The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group
Innovation can be instrumental to the success of economies, at macro and micro scales. While investment provides powerful fuel for innovation—the relationship isn’t always straightforward.
The 2020 ranking from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reveals just that.
The above map breaks down the most innovative countries in each World Bank income group, based on data from WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII), which evaluates nations across 80 innovation indicators like research and development (R&D), venture capital, and high-tech production.
While wealthier nations continue to lead global innovation, the GII also shows that middle-income countries—particularly in Asia—are making impressive strides.
The economic and regulatory spheres within countries can have an enormous impact on their level of innovation—and vice versa, as innovation in turn becomes an economic driver, stimulating further investment.
The positive feedback loop between investment and innovation results in the success of some of the top countries in the table below, which shows the three most innovative countries in each income group.
|Income Group||Group Rank||Country (Overall Rank)|
|High||1||🇨🇭 Switzerland (#1)|
|High||2||🇸🇪 Sweden (#2)|
|High||3||🇺🇸 United States of America (#3)|
|Upper Middle||1||🇨🇳 China (#14)|
|Upper Middle||2||🇲🇾 Malaysia (#33)|
|Upper Middle||3||🇧🇬 Bulgaria (#37)|
|Lower Middle||1||🇻🇳 Vietnam (#42)|
|Lower Middle||2||🇺🇦 Ukraine (#45)|
|Lower Middle||3||🇮🇳 India (#48)|
|Low||1||🇹🇿 Tanzania (#88)|
|Low||2||🇷🇼 Rwanda (#91)|
|Low||3||🇲🇼 Malawi (#111)|
Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.S. are the top three in the high-income group. Considering that Switzerland has the second-highest GDP per capita globally, it is not a surprise leader on this list.
Upper middle-income countries are led by China, Malaysia, and Bulgaria. Note that China far surpasses other nations in the upper-middle-income group ranking, reaching 14th spot overall in 2020. Others in the income group only appear in the overall ranking after 30th place.
Below are several income group leaders, and some of their key areas of output:
- Switzerland: First in Knowledge Creation, second in Global Brand Value
- U.S.: First in Entertainment and Media, Computer Software Spending, Intellectual Property Receipts
- China: First in Patents Registered
- Vietnam: Second in High-Technology Net Exports
- India: First in Information and Communication Technology Services Exports
- Tanzania: 23rd in Printing and Other Media
Shining a Light on Global Innovators
Since 2011, Switzerland has led the world in innovation according to this index, and the top five countries have seen few changes in recent years.
Sweden regained second place in 2019 and the U.S. moved into third—positions they maintain in 2020. The Netherlands entered the top two in 2018 and now sits at fifth.
Here’s how the overall ranking shakes out:
|3||United States of America||60.6||High|
|11||Hong Kong, China||54.2||High|
|34||United Arab Emiratesx||42.4||High|
|42||Viet Nam||37.1||Lower Middle|
|47||Russian Federation||35.6||Upper Middle|
|56||Costa Rica||33.5||Upper Middle|
|57||North Macedonia||33.4||Upper Middle|
|59||Republic of Moldova||33.0||Lower Middle|
|60||South Africa||32.7||Upper Middle|
|67||Iran (Islamic Republic of)||30.9||High|
|74||Bosnia and Herzegovina||29.0||Upper Middle|
|88||United Republic of Tanzania||25.6||Lower I|
|90||Dominican Republic||25.1||Upper Middle|
|92||El Salvador||24.9||Lower Middle|
|98||Trinidad and Tobago||24.1||High|
|100||Cabo Verde||23.9||Lower Middle|
|101||Sri Lanka||23.8||Upper Middle|
|105||Bolivia (Plurinational State of)||22.4||Lower Middle|
|112||Côte d’Ivoire||21.2||Lower Middle|
|113||Lao People’s Democratic Republic||20.7||Lower Middle|
|118||Burkina Faso||20.0||Lower I|
Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland continue their strong showing across innovation factors—like Knowledge Creation, Global Brand Value, Environmental Performance, and Intellectual Property Receipts—leading to their continued presence atop global innovators.
