Most Innovative Companies - All Stars

Innovation All-Stars

These companies, featured on our 2008 and 2009 honor rolls, fought a dour economy with renewed creativity and bold initiatives. (Alas, not all fared well.)

Affymetrix

The life-science tech firm endured brutal Wall Street beatings despite healthy revenue. Its latest machine processes more than 750 genetic samples a week and mimics digital-media programs like iTunes, letting researchers create custom "playlists" of genetic markers for testing. Read the 2008 Profile

AirAsia

The low-cost Malaysian carrier's long-haul unit, AirAsia X, began flying to Europe (London Stansted) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi) in 2009. It signaled plans to add U.S. service with its surprising sponsorship of the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Read the 2008 Profile

AKQA

How could the digital-marketing firm diversify its clientele—including Kraft, Gap, Fiat, and Unilever—even more? By adding the U.S. Postal Service and the New York City Ballet. And give AKQA credit for coming up with one of the few augmented-reality apps that has actually proved useful: the USPS's Virtual Box Simulator, which helps customers figure which size box is best. Read the 2008 Profile

Anomaly

In 2009, the meta ad firm beat incumbent Fallon Worldwide in a head-to-head pitch for Sony Europe's $80 million advertising account and launched an IP venture for YouTube's Lauren Luke. Read the 2008 Profile

Aravind Eye Care System

India's revolutionary network of not-for-profit hospitals and vision centers introduced a laser for treating diabetic retinopathy that costs half the price of existing models. It also handled more than 2.7 million outpatient visits and performed 300,000-plus surgeries. Read the 2009 Profile

Arup

First, the good news: Over the past year, the storied engineering outfit shared in the awards earned by several projects in China, including its Olympic work (the Water Cube aquatics center, the Bird's Nest stadium) and the China Central TV headquarters. Last summer, Arup also joined Bill Clinton's climate initiative and set up free workshops to help cities develop custom carbon-reduction programs. But the recession hit the firm hard, forcing it to lay off more than 300 workers in Britain. Read the 2008 Profile

Ausra

The company abruptly abandoned plans to build solar-thermal power plants. Its new idea: to sell its solar steam-boiler technology to other energy companies. Within a few months, Ausra 2.0 had already struck deals with buyers in Jordan, Australia, and the United States. Read the 2008 Profile

Autodesk

The design-software company's profits fell sharply in 2009, prompt-ing it to shave 10% of its workforce. But it still managed to roll out new products, including a prototyping program that speeds up the design process for mechanical engineers. Read the 2008 Profile

Baidu

With Google's future in China uncertain, Baidu should continue to dominate search there, although it lost clients as it implemented a new advertising system. But under pressure from its American rival, it launched its own mobile search app, Baidu Palm. Read the 2008 Profile

Barbarian Group

The digital-media firm that birthed Subservient Chicken for Burger King developed interactive sites for Adobe and CNN in 2009. It also built Esquire's December 2009 augmented-reality issue. Following these splashy successes, the South Korean ad network Cheil Worldwide, partly owned by Samsung, paid a reported $10 million for a majority stake in the firm. Read the 2009 Profile

Boeing

After two years of delays, the company finally got its 787 Dreamliner jet off the ground for testing in December. Japan's All Nippon Airways is slated to receive the first production model late this year, but Boeing has been known to miss a deadline or five. Read the 2008 Profile

Burton

The longtime leader in snowboarding goods, Burton has generated buzz with interactive Webcasts, an infotainment-style Web-video channel, and its promotion of a Ben & Jerry's flavor named in honor of Hannah Teter, a Burton rider and 2006 Olympic gold medalist. Read the 2008 Profile

Busboy Productions

Jon Stewart's production company continues to thrive. The Daily Show won its seventh straight Emmy for outstanding variety, music, or comedy series. The well-received Important Things With Demetri Martin was renewed for a second season on Comedy Central. Stephen Colbert sponsored the U.S. speed-skating team at the Vancouver Olympics. And set for theaters in 2010 is The Donor, Busboy's first feature film, starring Daily Show alum Rob Corddry. Read the 2009 Profile

