This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the All LED Lighting site may go dark at any time. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.


Cree on MIT's '50 Smartest Companies' List

MIT's Technology Review has published its annual list of 50 Smartest Companies, and Cree made the cut at number 13. Nobody else involved in lighting showed up.

Technology Review intends the list to capture those companies that come out with "the disruptive innovations most likely to change our lives." The magazine's editors nominate the companies.

MIT Technology Review's 50 Smartest Companies

Cree was the highest-ranking of the firms in the Energy category, ahead of GE (number 17) and Siemens (24). Samsung was at number 4, but it's not there for LEDs: rather, smartphones.

Cree is in good company. Also on the list are Box and Dropbox, Google and Amazon, Square and Github, Tesla and SpaceX. (Elon Musk must be the only person with two companies in the TR-50.)

On the surface
Don't peruse Technology Review's writeup on Cree expecting any deep insights into the company or its markets. The publication has run some good reporting on the SSL scene, but that was a year ago. TR admires Cree for having introduced the (relatively) inexpensive incandescent replacement light bulb that actually caught the public's attention. Little is said about the company's technology, only that it's based on a silicon carbide substrate, which allows Cree to "produce more light from an LED chip than competitors that use sapphire substrate" -- an arguable proposition. There's not a lot of emphasis on what I see as one of Cree's real strengths: a better than common ability to wring cost out of a manufacturing process over time.

Vertical or horizontal?
The publication applauds scrappy little Cree's muscling in on an established market and stealing a march on the big players, while building up its own vertical integration. There isn't any question as to whether vertical integration is the way to win in the SSL market. A recent article by Bridgelux CEO Brad Bullington argues that SSL is rapidly evolving into horizontal segments, and that this structure, long a staple of technology-driven businesses, is the right one to assure the most rapid innovation.

Bullington sketches out four horizontal niches: component and technology makers (such as his company), luminaire and fixture providers, networking and software providers, and experts in logistics and distribution. He sees the existing vertically integrated lighting companies moving to dominate that last segment, and perhaps innovating in business models (such as Philips's foray into lighting-as-a-service).

What do you think of MIT Technology Review's "50 Smartest Companies?" Who should have made the list for "disruptive innovation?"

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