Which Countries Are the Most Innovative?
Countries that value and invest in innovation not only do themselves a favor. They also help the rest of humanity by bringing change forward.
Recognizing this unique contribution, the World Intellectual Property Organization ranked 131 countries from most to least innovative.
Which country is the most innovative? These are the top 30.
Population: 46.94 million
Gross domestic product: $1.393 trillion
Famous companies: Movistar, BBVA, Zara
Bottom line: Spain has been a leader in technology for years. The country ranks highly on Internet Inclusion and is home to giant international companies like Movistar and BBVA.
Spain's largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are startup hubs, and many of the companies focus on digital services. This environment certainly fosters innovation.
Country rankings are based on the Global Innovation Index 2020 report.
Gross domestic product: $24.95 billion
Famous companies: Charlie Airlines, Global Trans Investment
Bottom line: It is somewhat surprising to see Cyprus rank so highly, especially considering that the country doesn’t have many companies that are household names.
What it does have, however, is a unique geographic position in the Mediterranean Sea, which makes it a crossroads between Africa, Europe and the Middle East. In the report, Cyprus ranks fourth for innovative performance in entrepreneurship, venture capital and high-tech production.
The country even offers a Startup Visa, which it hopes will attract top talent and promising companies to bring fresh ideas to its borders.
Population: 60.36 million
Gross domestic product: $2.004 trillion
Famous companies: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Versace
Bottom line: Of course, Italy is on this list. The country has a long history of technological inventions, including aqueducts, newspapers and the radio.
The beautiful country is best known for its art-filled cities and picturesque beach towns, but it also does pretty well in terms of adopting technologies. Italian companies, for instance, invest in research, and the country uses more industrial robots and machine-to-machine learning than many of its neighbors.
Italy also reigns in terms of design and quality, which makes its products highly coveted around the world.
Gross domestic product: $14.99 billion
Famous companies: Emmanuel Delicata, Air Malta
Bottom line: More people associate Malta with beaches than with technology, but the island nation has a government that is quite invested in looking ahead.
The country has passed several laws to drive innovation, including using blockchain technology for use in governmental systems. It’s no surprise then that officials have publicly stated that they want it to be "the most innovative country in the world."
If Malta continues on the path it’s on, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it quickly shoot up the ranks.
26. New Zealand
Population: 4.917 million
Gross domestic product: $206.9 billion
Famous companies: Air New Zealand, Spark New Zealand
Bottom line: The somewhat isolated twin islands that make up New Zealand haven’t allowed their geographic position to deter their goals of innovation.
A 2017 study named New Zealand as one of the top digital economies on the planet, identifying it as a "standout" country. This means that it has high levels of digital development and is a leader in this development.
The Ministry of Business also has reported that the country’s tech industry is becoming increasingly profitable. But the government isn’t just thinking of growth. Part of the reason it is investing so heavily in new technology is to be able to adopt greener options that will help the southern nation reach its goals of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Population: 1.325 million
Gross domestic product: $31.47 billion
Famous companies: Skype, Transferwise, Taxify, and Playtech
Bottom line: Estonia is considered one of the most digitally advanced countries. The country is known to be the home of four unicorns, startups that reach a value of over one billion dollars. These are Skype, Transferwise, Taxify and Playtech. We’re willing to bet you have used at least one of these.
This Baltic state is also the first paperless government in the world, with routine actions like voting, banking and healthcare being offered electronically way before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Estonia was one of the first countries to offer a digital nomad visa, hoping to bring in talent from all over the world.
24. Czech Republic
Population: 10.65 million
Gross domestic product: $250.7 billion
Famous companies: Avast, Skoda, Budweiser Budvar, Pilsner
Bottom line: The Czech Republic leads Central Europe in terms of innovation, according to the World Economic Forum. Factors like a well-developed infrastructure and funded research certainly help it achieve this status.
The former Soviet nation is also wise enough to quickly import advanced technologies while exporting its own knowledge and technologies abroad. For extra points, the country does well in terms of sustainability, issuing numerous certificates to ensure a minimized environmental impact in its industries.
Population: 25.36 million
Gross domestic product: $1.397 trillion
Famous companies: Billabong, Qantas, Holden
Bottom line: Australia has been responsible for life-changing inventions like the ultrasound, the electronic pacemaker, Google Maps and Wi-Fi. That’s right, you’re reading this article right now thanks to Australia.
