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How we chose the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50 innovators

Key Points
  • A record number of companies, 1,200, were nominated for the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50.
  • The 50 start-ups selected have raised a combined $46 billion in venture capital at an implied valuation of $266 billion.
  • They represent attacks on the status quo in many industries, from finance and fitness to energy and consumer products.
Lucidio Studio Inc | Getty Images

2019 was another record year for the CNBC Disruptor 50, with more than 1,200 companies vying for just 50 coveted spots on the seventh annual list. The companies that made the final cut share a common goal of developing revolutionary new technology into scalable business models to create the next generation of great public companies.

This year's Disruptor 50 companies have the potential to upend multibillion-dollar industries. Combined, they have raised over $46 billion in venture capital at an implied valuation of more than $266 billion, according to PitchBook. All that despite the fact that three of the most valuable companies from previous Disruptor 50 lists — Uber, Pinterest and Lyft — went public earlier this year, thus becoming ineligible to make the list again.

As the parade of unicorn IPOs marches on, there are plenty more out there that remain eligible for the list. A record 36 of this year's Disruptor 50 companies have valuations of $1 billion or more.

For some an eye-popping valuation would be reason enough to put a company on a list of top start-ups. But our approach to selecting the Disruptor 50 focuses on the ideas and the execution behind the big numbers, not just the numbers.

Here's how we picked the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50

All private, independently owned start-up companies founded after Jan. 1, 2004, were eligible to be nominated for the Disruptor 50 List. For the first time, CNBC limited the age of Disruptor 50 companies to 15 years. This decision was based on an editorial review of venture-backed companies and of past Disruptor 50 companies and nominees. We determined that the age limit would help keep the list aligned with its ongoing mission to identify the next generation of innovative companies on a path to becoming investable via the public markets.

Companies nominated were required to submit a detailed analysis, including key quantitative and qualitative information.

Quantitative metrics included off-the-record information on sales and user growth, and data from a pair of outside data partners. PitchBook provided data on fundraising and implied valuations, and we used IBISWorld's database of industry reports to compare the companies based on the industries they are attempting to disrupt.

CNBC's Disruptor 50 Advisory Council — a group of 66 leading thinkers in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship (see list of members below) — then ranked the quantitative criteria by importance and ability to disrupt established industries and public companies. Again this year the council found that scalability and user growth were the most important criteria. These categories received the highest weighting, but the ranking model is designed to ensure that companies must score highly on a wide range of criteria to make the final list.

More from CNBC Disruptor 50:
Indigo Ag is a start-up leading an agricultural revolution to help feed the planet
This app has saved Americans $10 billion on prescriptions so far
Impossible Foods' mission to mass-produce the fake burger of the future

Companies were also asked to submit important qualitative information, including descriptions of recent company developments and a list of the key technologies driving their businesses. A team of more than 50 CNBC editorial staff, along with members of the advisory council, read the submissions and assigned holistic qualitative scores to each company. These scores were combined with a weighted quantitative score to determine which 50 companies make the list and in what order.

The result is one of the most diverse lists yet, filled with a balance of unicorns and decacorns but also plenty of companies with smaller valuations. It's the most diverse list in terms of geography as well, with more than half of the companies founded outside of Silicon Valley and San Francisco for the first time.

Two companies (Airbnb and Palantir) have made the list all seven years. Five others (23andMe, Houzz, Rent the Runway, SoFi and Stripe) have made the list for the fifth time. Each year, we try to discover what the companies that make the list have done that is new, and these multiyear winners continue to deliver on the promise of what it means to be a disruptor.

There are also 17 newcomers, reimagining the way we work, play, shop and even sleep. These are the companies that think differently — and force the incumbent giants to do the same.