But the nations making the biggest moves in GII ranking are found in Asia.
China, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines have risen the most of all countries, with all four now in the top 50. China broke into the top 15 in 2019 and remains the only middle-income economy in the top 30.
In 2020, South Korea became the second Asian economy to enter the top 10, after Singapore. As the first Asian country to move into the global top five, Singapore joined the leaders in 2018, and now sits at 8th place.
In another first for 2020, India has now broken into the top 50.
Innovation Input & Output: The Overachievers
While annual rankings like these confirm the importance of a robust economy and innovation investment, variations in the relationship between input and output are not uncommon.
The correlation between wealth and innovation isn’t always straightforward, and neither is the connection between innovation input and output.
Below is an overview of the GII inputs and outputs, as well as several of the world’s overall leaders in each pillar.
Input variables can be characterized as factors that foster innovation—everything from the quality of a country’s university institutions to its levels of ecological sustainability.
|Input Pillars||Input Examples||Input Leaders|
Human Capital & Research
Venture Capital Deals
7. Hong Kong, China
10. South Korea
Output factors include innovation indicators like the creation of new businesses, and even the number of Wikipedia edits made per million people.
|Output Pillars||Output Types||Output Leaders|
|Knowledge & Technology|
Creative goods and services
National feature films
Entertainment and media
3. United Kingdom
10. South Korea
Countries with impressive innovation outputs compared to input levels include:
- China: 26th in inputs, but sixth in overall innovation outputs
- Netherlands: 11th in innovation input, but fourth across outputs
- Thailand: 48th in overall input, first in business R&D
- Malaysia: 34th in overall input, first in high-tech net exports
Innovation Fuel Reductions Up Ahead?
Although financial markets have ignited, the economy as a whole has not fared well since lockdowns began. This begs the question of whether a steep decline in innovation capital will follow.
In response to the 2020 pandemic, will spending on R&D echo the 2009 recession and aftermath of 9/11? Will venture capital flows continue to decline more than they have since 2018?
Because innovation is so entwined with the economic growth strategies of companies and nations alike, the WIPO notes that the potential decline may not be as severe as historical trends might suggest.
No Stopping Human Innovation
Thankfully, innovation opportunities are not solely contingent on the level of capital infused during any given year. Instead, the cumulative results of continuous innovation stimuli may be enough to maintain growth, while strategic cash reserves are put to use.
What the GII ranking shows is that inputs don’t always equal outputs—and that innovative strides can be made with even modest levels of capital flow.
How the Top Cryptocurrencies Performed in 2021
Cryptocurrencies had a breakout year in 2021, providing plenty of volatility and strong returns across crypto’s various sectors.
The Returns of Top Cryptocurrencies in 2021
2021 saw the crypto markets boom and mature, with different sectors flourishing and largely outperforming the market leader, bitcoin.
While bitcoin only managed to return 59.8% last year, the crypto sector’s total market cap grew by 187.5%, with many of the top coins offering four and even five-digit percentage returns.
2021 Crypto Market Roundup
Last year wasn’t just a breakout year for crypto in terms of returns, but also the growing infrastructure’s maturity and resulting decorrelation of individual crypto industries and coins.
Crypto’s infrastructure has developed significantly, and there are now many more onramps for people to buy altcoins that don’t require purchasing and using bitcoin in the process. As a result, many cryptocurrency prices were more dictated by the value and functionality of their protocol and applications rather than their correlation to bitcoin.
|Ethereum||Smart Contract Platform||399.2%|
|Binance Coin||Exchange Token||1,268.9%|
|Solana||Smart Contract Platform||11,177.8%|
|Cardano||Smart Contract Platform||621.3%|
|Terra||Smart Contract Platform||12,967.3%|
|Avalanche||Smart Contract Platform||3,334.8%|
|Polkadot||Smart Contract Platform||187.9%|
Sources: TradingView, Binance, Uniswap, FTX, Bittrex
Bitcoin wasn’t the only cryptocurrency that didn’t manage to reach triple-digit returns in 2021. Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash also provided meagre double-digit percentage returns, as payment-focused cryptocurrencies were largely ignored for projects with smart contract capabilities.