To ensure that it doesn’t fall behind, the large island nation invests in research and development, being responsible for about 2 percent of scientific papers worldwide. The government has also pushed for innovation by supporting more than 100 innovation clusters throughout the country.
Finally, Australia doesn’t hesitate to adopt new technologies, most recently planning on building the largest solar farm in the world.
Population: 11.46 million
Gross domestic product: $533.1 billion
Famous companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Option N.V., Solvay S.A.
Bottom line: Belgium may be quite small, with the entire country having a lower population than some major cities in the world.
This hasn’t stopped it from contributing to technological advances. The city of Antwerp in particular is known for its startup culture, technology outputs and industry conferences.
Creativity is encouraged by the government, which has eagerly expressed interest in the European Union’s SmartCities program. This collaborative project seeks to bring public and private stakeholders together to come up with solutions to common problems that cities face such as traffic and pollution.
Gross domestic product: $24.19 billion
Famous companies: Icelandair, 66°North, Frisk Software International
Bottom line: Perhaps because of its isolated location, Iceland has taken proactive steps to ensure it does not rely on other countries for things like energy.
The country’s most impressive feat has been to let go of fossil fuels and run 100 percent on electricity from renewable sources. For this, it has relied on its own resources, such as the geothermal energy it is so famous for.
Other green innovations include high-tech greenhouses and carbon capture and storage technology. We’d love to see other countries follow Iceland’s footsteps.
Population: 5.328 million
Gross domestic product: $403.3 billion
Famous companies: Aker Solutions, Kahoot, Norwegian Airlines
Bottom line: Though ranking the lowest of all Scandinavian countries, Norway is on a mission to beat out its sister nations.
One thing it has done is to encourage national startups. Initiatives such as the StartupLab in Oslo seek to support the growth of technology made within the country rather than imported from abroad.
Norway is also heavily invested in growing sustainable, contributing to green technologies and consciously balancing economic growth with environmental responsibility.
Population: 8.859 million
Gross domestic product: $445.1 billion
Famous companies: Red Bull, AVL, Stiegl
Bottom line: If you’ve ever relied on Red Bull to get you through an all-nighter, you can thank Austria’s commitment to helping national companies.
Austria ranks so highly mainly because it invests a lot on research and development — 3 percent of its total GDP. Perhaps because of this, it has a high score for patent applications, meaning that its residents are constantly coming up with new ideas they think are worth protecting.
Besides this, Austria has a highly educated population and a high industrial output per capita.
Gross domestic product: $71.1 billion
Famous companies: Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, Luxair
Bottom line: This small European country has not let its size hold it back, creating a strong tech industry that has an impressive number of venture capital deals and knowledge-intensive employment. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is where Amazon decided to open its European headquarters.
Luxembourg’s biggest exports include machinery (like computers), vehicles and electrical machinery. It is also making strides in the space and satellite sector, which accounts for about 2 percent of the country’s GDP.
Population: 37.59 million
Gross domestic product: $1.736 trillion
Famous companies: Tim Hortons, Westjet, MAC Cosmetics, Lululemon Athletica
Bottom line: Canada’s biggest advantage is its accessible higher education, which ranks as one of the top countries for the percentage of college graduates in working-age adults.
Institutions like the University of Toronto enjoy worldwide recognition and contribute to Canada’s high research and development performance.
The gigantic country also applauds entrepreneurship, with entrepreneurs making up 17 percent of the workforce and with a high number of patent applications.
Population: 126.3 million
Gross domestic product: $5.082 trillion
Famous companies: Toyota Motor Corporation, Sony Corporation, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone
Bottom line: Many people perceive Japan as the most technologically advanced country in the world. This is probably because of inventions like the first high-speed train as well as the country’s commitment to AI and robotics research.
The Japanese government has expressed its desire to bring humanity to its fifth stage of development, moving past the information stage and into what it calls an "ultra-smart society." Its vision is for an interconnected society that relies heavily on integrated technology to improve the quality of life.
In order to make this happen, the government supports startups as well as established companies, encouraging them to come up with new solutions. Some of the ideas currently in development include digital farming technology, industrial robots and microalgaes that could serve as jet fuel.
Whether Japan will lead us into an integrated tech utopia or a machine-dominated dystopia is yet to be seen.
