One plans to colonize Mars. Another promises to bring the department store to your living room. And then there's the upstart that's taking the chicken out of the egg. Yes, chickenless eggs.
Say hello to the future: The 2014 CNBC Disruptor 50, our annual roundup of the country's most ambitious and innovative companies changing the economy and overall business landscape. And once again we're looking well beyond the technology, to identify disruptors in industries ranging from energy and manufacturing to retail and financial services.
The common denominator? All of these companies entered traditional sectors and turned them upside down. It's not about one product or delivery method. It's the power of a company to displace the established incumbents in its own industry, prompting a ripple effect throughout its economic ecosystem. A true disruptor's power is seen in its effects on multiple industries—and its ability to disrupt the public giants.
For this year's list, CNBC, with a little help from the National Venture Capital Association, called for nominations from leading venture capital firms and individual leaders in the VC world. More than 50 firms and individuals—including Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures and Y Combinator—collectively submitted over 500 companies for consideration, double the number of nominees we received for last year's inaugural list.
We then put the companies through a months-long process of researching and scoring, using a proprietary blend of quantitative criteria, such as the amount of venture capital raised and the estimated size of the company's addressable market, along with qualitative criteria, including originality and creating a new market or ecosystem.
The process also included a survey of CNBC's Disruptors Advisory Council to rank the criteria in terms of impact on a company's overall ability to disrupt established industries and public companies. The council found that "creating a new market or ecosystem" and originality were the two most important criteria in determining how disruptive a start-up is to established companies or industries. The least important: the amount of venture capital raised and the track record of the company's founder.
This year's Disruptors Advisory Council included Ron Adner, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business; Candida Brush, chair of entrepreneurship at the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College; Anne Marie Knott, professor of strategy at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis; Rita Gunther McGrath, professor at Columbia Business School, specializing in growth and innovation; Gerhard Plaschka, associate professor of strategy and venture management at the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University; and Jonathan Ortmans, senior fellow and leader of the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.
However, this selection process still has its limits. First, we recognize the nomination process may underrepresent companies or even industries with little or no interest from venture capital firms. Second, some of our criteria may favor companies or VC firms that are more forthcoming with company data. We used the start-up data site Crunchbase.com to acquire a consistent set of quantitative data for some criteria. Recognizing that some criteria are subjective, we designed our model to ensure that no single criterion can carry enough weight to render the final rankings unfair.
This year's disruptors have a tough act to follow. Ten of the 2013 Disruptor 50 have "graduated" since the list was published last June, with names like Twitter and Castlight Health going public; and Tumblr, Nest, WhatsApp and more getting big-dollar buyouts from Yahoo, Google, Facebook and others. Seventeen companies were renominated for 2014 and made it through our tougher ranking methodology to be named to the list for a second straight year.
That said, the 2014 CNBC Disruptor 50 collectively have the potential to impact multibillion- and even trillion-dollar industries. They have raised more than $10 billion in venture capital to date and employ thousands of people. And they represent some of the freshest new ideas and innovations coming out of Silicon Valley, New York City and (a few) points elsewhere.
We'll keep watching to see where they all go in the 12 months to come.
Read MoreFULL LIST: 2014 CNBC DISRUPTOR 50