Other older projects like Stellar Lumens (109%) and XRP (278%) provided triple-digit returns, with Cardano (621%) being the best performer of the old guard despite not managing to ship its smart contract functionality last year.
The Rise of the Ethereum Competitors
Ethereum greatly outpaced bitcoin in 2021, returning 399.2% as the popularity boom of NFTs and creation of DeFi 2.0 protocols like Olympus (OHM) expanded possible use-cases.
But with the rise of network activity, a 50% increase in transfers in 2021, Ethereum gas fees surged. From minimums of $20 for a single transaction, to NFT mint prices starting around $40 and going into the hundreds on congested network days, crypto’s retail crowd migrated to other smart contract platforms with lower fees.
Alternative budding smart contract platforms like Solana (11,178%), Avalanche (3,335%), and Fantom (13,207%) all had 4-5 digit percentage returns, as these protocols built out their own decentralized finance ecosystems and NFT markets.
With Ethereum set to merge onto the beacon chain this year, which uses proof of stake instead of proof of work, we’ll see if 2022 brings lower gas fees and retail’s return to Ethereum if the merge is successful.
Dog Coins Meme their Way to the Top
While many new cryptocurrencies with strong functionality and unique use-cases were rewarded with strong returns, it was memes that powered the greatest returns in cryptocurrencies this past year.
Dogecoin’s surge after Elon Musk’s “adoption” saw many other dog coins follow, with SHIB benefitting the most and returning an astounding 19.85 million percent.
But ever since Dogecoin’s run from $0.07 to a high of $0.74 in Q2 of last year, the original meme coin’s price has slowly bled -77% down to $0.17 at the time of writing. After the roller coaster ride of last year, 2022 started with a positive catalyst for Dogecoin holders as Elon Musk announced DOGE can be used to purchase Tesla merchandise.
Gamifying the Crypto Industry
The intersection between crypto, games, and the metaverse became more than just a pipe dream in 2021. Axie Infinity was the first crypto native game to successfully establish a play to earn structure that combines its native token (AXS) and in-game NFTs, becoming a sensation and source of income for many in the Philippines.
Other crypto gaming projects like Defi Kingdoms are putting recognizable game interfaces on decentralized finance applications, with the decentralized exchange becoming the town’s “marketplace” and yield farms being the “gardens” where yield is harvested. This fantasy aesthetic is more than just a new coat of paint, as the project with $1.04B of total value locked is developing an underlying play-to-earn game.
Along with gamification, 2021 saw crypto native and non-crypto developers put a big emphasis on the digital worlds or metaverses users will inhabit. Facebook’s name change to Meta resulted in the two prominent metaverse projects The Sandbox (SAND) and Decentraland (MANA) surge another few hundred percent to finish off the year at 16,261% and 4,104% returns respectively.
With so many eyes on the crypto sector after the 2021’s breakout year, we’ll see how developing U.S. regulation and changing macro conditions affect cryptocurrencies in 2022.
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web
A lot has changed since Yahoo and AOL were the homepages of choice. This visualization looks at the largest internet giants in the U.S. since 1998.
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web (1998-Today)
With each passing year, an increasingly large segment of the population no longer remembers images loading a single pixel row at a time, the earsplitting sound of a 56k modem, or the early domination of web portals.
Many of the top websites in 1998 were news aggregators or search portals, which are easy concepts to understand. Today, brand touch-points are often spread out between devices (e.g. mobile apps vs. desktop) and a myriad of services and sub-brands (e.g. Facebook’s constellation of apps). As a result, the world’s biggest websites are complex, interconnected web properties.