The 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50 Advisory Council

  • Rick Hall, Director of Health Innovation Programs, Arizona State University
  • Candida Brush, Vice Provost, Babson College
  • Michael G. Goldsby, Chief Entrepreneurship Officer, Ball State University
  • Scott Newbert, Academic Director, Programs in Entrepreneurship, Baruch College
  • Jeff Cornwall, Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Belmont University
  • Ross Miller, Director of Technology Commercialization, Bradley University and Illinois Small Business Development Centers
  • Mary McHenry, Program Officer, Burton D. Morgan Foundation
  • Chris Coleridge, Senior Faculty in Management Practice, Cambridge University
  • Arthur A. Boni, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Michael Goldberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Design and Innovation, Case Western Reserve University
  • S. Ramakrishna Velamuri, Professor of Entrepreneurship, China Europe International Business School
  • Rita McGrath, Professor, Columbia Business School
  • Ron Adner, Professor, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business
  • Gerhard Plaschka, Professor of Strategy and Venture Management, Depaul University Driehaus College of Business
  • Donna De Carolis, Dean, Drexel University Close School of Entrepreneurship
  • Clare Gately, Professor of Entrepreneurship, EDHEC Business School, France
  • Fernanda Arreola, Professor of Entrepreneurship, EMLV
  • Zoltan Acs, Professor, GED(I)nstitute
  • Karen Mills, Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School
  • Thales Teixeira, Associate Professor, Harvard University
  • Thomas Astebro, Professor, HEC Paris
  • Julia Prats, Associate Dean for MBA Programs, IESE Business School
  • Erkko Autio, Professor, Imperial College
  • Neharika Vohra, Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
  • Kavil Ramachandran, Professor, Indian School of Business
  • Donald Kuratko, Distinguished Chair & Professor of Entrepreneurship, Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  • Henrich R. Greve, Professor, INSEAD
  • Eric Morse, Director, Ivey Business School Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship
  • Duncan Angwin, Professor, Lancaster University, UK
  • Ari Wallach, CEO, Longpath Labs
  • Jason D'Mello, Assistant Professor, Entrepreneurship, Loyola Marymount University
  • Brett Smith, Chair of Entrepreneurship, Miami University (Ohio)
  • Neil Kane, Director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship, Michigan State University
  • Kit Hickey, Entrepreneur in Residence, MIT
  • Lewis Sheats, Assistant Vice Provost of Entrepreneurship, NC State University
  • Ari Ginsberg, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management, New York University Stern School of Business
  • Matthew Rutherford, Associate professor and Chair, Oklahoma State University
  • Susan Fleming, Educator, Investor, Director and Entrepreneur in Residence, Rev Ithaca Startup Works
  • Yael Hochberg, Head of Entrepreneurship Initiative, Rice University
  • Lyneir Richardson, Executive Director, Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Rutgers Business School
  • Jerome Katz, Chair of Entrepreneurship, Saint Louis University
  • John H. Shannon, Professor, Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business
  • Eleanor Shaw, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde University
  • Alex McKelvie, Associate Dean of Undergraduate and Master's Programs, Syracuse University Whitman School of Management
  • Michael Haynie, Vice Chancellor, Syracuse University
  • Richard Lester, Executive Director, Texas A&M University
  • Keith Hmieleski, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Texas Christian University
  • Albert Segars, Professor, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Greg Brown, Professor & Executive Director, UNC Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise
  • Whitney Reid Hischier, Lecturer, University of California Berkeley Hass School of Business
  • Waverly Deutsch, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
  • Sarabeth Berk, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Vince Lewis, Director, University of Dayton Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • Wally Meyer, Director of Entrepreneurship Programs, University of Kansas
  • Anil Gupta, Chair & Professor, University of Maryland
  • Stewart Thornhill, Professor, University of Michigan
  • Shaker Zahra, Department Chair, Entrepreneurship, University of Minnesota
  • Jim Wheeler, Executive Director, University of Oklahoma
  • Thomas Hellman, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Oxford
  • Michael Fountain, Director, University of South Florida Center for Entrepreneurship
  • John Sibley Butler, Chair in Constructive Capitalism, University of Texas Austin
  • Rob Adams, Founder of Texas Venture Labs, University of Texas Austin
  • David Touve, iLAb Senior Director, University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • Helena Yli-Renko, Professor, USC Grief Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
  • Bryan Chambers, Entrepreneurship Professor, UT Dallas
  • Jennifer McFadden, Associate Director and Lecturer, Program on Entrepreneurship, Yale School of Management