Chevron Energy Solutions

The subsidiary of oil giant Chevron is still retrofitting schools and prisons with more efficient hardware, like new boilers and solar panels, and has also attracted clients with deeper pockets, such as the U.S. Department of Energy. The company says it has helped customers save more than $1 billion in energy costs since it started in 2000. Read the 2009 Profile

Corning

The glass-and-ceramics titan's share price has benefited from optimism about global LCD-TV sales. Corning has also developed a synthetic green laser that allows manufacturers to equip cell phones and laptops with sharp video-projection systems. Read the 2009 Profile

Creative Artists Agency

Hollywood's top maker of trailblazing multiplatform deals for actors and athletes expanded its use of new media. Last May, CAA also acknowledged publicly that it was co-owner of Evolution Media Capital, essentially an entertainment-and-sports-focused investment bank. By taking on a bigger financial role in deal making, CAA has expanded its influence in Hollywood and could bank more money than it ever would have through traditional agents' fees. Read the 2009 Profile

Crispin Porter + Bogusky

CP+B was named Agency of the Decade by Advertising Age. Its "Laptop Hunters" ads for Microsoft helped the software giant become 2009's Most Talked About Brand, according to Zeta Interactive for Brandweek. Read the 2009 Profile

DSM

The Dutch science company churned out one innovation after another in 2009, including an enzyme that aids those suffering from iron deficiency without increasing malaria risk; a bio-based plastic that's 100% carbon-neutral from cradle to grave; and a composite material that strengthens helmets while decreasing weight. In June, the company also entered the lucrative biogas market, acquiring the German company Biopract. Read the 2009 Profile

Emirates Airline

Despite a worldwide plunge in aviation-industry profitability—the International Air Transport Association says airlines will lose $5.6 billion in 2010—Emirates managed to stay in the black. The company also invested in its future, ordering 58 next-generation Airbus A380s—more than any other airline—and in July, became the world's largest operator of Boeing 777s. It also increased service to Africa, the Far East, and northern Europe. Read the 2009 Profile

Etsy

The eBay-like Web site for handmade goods is growing at a furious pace. The dollar volume of transactions in 2009 roughly doubled from 2008, to more than $181 million. Membership has too, with more than 3.88 million people now in the Etsy community. Read the 2009 Profile

Genzyme

The biotech firm had a rough year. Contamination at one factory stopped work in June 2009, and the lack of a backup facility made things worse. In December, CEO Henri Termeer admitted in a letter to shareholders that the company had taken on more work than it could bear, clogging up the entire pipeline. Worse, rival Pfizer jumped into the generic biologics market that same month. Shares of Genzyme stock fell 25% in 2009. Read the 2009 Profile

Gilead Sciences

Gilead reported staggering revenue in 2009—$5 billion in the first three quarters, up 27% from the year before. The company also paid $1.4 billion to buy CV Therapeutics, part of an ongoing strategy to acquire smaller drugmakers' intellectual property in the hopes that it will lead to significant new revenue; so far, none has panned out. Read the 2009 Profile

Herman Miller

The furniture designer continues to win praise for its work. The Embody chair (below), a $1,199 successor to the megahit Aeron, won a silver award at NeoCon 2009, while the Setu chair and Twist LED task light took home golds. The Teneo Storage System, whose 20 parts can be rearranged to make more than 80 different pieces of office furniture, won a coveted gold award at the 2009 International Design Excellence Awards. Read the 2008 Profile

iRobot

Famous for its Roomba vacuum and Looj gutter cleaner, iRobot sold its 5 millionth home robot in January. But its most impressive innovations continue to be in the defense sector. The firm received a $35 million order from the U.S. Army—its largest military order ever—for its remote-controlled PackBot FasTac machines, which allow soldiers to assess dangerous areas and examine suspicious objects from a safe distance. Read the 2008 Profile

