Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative media, design, and consumer goods companies.
Defining American innovation is not easy. After all, we readily admit that there are companies based in North America all throughout Most Innovative Companies. And yet, there is something undeniably American about finding novel use for waste products. There’s something irresistibly American about building a better mousetrap—and then doing it again and again. It is quintessentially American to bring more democracy to your corner of the business world. It is American to do what would have seemed impossible not that long ago, to skate where the puck is going, to disrupt yourself, to support your community when it needs you most. The 10 companies we feature on this year’s North America list (including one Canadian company and one Mexican one) embody these values. They may not be ineluctably American, but they reflect the best of North America’s can-do spirit.
The 2022 honorees on our North America list are eclectic, yet essential. Flagship Pioneering has developed an accelerator for “bioplatforms” that’s designed to create more breakthrough science companies like Moderna, one of its progeny. AB InBev, the beer giant, is finding creative uses for the waste by-products of the suds-making process, from protein to can rings. The startup beauty brand Everist is making a splash in a crowded market by virtue of what isn’t in its shampoo and conditioner products: water. ChargePoint’s network of electric-vehicle charging stations is well positioned to expand the market for EVs and will likely be a beneficiary of the funding in the recent federal infrastructure law, and Green Mountain Power continues to build greater energy resiliency and grid stability without fossil fuels. Is there anything more American than just getting right to the good parts? That’s what Buzzer does for a growing cohort of younger sports fans, giving them the ability to drop into the best part of the action as it’s happening. Organizations as varied as the no-code pioneer Webflow and the venerable Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini have embraced the idea of opening up their tools and expertise for a broader group of people that never before would have had the ability to use them. Just as Wilson Sonsini removes the tedium of a lot of standard legal processes and automates them so lawyers don’t have to do scut work, Miso Robotics has built a robotic fry cook to help restaurant workers do anything else in the kitchen but the greasiest, hottest, most unpleasant task.
1. AB InBev
For turning trash into treasure
Last October, the Garden of Life nutrition brand introduced a new protein powder, using an ingredient it had never leveraged before: barley. The barley protein is a remnant of the beer-brewing process, and the ingredient came from the brewing giant AB InBev, which launched EverGrain at the beginning of 2021 to capture barley protein and fiber that was previously discarded during beer making to create novel, nutrient-rich products that can be used in milks, flour, and meat alternatives. This ingenuity has led to a busy year for AB InBev’s turn as an ingredient supplier, introducing its flour into a Birds Eye frozen pot pie and partnering with a subsidiary of the consumer packaged goods company Post Holdings to make barley flour-based snacks. The company also found a way to employ barley straw to make new six-pack boxes for Corona, paying farmers for what had been previously an unused by-product of growing barley seed. AB InBev plans to produce 75,000 tons of protein, 35,000 tons of flour, and 20,000 tons of soluble fiber over the next seven years.
AB InBev is No. 12 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies.
2. Flagship Pioneering
For redefining the scientific method
Moderna became a name brand in 2021, thanks to its success in creating one of the first mRNA-based vaccines. Less well known is that Moderna was birthed out of a company named Flagship Pioneering, and it has been the starter for a slew of biological science companies in the last two decades. Flagship, which was founded in 2000, operates as a hybrid of an idea lab, venture firm, and startup accelerator, spinning up six to eight new “bioplatforms” annually that are poised in some fashion to improve human health, by preventing and treating diseases, mitigating climate change, or feeding the world’s population. It then supports them in their early development until they can be spun out as independent businesses and attract additional funding. (Moderna, for example, started within Flagship in 2010.) The company spun out four notable companies in 2021: Inzen Therapeutics is based on a field of study unearthed by Flagship that living cells react to dying ones, an insight that it hopes will help it discover and develop new drugs; Laronde, which is working in the field of what Flagship calls Endless RNA, in which RNA is programmed to express therapeutic proteins inside the body; YourBio Health, a lab-based service that’s created an at-home test for measuring antibodies against COVID-19; and Harbinger Health, which is focused on the early detection of cancers using artificial intelligence. It may be years before these companies have the kind of impact of Flagship alums such as Indigo Ag and its plant technologies to increase yields while promoting sustainability, or, of course, Moderna. In its history, Flagship has turned more than 100 scientific theses into startups. Since 2013, 25 of them have gone public, and the company has turned $2.5 billion in investments into a portfolio valued at more than $180 billion.