Population: 4.904 million
Gross domestic product: $388.7 billion
Famous companies: Guinness, Ryanair, Trane Technologies
Bottom line: Ireland’s tech reputation has earned an area of Dublin the nickname "Silicon Docks." This tech quarter is patronized by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and developers trying to make it big in Europe.
Numerous tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter also have set up headquarters in the country.
Taking this into account, it makes sense that Ireland is the fastest-growing economy in Europe.
Population: 1.398 billion
Gross domestic product: $14.34 trillion
Famous companies: Alibaba, ByteDance, China Mobile
Bottom line: China is the only non-high income country to make it to the top 30, which is a noteworthy feat. Especially when you consider that it beat several high-income countries in terms of innovation.
No one should be surprised that China leads in coming up with new things. After all, the country gave us gunpowder, paper, fireworks and pasta.
Following this legacy, modern China is focusing its attention on medical and technological innovations. It now has the most AI patents filed and boasts a total of 206 tech unicorns, the largest amount of any country. Yes, even more than the U.S.
Population: 9.053 million
Gross domestic product: $394.7 billion
Famous companies: Waze, Wix, SodaStream
Bottom line: Tel Aviv is Israel’s tech hub and is home to a large number of startups. The country has given the world Waze and Wix, which are just two examples of the game-changing ideas coming from here.
Because of its geographical location, Israel is investing heavily in alternative energy sources that are more environmentally friendly and that it can produce locally. Naturally, this has led to a boom in solar energy within the nation. The research pertaining to this field could potentially help other nations move toward renewable energy more easily.
Population: 67.06 million
Gross domestic product: $2.716 trillion
Famous companies: Michelin, Renault, Cartier, BNP Paribas
Bottom line: Besides having a strong economy, France also has a government that purposefully and willingly supports research and development. In fact, the country spends 2.2 percent of its GDP on it.
For instance, the government provides a research tax credit meant to incentivize private and public institutions to carry out important studies. It also has a liquidity scheme for companies that was extended to include startups.
These types of actions have helped it become a leader in industries like automotive, aerospace, IT services, and pharmaceuticals.
11. Hong Kong
Population: 7.507 million
Gross domestic product: $365.7 billion
Famous companies: City Telecom, Cathay Pacific, HSBC
Bottom line: Though technically part of China, Hong Kong has its own independent economy and currency. It actually is counted as high income, unlike the mainland. For this reason, it is counted on its own.
Hong Kong has several prestigious universities, multinational companies like HSBC and a large expat population. The latter is a sign that Hong Kong draws in talent from all over the world, which may be the reason it places as the third-most innovative place within East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania.
In terms of research and development, entrepreneurship and venture capital, it ties for the first spot with the United States.
10. South Korea
Population: 51.71 million
Gross domestic product: $1.647 trillion
Famous companies: Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, LG, Kia Motors
Bottom line: South Korea is an impressive rags-to-riches story. The tiny Asian nation was one of the poorest countries in the world in the mid-20th century. Today, it has the 12th-highest GDP.
Experts usually pin its success on an intense emphasis on research and development. With 4.5 percent of its GDP spent on this area, it invests more than any other country on research.
It is through this emphasis that South Korea has managed to become a leader in IT and communication technologies. Other factors include its high-functioning infrastructure and high levels of education.
Population: 83.02 million
Gross domestic product: $3.861 trillion
Famous companies: Adidas, Volswagen, Porsche, Allianz
Bottom line: Germans are known for their flawless engineering and making machines that last. This is why several of the most respected car companies in the world are German and why you’ll find German machinery in factories all over the planet.
Like other countries on the list, Germany invests in research and development, a purpose that is facilitated by its excellent universities and accessible education. A strong economy and political stability have also helped free up the minds of residents for figuring out how to make the next big thing. For instance, several German companies are working on driverless cars.
If the country doesn’t rank higher it’s because it is not as advanced in information technology and telecommunication.
Population: 5.704 million
Gross domestic product: $372.1 billion
Famous companies: Singtel, BS Bank, Pirate3D
Bottom line: One only needs to step into Singapore’s Changi Airport to realize this is an innovative country. If the airport has the largest indoor waterfall in the world, you can just imagine how amazing the rest of the city state is.
Another place where Singapore shows off its creativity is at the famous Gardens by the Bay, where large metal trees mimic their natural counterparts to filter rain water and soak up solar energy to power themselves and the surrounding neighborhood.
