Fortune recently announced its 2019 Change the World list, its annual ranking of companies that are using creative tools of business to meet society’s unmet needs. In today’s world of widening economic disparities and rapid digital automation, it’s critical now, more than ever, for large companies to go beyond checking the boxes of “corporate social responsibility” and actually create solutions for sustainability and inclusive economic growth.
See which San Diego-based companies made this year’s list:
No. 1 Qualcomm: Turning faster connections into green gains
Why Fortune ranked Qualcomm as Number 1 on its 2019 Change the World list: The mobile-chip designer has been a leader in wireless tech since the earliest smartphones. Now it’s building chips for 5G connectivity, which promises speeds 10 to 100 times as fast as those of today’s phones. Already, phonemakers are using Qualcomm modem chips to power 5G-compatible devices. But the company will soon introduce inexpensive, low-power versions for smart devices and sensors that could have a profound impact on the planet. As such sensors become pervasive, cities will be able to monitor air and water quality in real time, farmers can avoid overwatering or overfertilizing crops, and self-driving cars will communicate with each other to avoid traffic jams and reduce emissions.
No. 12 Viasat: Connecting Latin America to the Internet, dirt cheap
Why Fortune ranked Viasat as Number 12 on its 2019 Change the World list: Satellite Internet service provider Viasat has been able to offer cheap online service from space to poorly wired parts of the world as the capabilities of its spacecraft have improved. Since lofting the school-bus-size ViaSat-2 satellite in 2017, the company’s reach has extended across Latin America. In Mexico, for example, a simple $1,500 receiver setup in a local shop can provide Wi-Fi across a wide area for as little as 50¢ an hour to users with cheap phones or tablets. So far, over 600,000 devices have logged on for Internet connections in Mexico. In July the state of São Paulo began working with Viasat to set up community Wi-Fi stations to provide connectivity in 20 underserved areas. Coming next: three ViaSat-3 satellites, with more capacity, reaching Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in 2021 and the Asia-Pacific region in 2022.
No. 35 Illumina: Lifesaving shortcuts in gene testing
Why Fortune ranked Illumina as Number 35 on its 2019 Change the World list: The genomic sequencing giant has managed to spur personalized drug development, help foster a revolution in at-home DNA testing, and even save critically ill newborns. The company has been at the forefront of making whole genomic sequencing not just cheaper (it now costs less than $1,000 to conduct such sequencing, as opposed to the $3 billion it cost to sequence the first full human genome—largely thanks to Illumina’s work over the past 20 years)—but also considerably faster.
That’s absolutely critical when it comes to saving newborns in the ICU suffering from rare genetic disorders, according to Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, the CEO of Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine in San Diego. “Illumina is involved in every step of delivering care for these sick babies,” he says. Kingsmore says that, thanks to Illumina’s technology and dedication to making whole genomic sequencing accessible, affordable, and fast, a critically ill baby can have his or her genome sequenced in as little as 20 hours—which means that child can have personalized treatment delivered within a matter of days rather than weeks, likely spelling the difference between life and death. The Rady Institute has already tested about 1,000 sick newborns with Illumina’s tech in the past three years (about half of them in the past 12 months).
Aira makes Fortune’s “Ones to Watch” list.
Most of the companies on Fortune Magazine’s 2019 Change the World list are large corporations with $1 billion or more in annual revenue, which helps them pay for and scale their efforts. So it created a “Ones to Watch” list, which ranks smaller companies that may not have the financial means to make significant impacts (yet), but have made technological breakthroughs that can lead to even larger gains and social impact in the future. Featured at the top of this list is San Diego-based Aira.
Why Fortune names Aira on its Ones to Watch list: Aira makes life easier to manage for the visually impaired. The four-year-old start-up offers customers a pair of camera-wielding smart glasses and an app that allows users to connect with Aira agents, who offer verbal assistance while they go about their day—navigating errands or tasks at work. With several thousand users, Aira has evidence that it boosts quality of life and reduces the chances that a blind student will drop out of college, and the company says its technology helped more than 250 visually-impaired users get jobs. The National Federation of the Blind has signed on as a partner.
Check out the full rankings on Fortune’s 2019 Change the World List here.