CNBC Disruptor 50

How we chose the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 list of revolutionary start-ups

Key Points
  • CNBC started the search for the 2020 Disruptors with 1,355 nominees.
  • For the first time, the Disruptor 50 added an extra step to its selection process: how companies were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • But the overall Disruptor 50 mission hasn't changed: to identify fast-growing, innovative start-ups on the path to becoming the next generation of great public companies.
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The coronavirus pandemic has forced the acceleration of many disruptive trends, while also slowing or stopping the progress of others.

When the pandemic forced doctors' offices to shut down, patients turned to telemedicine. When schools and universities were closed, teachers and professors had no choice but to move their classes online. And when fear of food shortages sparked a nationwide hoarding of essential goods, consumers flocked to on-demand delivery services.

Venture-backed start-ups are at the center of all of these sudden shifts in demand, and we wanted to make sure the eighth annual CNBC Disruptor 50 list would showcase companies that exemplified the accelerated trends.

To do that, we added an extra step to our methodology for the first (and, we hope, only) time. In April, after going through our initial run of analysis, we narrowed down our list of 1,355 nominees to 180. We then asked those 180 for more information about the impact the pandemic was having on their companies. Many, especially those that ended up on the final list, responded with positive stories of surging demand, hiring, new product launches and product pivots to help with various challenges brought on by the virus. 

The extra information enabled us to ensure that the companies on the 2020 Disruptor 50 list are on the frontlines of transforming industries that have had no choice but to change in the face of the outbreak and its aftermath.

Here's how we chose the 2020 Disruptor 50

All private, independently owned start-up companies founded after Jan. 1, 2005, were eligible to be nominated for the Disruptor 50 list. Companies nominated were required to submit a detailed analysis, including key quantitative and qualitative information.

Quantitative metrics included company-submitted data on workforce size and diversity, scalability, and sales and user growth. Some of this information has been kept off the record and was used for scoring purposes only. CNBC also brought in data from a pair of outside partners — PitchBook, which provided data on fundraising, implied valuations and investor quality; and IBISWorld, whose database of industry reports were used to compare the companies based on the industries they are attempting to disrupt.

More from Disruptor 50:
Meet the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 companies
The technology that will dominate daily life on the other side of coronavirus
Opportunity Missed: Why there are no Black CEOs on this year's list

CNBC's Disruptor 50 Advisory Council — a group of 55 leading thinkers in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship from around the world (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.

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. Information on the pandemic's impact also was considered in the qualitative assessment.

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The qualitative scores were combined with a weighted quantitative score to determine which 50 companies made the list and in what order.

In a year of unprecedented change, the mission of the Disruptor 50 list — to identify fast-growing, innovative start-ups on the path to becoming the next generation of great public companies — hasn't changed. Thirty-six of the 50 companies on our list have achieved unicorn status, with valuations above $1 billion. Thirty-seven have hired new employees since the pandemic began, and 19 have pivoted their products to meet the challenges of the pandemic or launched new products altogether. Geographically, this year's list is one of the most diverse yet, with 10 companies located internationally and 34 based outside of Silicon Valley.

They represent innovation in a wide range of sectors, including cybersecurity, fintech, health IT, logistics/delivery and agriculture.

We expect all 50 will continue to grow, innovate and inspire change in their larger, incumbent competitors as we follow them through the rest of this year and into the next.

Special thanks to the 2020 CNBC Disruptor 50 Advisory Council, who offered us their time and insights this year as their campuses shut down and their departments and classes moved online. As always, we appreciate their contributions. 

  • Rob Adams, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business
  • Ron Adner, Professor, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business
  • Anita Anantharam, Professor, University of Florida's Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies Research
  • Edward Blair, Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship Chair, University of Houston Bauer College of Business
  • Gregory Brown, University of North Carolina Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise
  • Robert J. Brunner, Associate Dean for Innovation and Chief Disruption Officer, University of Illinois Gies College of Business
  • Candida Brush, Vice Provost of Global Entrepreneurial Leadership, Babson College
  • John Sibley Butler, Chair in Constructive Capitalism, The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business
  • Gary Chan, Professor, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Jim Chung, Associate VP for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, George Washington University
  • Chris Coleridge, Senior Faculty in Management Practice, Cambridge University
  • Jeff Cornwall, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Belmont University
  • Donna De Carolis, Dean, Drexel University Charles Close School of Entrepreneurship
  • Gibb Dyer, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Brigham Young University
  • Judi Eyles, Director, Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Susan Fleming, Entrepreneur in Residence, Rev Ithaca Startup Works
  • Clare Gately, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland
  • Michael Goldsby, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Ball State University
  • Henrich Greve, Professor, INSEAD
  • Anil K. Gupta, Professor, University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business  
  • Michael Haynie, Vice Chancellor, Syracuse University
  • Lisa Hehenberger, Entrepreneurship Institute Director, Universitat Ramon Llull ESADE Business School
  • Keith Hmieleski, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business
  • Kevin Hoch, Managing Director, Education Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Duke University
  • Jim Jindrick, Director of Corporate Engagement, University of Arizona
  • Neil Kane, Entrepreneurship Faculty, Michigan State University
  • Jerome Katz, Chair in Entrepreneurship, Saint Louis University
  • Peter G. Klein, Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Baylor University
  • Donald F. Kuratko, Distinguished Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  • Marie Josee Lamothe, Professor and Managing Director, McGill University Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Vincent C. Lewis, Director, University of Dayton Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • Michael Marasco, Farley Center Founder and Clinical Professor, Northwestern University
  • Rita McGrath, Professor, Columbia Business School
  • Alex McKelvie, Associate Dean and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Syracuse University Whitman School of Management
  • Ross Miller, Former Director of Technology Commercialization, Bradley University
  • Karen G. Mills, Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School
  • Scott Newbert, Chair in Entrepreneurship, Baruch College, City University of New York
  • Daniel Olszewski, Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship Director, Wisconsin School of Business
  • Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Professor of Practice Engineering, Brown University
  • Stefanos Zenios Petrou, Professor, Stanford University
  • Julia Prats, Professor, IESE Business School
  • Gerhard Plaschka, Professor, DePaul University
  • Jeff Reid, Founding Director, Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Matthew Rutherford, Professor and Chair, Oklahoma State University
  • Karin Sanders, Professor, University of New South Wales Business School
  • Albert Segars, Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • John H. Shannon, Professor, Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business
  • Lewis Sheats, Assistant Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship, North Carolina State University
  • Bob Stein, Associate Vice Chancellor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Pittsburgh
  • James Sorrell, Former Assistant Director, Washington University in St. Louis Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Thales Teixeira, Co-founder,
  • David Touve, Batten Institute Senior Director, University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • S. Ramakrishna Velamuri, Professor of Entrepreneurship, China Europe International Business School
  • Ari Wallach, Founder, Longpath
  • Helena Yli-Renko, Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship, University of Southern California