3 tech companies for the next 100 years
On the 100th anniversary of IBM, we look at young names that experts say have the staying power to endure the next century.
By Olivia Oran, TheStreet
With one of the world's best track records when it comes to the ability to remake itself time and time again, IBM (IBM) celebrates its centennial on Thursday, joining a list of iconic American stocks like Colgate (CL), John Deere (DE) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) that have all out-gunned countless competitors and economic cycles to reach 100 years of age.
Though this type of lasting power inevitably has, at times, colored IBM as stodgy, slow-growing and unexciting -- especially in a sector where many investors crave a continuous stream of new consumer gadgets -- Big Blue has repeatedly reconquered tech with its own world-changing brand of innovation.
So who in tech is in for the next 100 years?
Obvious answers from our sources include Apple (AAPL) -- whose ability to innovate in consumer electronics is viewed as virtually untouchable -- and Google (GOOG), thanks to its significant investment in efficient data centers and sustainability (not, as you might think, its core search business).
But what about the next generation of young tech companies -- those that have recently gone public or are speculated to do so in the near-term? It wasn't so easy. Most of the hot Internet companies popular with investors earned a thumbs down from our sources.
"It's an interesting gimmick," said Pund-IT principal analyst Charles King. "I'd give them two decades tops."
Read on for the three young tech firms likely to be around 100 years from now.
1. Facebook: Today's telephone
In a socially networked world where competitors like Myspace and Friendster have largely died off, it's unlikely the same will happen to Facebook. Not only is it the fourth-largest U.S. Web property according to Comscore, it's the most beloved social media brand, thanks in part to the role it plays in taking up large chunks of our day. More than 50% of Facebook users log onto the site every day, says the company.
"Facebook is untouchable," said Scott Sweet, senior managing partner at IPO Boutique. "Nobody should even waste their time and try to catch up."
Facebook, which is approaching 700 million users, hit a new high of 157.2 million visitors in May, up from 3.2 million the previous month, according to Comscore.
And while subscriber growth in the U.S. has slowed some, Facebook is concentrating on further expanding in Mexico, Brazil and India, where usage has increased dramatically within the last year.
"Facebook is so easy to use and seamless," said Tom Taulli, an independent IPO analyst who coins Facebook as today's version of the telephone. "People will always want to communicate and be social, and I don't see that changing."
2. Tesla: Swanked-out green hope
Last summer, when Tesla Motors (TSLA) became the first American car company to go public in half a century, it carried more weight than the usual IPO. Tesla, with its Silicon Valley slick and pretty, zero-emission sports cars, symbolized an investment based on hope -- not just for a new California upstart that stood in stark contrast to its much larger, older, bankruptcy-weakened rivals, but also as a concrete way for investors to buy into the approaching end to the country's dependence on oil.
The company's first product is revolutionary: The Roadster, a $110,000 sports car whose 4-second zero-to-60-mph acceleration is powered by an all-electric powertrain, can travel nearly 250 miles on a single charge.
"Tesla has the expertise of understanding the very complex nature of making a battery electric car work," said John O'Dell, senior editor and green car advisor at Edmunds. "That's what makes them valuable."
Tesla will be around 100 years from now because of its commitment to technology and change, said analyst Taulli. "If you look at car companies like General Motors (GM) and Ford (F), back in their day they were great technologies," he said. "The future of transportation is going to require more and more technology, which Tesla is doing."
3. BrightSource: Solar's warmest front
BrightSource Energy, the first solar thermal company to file for an IPO, just might be the big alternative energy push investors have been waiting for: It has contracts totaling 2200 megawatts of solar energy in its pipeline, twice as much as all of the solar installed in the U.S. in 2010, according to GTM Research.
"If you look at a basic solar company, cells and modules will always come and go and that technology will change," said Tim Keating, president of Keating Capital, a pre-IPO fund that invests in the green tech sector. "BrightSource will use whatever technology going forward is best and most efficient at the time."
Solar thermal technology is the process of harnessing solar energy for heat. While much of solar thermal is used today to heat water for residential and commercial use (think swimming pools), BrightSource goes a little bigger, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat liquid that produces steam to turn a turbine, which, in turn, creates electricity.
The technology also includes a storage capability so that solar energy generated during hours when demand is low can be released later in the day when demand is at its peak.
While natural gas has historically been the cheapest form of energy, gas prices are expected to rise over the next several years while solar prices are anticipated to fall. If this trend continues, BrightSource's method of creating an inexpensive, environmentally friendly form of power could be around for years to come, say analysts.
"If BrightSource can build out its plants and scale efficiently its future looks bright," said Brett Prior, senior analyst at GTM Research.
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