of its levitating rail technology. More than 2,500 cities around the world--many of which had the support of their local governments--submitted proposals to be among the first locations with a working Hyperloop. The company is already engaging with some of those governments on logistics, regulation, and financing to make its vision a reality. "People won't have to move away to the big city to get a job," says Marvin Ammori, Hyperloop One's chief counsel. "If Chicago to Detroit goes from a four-hour trip to a 25-minute trip, you can create one super-region that combines their talent pools. Who knows what kinds of industries will spring up?"
If all goes as planned, 2017 could be a real game-changing year. Hyperloop One has said it plans to do a full-size test run of its pods that will be designed to travel at 700 mph in a magnetic, low-pressure tube.
It's not at all a given that Hyperloop One's test will go as planned. The demo has been delayed multiple times and will likely not reach maximum speeds. Some estimates have placed the cost of a single Hyperloop rail somewhere in the range of $120 million per mile. Between that and the extensive regulatory red tape, the startup knows it will have to continue working hand-in-hand with governments to have a chance at success. --Kevin J. Ryan
For using highly sophisticated imaging technology to develop tiny satellites that are cheaper and vastly superior to current versions.
Why It's Disruptive
The technology powering most satellites is remarkably limited. They're unable to image the surface of Earth in areas where it's cloudy or dark--which is about three-quarters of the planet at any given time. Palo Alto, California-based Capella Space has found a solution to that problem, building tiny satellites that use synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a technology that can capture images in any light or weather condition. Capella's satellites are roughly the size of a backpack and a fraction of the weight of the few competitors in the SAR space. They cost less to build and are able to take photos much more frequently.
SAR opens the door to all manner of new applications, from tracking soil moisture to assess the health of crops to more-accurate mapping for self-driving cars. The company has customers in a variety of industries, and co-founder and CEO Payam Banazadeh, an aerospace engineer by training, says many of the technology's potential uses haven't even been dreamed up yet.
Before it can show off its technology, Capella must navigate a lengthy and costly regulatory process. It is now on track to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, and to launch its first satellite at the end of 2017, says Banazadeh. From there, he and co-founder William Woods plan to have 36 satellites in orbit in a three-year period. --Doug Cantor
For making a plant-based burger that is very close to meat--and gets closer each year.
Why It's Disruptive
Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, is maniacally focused on getting protein out of plants--and into a form that will be indistinguishable from meat. To him, a plant-based "meat" is the key to better feeding the world's population and dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a large percentage of which are attributed to livestock. Brown won't say how much money he's raised to do this (investors include Bill Gates, General Mills, and Tyson Foods), but he's employing 25 food scientists, and more than 75 other staffers, to figure it out. "This is a global problem, and it requires massive resources," says Brown.
Beyond Meat already makes substitutes for ground beef and chicken fingers sold in 11,000 stores, including Target, Safeway, and Kroger. But last summer, it introduced its Beyond Burger--the company's plant-based answer to hamburgers--to rave reviews. Brown insists on selling the Beyond Burger in only the meat case of supermarkets, turning down chains that insist the Beyond Burger must be in the "meat alternatives" section. The Beyond Burger is in about 675 Whole Foods and Safeway locations, and 30 locations of a fast-food restaurant. "We're not going to be selling in the meat case for long," says Brown. "It's going to be the protein case."
The massive resources required include not only brainpower, but also a supply chain. "We're trying to build a feedstock portfolio, and the supply chain is amazingly immature," says Brown, which means, among other things, that Beyond Burgers run $5.99 for two four-ounce patties, more expensive than ground beef. The processes for getting protein out of plants are mostly designed to create animal feed. Brown would like to grow legumes for Beyond Meat in the same region that the products will eventually be sold in, but right now, he's getting supplies from Canada and France. --Kimberly Weisul
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of grocers and fast-food restaurants that carry Beyond Meat burgers. The story has been updated.