For gassing up EV charging infrastructure
In November 2021, President Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which authorized $7.5 billion to build a nationwide electric-vehicle charging network that would be available in public spaces and not proprietary to a particular vehicle. ChargePoint, which has been building an open EV charging network in North America and Europe since 2007, is best poised to take advantage of this investment. It already has more than 174,000 locations, along with access to another almost 300,000 charging ports via its “roaming network” relationships. ChargePoint sells EV chargers to businesses, vehicle fleets, and residences or offers them as a service, charging an annual subscription. The company manages the driver relationship to its network, but the owners of the plug-in locations dictate what customers pay. During 2021, ChargePoint pushed further into integrating directly into electric cars and their dashboard info systems, making deals with Volvo (March), Mercedes (June), and Mazda (August). The new Mazda MX-30 EV also comes with $500 charging credit for public use or to put toward a home charger. ChargePoint also rolled out a holistic solution for fleet managers to address EV charging at a vehicle depot, on the road, and at drivers’ homes. The company went public in 2021; revenue for its full fiscal 2022 (which ended January 31, 2022), was $242.3 million, a 65% increase from the prior year.
For swimming upstream
Webflow helped create the no-code web development movement, and it continues its leadership in democratizing the ability to build great websites and experiences. The company, fresh off a January 2021 fundraising that gave it an additional $140 million in capital, introduced its enterprise product, incorporating more rigorous security and support for teams to collaborate with one another across a large organization. In other words, Webflow added sophisticated workflow, adding everything from visibility into which parts of a project are being worked on in parallel and by whom in Webflow’s designer and editor tools as well as a hand-off feature so a particular person can have control until they pass it on to someone else. The company has already attracted 140 customers for its enterprise product, as Webflow’s overall business continues to boom. Its customer base doubled in 2021, to 200,000, revenue grew a reported 75% year over year, and its users, which include name brands such as Chipotle and Oreo, built more than 450,000 sites.
5. Green Mountain Power
For flipping the switch on energy generation
Green Mountain Power (GMP), the venerable 129-year-old energy provider for Vermont residents, is the first to take residential batteries, such as Tesla’s Powerwall, and network them so power at the edge of the grid can then be shared back to the grid operator when needed. Typically, fossil fuels are required to maintain grid stability, but GMP’s Frequency Regulation program allows home batteries to do the job, keeping the network balanced while reducing carbon emissions and lowering costs (participating homes receive monthly bill credits). GMP was able to retire a fossil-fuel peaker plant that had been in use since the 1960s. The company has also engineered a microgrid in the city of Panton, near Vermont’s border with New York, that can create an “island” of a power-distribution circuit generated from renewable sources if severe weather knocks out the larger grid. It’s the first of GMP’s plan to introduce what it calls resiliency zones across the state to be prepared for more severe weather events produced by climate change.
6. Wilson Sonsini
For rendering legal services into 1s and 0s
What do you call a lawyer in the cloud? Wilson Sonsini. The preeminent Silicon Valley law firm, which has worked with more than 100,000 startups and taken the likes of Netflix, Google, and Roblox public, has been actively embracing the digital transformation espoused by the 3,000 clients currently in its Emerging Companies Practice. Last June, Wilson Sonsini launched Neuron, a software platform that aggregates all of a startup’s legal needs, from incorporation to IPO, into one place, automating routine practices while still giving clients access to legal advice. The firm’s attorneys can also focus on higher-value work while software handles the scut work. Neuron gives clients a dashboard to manage all their legal documents, and via a deal with Morgan Stanley, the firm built an API to send cap-table information in a common format to the investment bank for customers the two share. As startups are spun up and funded at increasing velocity, Wilson Sonsini is seeking to operate at the same speed. In the months after introducing Neuron, the firm has seen new-client formation grow 70% and its clients have given Neuron a Net Promoter customer-satisfaction score of 9.36 on the 0-10 scale.