The visualization above, which primarily uses data from ComScore’s U.S. Multi-Platform Properties ranking, looks at which of the internet giants have evolved to stay on top, and which have faded into internet lore.
America Moves Online
For millions of curious people the late ’90s, the iconic AOL compact disc was the key that opened the door to the World Wide Web. At its peak, an estimated 35 million people accessed the internet using AOL, and the company rode the Dotcom bubble to dizzying heights, reaching a valuation of $222 billion dollars in 1999.
AOL’s brand may not carry the caché it once did, but the brand never completely faded into obscurity. The company continually evolved, finally merging with Yahoo after Verizon acquired both of the legendary online brands. Verizon had high hopes for the company—called Oath—to evolve into a “third option” for advertisers and users who were fed up with Google and Facebook.
Sadly, those ambitions did not materialize as planned. In 2019, Oath was renamed Verizon Media, and was eventually sold once again in 2021.
A City of Gifs and Web Logs
As internet usage began to reach critical mass, web hosts such as AngelFire and GeoCities made it easy for people to create a new home on the Web.
GeoCities, in particular, made a huge impact on the early internet, hosting millions of websites and giving people a way to actually participate in creating online content. If it were a physical community of “home” pages, it would’ve been the third largest city in America, after Los Angeles.
This early online community was at risk of being erased permanently when GeoCities was finally shuttered by Yahoo in 2009, but luckily, the nonprofit Internet Archive took special efforts to create a thorough record of GeoCities-hosted pages.
From A to Z
In December of 1998, long before Amazon became the well-oiled retail machine we know today, the company was in the midst of a massive holiday season crunch.
In the real world, employees were pulling long hours and even sleeping in cars to keep the goods flowing, while online, Amazon.com had become one of the biggest sites on the internet as people began to get comfortable with the idea of purchasing goods online. Demand surged as the company began to expand their offering beyond books.
Amazon.com has grown to be the most successful merchant on the Internet.
– New York Times (1998)
Digital Magazine Rack
Meredith will be an unfamiliar brand to many people looking at today’s top 20 list. While Meredith may not be a household name, the company controlled many of the country’s most popular magazine brands (People, AllRecipes, Martha Stewart, Health, etc.) including their sizable digital footprints. The company also owned a slew of local television networks around the United States.
After its acquisition of Time Inc. in 2017, Meredith became the largest magazine publisher in the world. Since then, however, Meredith has divested many of its most valuable assets (Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune). In December 2021, Meredith merged with IAC’s Dotdash.
When people have burning questions, they increasingly turn to the internet for answers, but the diversity of sources for those answers is shrinking.
Even as recently as 2013, we can see that About.com, Ask.com, and Answers.com were still among the biggest websites in America. Today though, Google appears to have cemented its status as a universal wellspring of answers.
As smart speakers and voice assistants continue penetrate the market and influence search behavior, Google is unlikely to face any near-term competition from any company not already in the top 20 list.
New Kids on the Block
Social media has long since outgrown its fad stage and is now a common digital thread connecting people across the world. While Facebook rapidly jumped into the top 20 by 2007, other social media infused brands took longer to grow into internet giants.
By 2018, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook’s umbrella of platforms were all in the top 20, and you can see a more detailed and up-to-date breakdown of the social media universe here.
A Tangled Web
Today’s internet giants have evolved far beyond their ancestors from two decades ago. Many of the companies in the top 20 run numerous platforms and content streams, and more often than not, they are not household names.
A few, such as Mediavine and CafeMedia, are services that manage ads. Others manage content distribution, such as music, or manage a constellation of smaller media properties, as is the case with Hearst.
Lastly, there are still the tech giants. Remarkably, three of the top five web properties were in the top 20 list in 1998. In the fast-paced digital ecosystem, that’s some remarkable staying power.
This article was inspired by an earlier work by Philip Bump, published in the Washington Post.
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