100 Brilliant Companies of 2012

Entrepreneur's annual look at the brightest ideas, the hottest industries and the most insightful innovators

Syyners: (above, from left) Eric Gradman, Doug Campbell, Brent Bushnell, Dan Busby and Hector Alvarez.

Brilliance expresses itself in many ways--from the esoteric tinkerings of a mad genius to the profit-heavy balance sheets that illustrate the work of astute executives. Sometimes brilliance is merely a deceptively simple, why-hasn't-anyone-thought-of-this-before solution to a nagging problem.

The products and services represented by our annual roundup of 100 Brilliant Companies are a little bit of all of these. It should come as no surprise that our list is heavy on digital technology, with apps, development platforms and gadgets related to mobile phones, social networking and health care, as well as some mind-blowing inventions that are just plain cool.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we found much to admire in low-tech brilliance--most notably that with retro hipster appeal, as chronicled in our new-this-year category Geek Chic. Throw in a bit of fun from food, shopping, music, art and travel, and you have our list of the best ideas, the brightest innovations--and, yes, the wackiest notions dreamed up by businesses in the last year.

But brilliance is not merely subjective: In some cases, it can be quantified in dollars and cents. This is not to say that these companies are necessarily the most lucrative in their fields; few of them, if any, are that. But to get a sense of the potential value of the businesses on our list, we spoke to leading venture capitalists to find out what qualities they look for in investment targets in several of our categories. It's a fascinating window into the minds of the people who are betting big on tomorrow's brilliance, today.

Our hope is that, as you dip into our 10 categories, you'll find ideas that inspire, excite and delight you--and, more than anything, perhaps galvanize you to create a bit of brilliance yourself.

See last year's Brilliance report »

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GEEK CHIC
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RETAIL
SOCIAL MEDIA
SOCIAL MUSIC/ART