The Disruptor 50 list’s mission has always been to identify fast-growing, innovative startups en route to the next generation of large publicly traded companies. But in 2020 it got ridiculous. Twelve of the 50 companies named the 2020 Disruptor 50 are now publicly traded companies. Four others have announced that they will bring acquisition companies to the stock exchange through mergers with special-purpose vehicles.

All of these exits meant that the competition for the 2021 Disruptor 50 was more open than ever, and for the fifth time in a row, a record number of startups (1,565 to be precise) took the chance to create our annual list.

Choosing the CNBC Disruptor 2021 50

All private, independent start-ups that were founded after January 1, 2006 were nominated for the Disruptor 50 list. The nominated companies had to submit a detailed analysis that contained important quantitative and qualitative information.

The quantitative metrics included data submitted by the company on workforce size and diversity, scalability, and revenue and user growth. Some of this information has been kept confidential and has only been used for evaluation purposes. CNBC also brought in data from two outside partners – PitchBook, which provided data on fundraising, implicit ratings and investor quality; and IBISWorld, whose database of industry reports we used to compare companies based on the industries they are trying to disrupt.

This year, for the first time, we added a separate category for board diversity, which should be considered in addition to the existing category for workforce diversity. We added this category as one of several steps to add more variety to the list as a whole. In addition to the “Board Diversity” category, we expanded our reach during our call for nominations to include other companies with color founders and their investors.

CNBC’s Disruptor 50 Advisory Board – a group of 47 leading thinkers in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship from around the world (see list of members below) – ranked the quantitative criteria based on importance and ability to rank established industries and public companies to disturb. That year, the council found that scalability and user growth were key criteria alongside the use of breakthrough technologies (most commonly artificial intelligence and machine learning) and the size of the industry being disrupted. These categories received the highest weighting, but the ranking model is designed to ensure that companies need to score high on a variety of criteria to make the final list.

Companies were also asked to provide key qualitative information, including descriptions of their core business model, ideal customers, and current company milestones. A team of more than 70 CNBC editors, along with members of the Advisory Board, read the posts and provided holistic qualitative reviews for each company.

The qualitative ratings were combined with a weighted quantitative rating to determine which 50 companies came on the list in which order.

More coverage of the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50

The 2021 Disruptor 50 includes 24 companies that are on the list for the first time. They represent innovation in a variety of industries, including cybersecurity, fintech, healthcare, and electric vehicles. Many are driven by social or environmental missions, from democratizing access to financial services to strengthening global food supplies and combating climate change.

We anticipate that all 50 will continue to grow, innovate, and encourage change in their larger, established competitors as we follow them through the rest of this year through to next year. We expect many to become Disruptor 50 companies for several years.

This year six disruptors made the list for the fourth time. Disruptor # 1, Robinhood, made the list for the fifth and final time. The public debut is expected in a few weeks. At # 2, Stripe is a seven-time Disruptor 50 company, only the third company in history to receive this award.

Special thanks go to the CNBC Disruptor 50 Advisory Council 2021 for once again providing us with time and insight. As always, we appreciate your contributions.

  • Rob Adams, director emeritus of the University of Texas Venture Labs
  • Ron Adner, professor at Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business
  • Anita Anantharam, professor at the University of Florida
  • Edward Blair, Entrepreneurship Chair at the University of Houston
  • Gregory Brown, Professor and Executive Director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina
  • Robert J. Brunner, Chief Disruption Officer at Gies College of Business, University of Illinois
  • Candida S. Brush, professor at Babson College
  • John Sibley Butler, Chair of Constructive Capitalism, University of Texas
  • Gary Chan, Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Jim Chung, Vice President Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, George Washington University
  • Chris Coleridge, Senior School of Management Practice at Cambridge University
  • Jeff Cornwall, Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Belmont University
  • Jason D’Mello, Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University
  • Donna De Carolis, Dean of Drexel University Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship
  • Monica Dean, executive director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship Studies at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business
  • Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago
  • Judi Eyles, director of the Iowa State University Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Clare Gately, Professor of Entrepreneurship, EDHEC Business School (France) and Waterford Institute of Technology (Ireland)
  • Ari Ginsberg, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management at the Stern School of Business at New York University
  • Michael Goldberg, executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University
  • Michael Goldsby, distinguished professor of entrepreneurship at Ball State University
  • Henrich R. Greve, Professor of Entrepreneurship, INSEAD
  • Anil Gupta, chairman and professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
  • J. Michael Haynie, Syracuse University Vice Chancellor
  • Lisa Hehenberger, Associate Professor and Director at the ESADE Business School Entrepreneurship Institute at Ramon Llull University
  • Keith Hmieleski, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Texas Christian University
  • Kevin Hoch, General Manager, Education, Duke University
  • Jim Jindrick, new business development consultant at the University of Arizona
  • Neil Kane, Michigan State University faculty member
  • Jerome Katz, Chair of Entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University
  • Marie Josee Lamothe, Professor and Director at the Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship at McGill University
  • Vincent C. Lewis, director of the University of Dayton’s Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • Rita McGrath, professor at Columbia Business School
  • Alex McKelvie, Assistant Dean and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management
  • Scott Newbert, Academic Director of Baruch College Lawrence N. Field Program in Entrepreneurship
  • Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin School of Business
  • Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Associate Professor of Practice and Director of the Brown University Venture Capital Inclusion Lab
  • Gerhard Plaschka, professor at DePaul University
  • Jeff Reid, professor of entrepreneurship practice and founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Institute
  • Lyneir Richardson, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at Rutgers University
  • Matthew W. Rutherford, professor and chairman of the Spears School of Business School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University
  • Albert Segars, distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • John H. Shannon, Professor at Seton Hall University
  • David Touve, Senior Director at the Batten Institute, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
  • Ari Wallach, Founder and CEO of Longpath Labs
  • Helena Yli-Renko, professor at the University of Southern California
  • David Zvilichovsky, Senior Scientist at Tel Aviv University and Professor of Global Modular Courses (GMC) at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

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