For getting fans to the good parts
Buzzer is a streaming sports experience that finds a seam between the defining media megatrends of the last decade: cord cutting, which means sports fans are no longer paying for expensive cable packages to see all the games, and the predominance of smartphones and social media becoming the way in which a large cohort of particularly younger fans experience big moments. Buzzer has completely redesigned how sports is consumed in the mobile, social era, and leagues are embracing Buzzer as its partner to reach these fans and generate incremental revenue. In 2021, the startup formed partnerships with the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and PGA Tour and formally launched its app last October. The average Buzzer user dropping into NHL highlights, for example, was between 18 and 28, while the average NHL TV viewer is 49 years old. Buzzer’s social-like experience lets fans follow their favorite teams and players and then be notified when there’s a crucial moment or meaningful highlight, or when someone is on a hot streak, which they can then watch in Buzzer’s app. Users can go à la carte and pay per highlight, drop into a live game for 10 minutes for 99 cents, pay $2 to watch a quarter, or if they are members of a league’s all-you-can-eat service such as NBA League Pass, they can just use the notification features to make sure they don’t miss the best stuff.
For separating water from shower products
Shampoo, conditioner, and body washes can be 70% water. Even “dry shampoo” has water among its ingredients. Jessica Stevenson and Jayme Jenkins had spent time in their careers at such beauty giants as Revlon and the Body Shop, but they were dismayed by the industry’s reliance on single-use plastic and shipping products that were mostly water. Inspired by environmentally minded cleaning-product startups that were removing water from formulations and selling tablets or small vials with just the active ingredients, the duo adapted that concept for beauty. In January 2021, Everist launched with shampoo and conditioner concentrates ($24 each), packing a typical 300 ml bottle into a 100 ml aluminum tube (its aluminum is pure enough to be recycled again and again) where the shower’s water provides the liquid that otherwise would’ve been part of the package. Everist’s products quickly earned raves from customers and beauty influencers, winning seven awards for their effectiveness as well as their clever approach to sustainability. The Toronto-based company introduced body wash in October and then a reformulated shampoo in December. In addition to selling direct, clean beauty retailer Credo Beauty added it to its aisles, as did the Allure Store. Everist sold out across its retail distributors and its direct-to-consumer business five times throughout the year.
For converting WhatsApp chats into cash for mom-and-pop merchants
There are 6 million mom-and-pop stores in Mexico, and Neta, which launched in June 2021, creates a clever online-to-offline sales channel for those businesses. Neta, which was incubated at Stanford University when the founder, Pablo Lagos, got his MBA, offers these shops the ability to offer customers an expanded inventory via its digital catalog, which includes fresh produce, that they can then market to their customers via WhatsApp. Buyers pick up their goods at their local store, encouraging additional purchases, and the merchants receive a commission for whatever Neta products that they sell. Neta’s mission extends from supporting these businesses to helping more people participate in e-commerce, because its service doesn’t require a credit card or a traditional internet connection. (Buyers pay in cash at the local store.) Within months, Neta already said that it had 10,000 customers and was fulfilling thousands of orders each week, dropping off between 50 and 100 orders at stores in the areas it serves across Mexico City in a single weekly delivery. Neta’s revenue has been growing 20% week over week since its service debuted, and the company plans to expand to other cities in Mexico and then to other countries.
10. Miso Robotics
For cooking with bots
The fast-food industry’s tospy-turvy pandemic has been characterized by labor issues: understaffed restaurants, long-awaited pay and benefits increases, and worker walkouts. As this tumult has played out, Miso Robotics, a five-year-old automation startup focused on the restaurant business, had a big 2021. Miso, which first garnered attention in 2018 for its robotic arm Flippy, cooked up its sequel, Flippy 2. Flippy, as you probably guessed, was designed to flip burgers but found its kitchen calling at the fryer. Flippy 2, which debuted in November 2021, can fry a wider range of items, faster, and Miso redesigned it to fit more nimbly in tighter kitchens. A new feature called Autobin allows workers to add orders safely, which the robot then identifies using computer vision and cooks and holds in a warming bin. Buffalo Wild Wings started testing “Wingy,” as it’s dubbed the machines, last fall in both its innovation center and a ghost kitchen, with the intent of rolling it out into restaurants in 2022. Miso also took Flippy’s brain—the software and computer vision that powers it—and started to market it directly last May as CookRight Grill. The software can monitor up to 50 items on a cooktop to make sure they’re hitting the right temperature, assisting the grill worker in managing what’s ready when. CookRight gives Miso entree into sit-down chain restaurants, extending its customer base beyond fast food. The company, which offers its robots for a monthly service fee (Flippy 2 starts at approximately $3,000 a month; CookRight costs just $100 a month), has also unveiled its automated beverage dispenser that’s expected to debut later this year. It’s named . . . what else? . . . Sippy.