The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in China

1_Tencent

For building a suite of communications apps that 300 million Chinese are talking through. That massive audience has flocked to Tencent’s WeChat (or Weixin, as it’s known in China), the Chinese Internet giant’s suite of social networking plug-ins, in less than two years. Why? WeChat is less expensive, clearer, and faster than calling people on the phone. Late last spring, Tencent opened up its platform to other developers to create cool things for WeChat. Plus, Tencent’s aggressive international rollout—rare for a Chinese company—has added millions of expats who can now communicate with folks back home, increasing its popularity. In America, WeChat is a top 20 free social networking app in Apple’s App Store.

2_Landwasher

For bringing its environmentally friendly, water-free flush toilet to communities in need. More than 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to flush toilets. Communities without them suffer from poor sanitation, water-supply contamination, and widespread disease. The need is particularly stark in China, where the World Health Organization estimates that 14 million people defecate in the open. The Landwasher toilet provides a water-free solution by, simply put, using number one to flush number two, the only competitor in the waterless toilet market to do so. Landwasher CEO Henry Wu wants to design a system for residential buildings, which currently flush away about a third of the water they use.

3_Goldwind Science & Technology Co.

For planting offshore wind farms and growing into one of the world’s top three wind-power companies. In 2012, Goldwind began to explore the possibilities (and risks) of moving into the market for designing and manufacturing components for offshore wind farms, a controversial niche that nonetheless is expected to grow quickly in the next decade.

4_BGI

For advancing both the science and the business of genetic sequencing. Just before 2012 turned into 2013, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the sale of Silicon Valley-based Complete Genomics—a struggling DNA-sequencing company, one of the first to offer sequencing as a service—to the model-efficient, Shenzhen-based genetic research institution BGI. Mathematicians are just as important as biologists in next-generation sequencing, and BGI has a staff of 1,000. Its Million Human, Plant and Animal, and Micro-Ecosystem Genome projects are ongoing.

5_51Talk

For connecting English tutors in the Philippines with English students in China.

6_Xiaomi Tech

For becoming China’s homegrown answer to Apple, from its popular smartphones to its splashy launch events. The company is not even three years old, but already it has landed high-profile American investors like Morningside Group, and as of June 2012 had raised a total of $341 million and achieved a valuation of $4 billion. Its first smartphone had capabilities similar to the iPhone 5 but cost only about half as much.Xiaomi released a second model in late 2012 and was on track to reach 7 million units sold, well past its stated goal of 2 million.

7_Xi'an Longi Silicon Materials Co.

For supplying the solar industry with high-quality silicon wafers at low cost.

8_Jiayuan.com

For connecting China’s lonelyhearts. Founder and co-CEO Gong Haiyan spotted an opportunity in the friction of fast-changing Chinese society when she founded the online dating portal Jiayuan in the mid 2000s, and it has since grown to become the country’s most popular online destination for connecting singles. As young Chinese people move from the countryside to the city, they shed the close family connections that once made matchmaking literally a family affair. With newfound freedom come new challenges and choices; today in China the marriage age is rising, especially in large cities, and so is the divorce rate. In 2011, Gong took the company public, and this year she has focused on growing the company beyond the 50 million-plus users it already has.

9_Trina Solar

For speeding up solar-panel installation. The price of solar panels has fallen nearly 80% in recent years, as large Chinese manufacturers have entered (and dominated) the market. The new affordability has allowed much wider global adoption of the green technology. Now Trina Solar is looking to make its panels cheaper and easier to install. This year, it is piloting a new design that the company claims will cut installation costs nearly in half, reducing the need for tools and labor.

10_Xindanwei

For giving freelancers a place to work and building a community in which they could share ideas. At a time of rising global interest in co-working, Liu Wan, a former art curator in Holland, got together with a digital artist and an economist in Shanghai to co-found one of China’s most enterprising shared workplaces, cheekily named Xindanwei, or “New Work Unit.” (Before economic reforms, a danwei was a Chinese government work unit that also provided food and housing.) This year, Liu and her co-founders have expanded their efforts not only to provide desks for rents but also to foster a community of ideas and exchange among Shanghai’s creative types. The co-working group, which is free to join, puts on events and organizes resource-sharing within such sub-groups as “Co.Spark,” “Co.Uprise,” and “Co.Impact.” Its aim is to expand the possibilities for not only where designers, programmers, and artists can work, but also how they can work together.

[Image: Flickr user Trey Ratcliff]

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