The World Economic Forum has picked out 36 start-ups which it sees as technology pioneers. The companies and their offerings are indeed impressive, and lend more support to the idea often suggested here that we are in the midst of the greatest industrial/technological revolution to date. There is one problem with the list however: none of the companies is British.
It is not practical to describe every one of the 36 companies here. For the full list go to: Technology Pioneers 2014 

But here is some of the companies picked out by ‘Investment and Business News’ which seem especially interesting.

A number on the list are working on cures – or at least treatments – in the medical sector. Amongst them are three firms based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Aghios Pharmaceuticals says: “Cancer cells not only consume more nutrients than other cells, they also process them differently." Agios believes there could be 50 to 100 metabolic enzymes on which various cancers depend for their survival, from which a new wave of cancer therapies could emerge. Another company, BIND, is working on specifically-designed nanoparticles called Accurins, which are programmed to pass through openings in blood vessels at disease sites and bind to specific types of cells and tissues, such as cancer cells, while avoiding detection and attacks by the immune system. And finally there is Bluebird Bio, which is pioneering a way to correct aberrant sections of DNA that cause disease and are passed from generation to generation. The company has identified a way to harness the natural ability of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – a lentivirus – to insert a modified gene into a patient’s own cells. Bluebird uses its lentiviral vectors to transfer functional genes into a patient’s own stem cells, which are capable of changing into multiple cell types, providing the company with the opportunity of treating a wide range of genetic diseases. Er… so that is using the science behind AIDS to manipulate DNA.

Alphabet Energy (California) has developed technology that generates electricity from heat, in the same way that solar panels generate electricity from light. That is wow(ish) idea, but so is this: Cyberdyne Inc (Japan) has developed a robot suit it calls HAL, which is strapped to one or both legs and is designed to support disabled people, who are learning to walk again.

EcoNation from Belgium produces the LightCatcher, which is a solar-powered sensor system that tracks the lightest point in the sky and controls a mirror that optimizes the amount of daylight coming in. The LightCatcher also diffuses light and reflects heat. It claims energy and cost savings typically range from 50 to 70 per cent.

Then there is one that could be straight out of ‘Star Trek’. Second Sight (based in California) has developed an implant which is surgically inserted onto the retina. The patient wears glasses containing a camera; a small computer, worn on a belt, processes signals from the camera, and an antenna on the side of the glasses transmits them wirelessly to the implant. The implant sends electrical impulses to the brain, causing the patient to perceive patterns of light.

Finally, unPartner, from Aix-en-Provence, France, has developed an ultra-thin, 90 per cent transparent photovoltaic cell. It is designed to enable telephones, tablets, building and vehicle windows, billboards and greenhouses to generate electricity from any natural or artificial light source.

It is an impressive line-up., Maybe it is unfair to point at the lack of UK companies; there is no shortage of innovation in UK, including the discovery of graphene. But unfair or not, let’s ask the question: where, oh where, are the Brits on the list? Let’s hope for better things next year.

© Investment & Business News 2013