The World’s 10 Most Innovative Economies
In the 21st century, innovation has become the heart and soul of economic policy. Developed and developing nations alike are in the race to leave industrialization behind, adapting instead to technology-focused, entrepreneurial societies.
Customized cancer treatment, faux meat products, and the smart home technologies are frequently positioned as ‘the next big thing’. But which countries are consistently innovating the most?
Today’s graphic comes from the seventh annual Bloomberg Innovation Index and highlights the 10 most innovative economies, and the seven metrics used to rank 2019’s top contenders.
Bloomberg calculated each country’s innovation score using seven equally-weighted metrics.
- R&D Spending
All research and development funding invested in an economy each year.
- Patent Activity
Number of domestic patents filed, total patent grants, patents per population, filings per GDP, and total grants awarded measured against the global total.
- Tertiary Efficiency
Total enrollment at post-secondary institutions, graduation levels, and number of science and engineering graduates.
- Manufacturing Value-added
Manufacturing output levels that contribute to exports and domestic economic growth.
Overall productivity levels of the working-age population.
- High-tech Density
Number of domestic high-tech public companies, measured against the number of domestic public companies and the global total of public high-tech companies.
- Researcher Concentration
Number of professionals currently engaged in research and development roles.
More than 200 countries were initially considered for Bloomberg’s Innovation Index. Any country reporting in less than six categories was automatically eliminated, leaving 95 countries remaining. Bloomberg publishes the results for the top 60 most innovative economies each year.
Notable Countries in the Top 60
The U.S. rejoined the top 10 after dropping to 11th in 2018 for low scores in education. Israel moved up five spots to 5th place, while Romania made the largest overall gain, jumping six spots to rank in the top 30.
|2019 Rank||Economy||Total Score||Change in Ranking|
|#1||🇰🇷 South Korea||87.38||0|
|#8||🇺🇸 United States||83.21||3|
Brazil rejoined the list at number 45, after not being included on the 2018 list. The United Arab Emirates made the list for the first time, marking the highest debut ever at number 46.
Tunisia and Ukraine were the two countries with the largest losses, which both fell out of the top 50 this year. To date, South Africa is the only Sub-Saharan nation to be ranked in the index.
Newcomers to the Innovation Index in 2019 are some of the largest emerging economies, such as India, Mexico, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.
Impact of Global Innovation
Innovation is complex─many factors play a role in the ideation, development, and commercialization of any new technology. And while innovation success can fuel economic growth, it is generally more accessible in high-income economies, where R&D funding is readily available.
“The battle for control of the global economy in the 21st century will be won and lost over control of innovative technologies.”
—Tom Orlik, Bloomberg Economics
The focus of an economy that prioritizes innovation, however, is not simply allocating resources for a group of people─it’s discovering new methods, models, and products that create a better quality of life for society.
Visualizing America’s Entrepreneurial Spirit During COVID-19
How have new business start-ups in the U.S. been impacted by COVID-19? New data reveals the resilience of the entrepreneurial spirit in America.
Mapped: America’s Entrepreneurial Spirit During COVID-19
Despite the risks of opening a business during a global pandemic, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the United States.
In total, there were 492,133 new business applications in January 2021—an increase of over 73% year-over-year (YoY).
The region with the highest growth rate was the South at 84% with more than 220,000 new business applications in the region in January of this year. Mississippi had the highest percent increase at 164%, with over 6,000 new applications in January 2021.
Here’s a closer look at the number of total applications by state and region:
Notably, new business applications have soared in the last month or so, bouncing back from a dip between July and December 2020.
The growth rate from December 2020 to January 2021 stood at 42.6%, with the biggest change happening in the Midwest, where applications have gone up 48.6%. Here’s a look at the biggest changes in applications by region since December 2020:
|Region||Number of Applications in January 2021||Percentage Change from December 2020|
Note: Business applications are measured by collecting data on new applications for Employer Identification Numbers with the U.S. government.
Opportunity Out of Crisis
Prior to the pandemic, new business startups were actually on the decline, but in times of crisis there is often opportunity.
People have become wildly innovative during COVID-19, partly because they were forced to do so due to job or income loss. Economists call this ‘creative destruction,’ wherein new innovation springs up because of the failure of particular industries or businesses.
Here’s a look at new business applications by industry.
|Industry||Number of New Business Applications (Jan. 2021)|
|Transportation and Warehousing||41,320|
|Accomodation and Food Services||27,409|
|Health Care and Social Assistance||27,266|
|Finance and Insurance||22,607|
|Arts and Entertainment||14,407|
|Management of Companies||4,273|
Creative destruction has been keenly exemplified in the rise of remote and digital services over traditional brick and mortar stores. In fact, the industry with the highest number of new business applications in January 2021 was retail services, mostly online, with over 101,000 applications.
Feeling the Entrepreneurial Spirit?
As business applications are on the rise, more jobs could potentially be created in the U.S., and competition will likely increase as well. While starting a business during COVID-19 is risky, it could have immense payoffs for the individuals involved and the overall economy.
In fact, a piece from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actually recommends specific business ideas that are ‘pandemic-friendly.’ Among many virtually-based ideas, the list includes:
- Digital marketing
- App development
- Fitness and wellness services
- Box subscription services
Perhaps, for digitally minded entrepreneurs, there has never been a better time to start a business.
Global Stars: The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group
From Switzerland and China to Vietnam and Tanzania — here are the world’s most innovative countries, taking income per capita into account.
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.
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