But what makes this even more impressive is that Singapore is the smallest country by area on this list. How did it achieve such a high ranking? Investing in the digital economy, having a free market and making laws that attract companies and entrepreneurs. For instance, the EntrePass helps foreigners launch a business within the country.
Population: 5.518 million
Gross domestic product: $269.3 billion
Famous companies: Nokia, Nestle Oil, Ahlstrom
Bottom line: Once again, investing heavily in research and development is shown to have a high payoff. In the case of Finland, the payoff has been global as it has given us gems like Linux and text messaging. Yes, that’s right. Without funding, we may still be calling rather than texting.
Finland also boasts a fast and cheap internet, individual freedom and affordable secondary education.
Population: 5.806 million
Gross domestic product: $350.1 billion
Famous companies: Carlsberg Group, LEGO, Pandora Jewellery
Bottom line: Denmark shines in the fields of life sciences, biomedicine, pharmaceuticals and environmental science. This is why you constantly see Denmark on the news and on social media for coming up with a cool way to filter water or provide temperature control with a lighter carbon footprint.
The country is also known for its robotics industry, which is based in the city of Odense. It certainly doesn’t hurt that education is cheap and basically anyone who wants to study is able to, no matter their economic status.
Population: 17.28 million
Gross domestic product: $907.1 billion
Famous companies: Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever, Heineken, ING
Bottom line: It’s almost annoying how cool the Dutch are. Not only do they claim Van Gogh and tulips, but they also break off the top five most innovative countries.
The country very consciously protects its position by funding research institutes, providing research and development tax credits, and encouraging collaboration between academia, the private sector and government.
We really shouldn’t be surprised that the Netherlands ranks so high. After all, it is the country that changed life in the 20th century by giving us cassette tapes and playing a role in the development of CDs.
4. United Kingdom
Population: 66.65 million
Gross domestic product: $2.829 trillion
Famous companies: AstraZeneca, BP, Vodafone, Jaguar, Lush Cosmetics, Dyson
Bottom line: One of the strongest economies in the world, the United Kingdom takes pride in the quality of its academic institutions. With top universities like Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, it almost guarantees that brilliant minds will be working within its borders. This is probably why it has the second-highest number of Nobel Prize winners, with 75 nationals receiving the honor.
The U.K. has multiple venture capital schemes that offer tax credits to investors. This helps fuel a startup economy that brings with it the freedom to try ideas that may just end up disrupting industries.
Several companies like Google, Amazon, Coca-Cola and Facebook have headquarters in the country.
3. United States
Population: 328.2 million
Gross domestic product: $21.43 trillion
Famous companies: Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft
Bottom line: The U.S. may not rank one in innovation, but no one can question its place in the top three. After all, Silicon Valley is the place for startups and several companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google have been founded in the country.
Besides having multiple tech hubs, the country can pride itself on having some of the top universities in the world, like Harvard, Yale and MIT. It also has more Nobel Prize winners than anyone else.
Another factor that aids the U.S. is its large immigrant population, which brings a diversity of ideas and world views into an atmosphere that encourages creativity and thinking outside the box.
Population: 10.23 million
Gross domestic product: $530.9 billion
Famous companies: Ikea, H&M, Ericsson, Spotify
Bottom line: Like the other Scandinavian nations, Sweden makes it a point to invest on research and development. The strategy has helped it win the second spot on this ranking.
Sweden excels in several industries, including telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and — as we all probably know — home goods.
The country is also proof that high taxes and strict labor regulations are not necessarily harmful to innovation. After all, Sweden is doing better than countries with industry-first attitudes.
Population: 8.545 million
Gross domestic product: $703.1 billion
Famous companies: Nestle, Novartis, Swatch, Lindt, Rolex
Bottom line: Switzerland is known for its stability, wealth and chocolate. But it’s still a little surprising to see it come out as the most innovative country in the world. The country is the first to admit that it values caution over high-risk, a strategy that seems to be working for it.
Factors that helped it earn the top place include an efficient workforce, a competitive economy, accessible education, and, you guessed it, investing 3 percent of its GDP on research and development. (If you ever want to know how to promote innovation within a country, this seems to be the answer.)
Switzerland also promotes programs that encourage collaboration between public and private entities, so that knowledge is shared and innovation facilitated.
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