L-3 Communications

Defense contractors win big during wartime, so it's no surprise L-3 is snagging all sorts of lucrative government contracts. CEO Michael Strianese says that revenue could swell to more than $15.8 billion in 2010. L-3 hopes its next big hit will be Mobius, a plane that can carry 1,000 pounds of weapons, stay in the air for 24 hours, and be flown with or without a pilot. Read the 2009 Profile

Lego

A master of brand licensing, the Danish toymaker has teamed with Disney to produce Lego Toy Story, Cars, and Prince of Persia sets, and released its own Lego Rock Band video game. First-half profits jumped 60% in 2009 as sales of Star Wars-themed toy sets and video games remained strong. Read the 2009 Profile

LG Electronics

Skott Ahn, LG's CEO of mobile, has vowed that his company will become the world's No. 1 cell-phone maker in sales by 2012. Pretty ballsy, considering LG had only 11% of the handset market as of October while rival Samsung had more than 21%, by IDC's tally. The company's 2010 plan: blitz the market with 13 new smartphone models. Read the 2008 Profile

Live Nation

The concert promoter of acts such as Jay-Z, AC/DC, and Madonna worked hard to win antitrust approval of its controversial plan to merge with Ticketmaster, the bane of many a music fan's existence. After initially nixing the proposal, British regulators gave their greenlight; in late January, their U.S. counterparts gave a provisional okay. Meanwhile, it teamed with iTunes to sell songs and videos of concerts at Live Nation venues, integrated a feature into its own Web site that lets musicians and fans upload their own concerts, and held online polls for fans to vote on ticket deals. Read the 2008 Profile

Method

In January, the green-household-products maker introduced a new ultra-concentrated laundry detergent made with 95% natural ingredients. It comes in a small pump bottle that uses 35% less plastic than a typical detergent bottle, and washes 50 loads with just 20 ounces of fluid. Read the 2008 Profile

New England Sports Ventures

The New York Times Co. put its 18% stake in the pioneering sports-and-entertainment firm up for sale over a year ago but has yet to attract a buyer. Still, New England Sports Ventures found new business: It struck an ad deal with the Massachusetts Lottery in April, brought baseball commentator Peter Gammons from ESPN to the New England Sports Network, and became the sports-marketing agency of record for the elite-training company Athletes' Performance as well as Fulham, the English soccer team. Read the 2009 Profile

News Corp.

CEO Rupert Murdoch threatened in November to yank all of the company's content from Google, which he said had been profiting from News Corp.'s work for years—though many said it was a bluff. The company is reeling from MySpace's dramatic traffic loss, but Fox News' big year helped News Corp. generate $30.4 billion in revenue and stay the world's third-largest entertainment outfit. Read the 2008 Profile

NextEra Energy Resources

The renewable-energy company strengthened its place as the largest generator of solar and wind power in North America. In October, it inked a deal to sell solar power to PG&E, enough for 80,000 California homes. Read the 2009 Profile

Nintendo

The Wii remained supreme, out-selling both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 last year. Customers knocked the system's slim pickings but weren't too put off to snatch up millions of Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit Plus, New Super Mario Bros., and Wii MotionPlus games and accessories. Nintendo also updated the top-selling handheld console DS with the DSi, which has two cameras, photo-editing and music software, a larger screen, better speakers, and Wi-Fi capability. Read the 2009 Profile

Nokia

Last year, Nokia said it would quickly become "the world's biggest entertainment network." It's still working on that and might be doing so for a while. Although the Finnish company did well in emerging markets, it had a tough launch of its Ovi Store—its apps, music, maps, video, and gaming site—and saw tepid interest in the flagship N97 smartphone. And in a somewhat strange move, the company, famed for its embrace of open computing, sued Apple over 10 patent infringements. Read the 2009 Profile

NPR

The public-radio programmer has redefined online journalism with an innovative new Web site and mobile apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. In October, its news-quiz program, Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!, recorded a live show in front of a sold-out Carnegie Hall. Read the 2009 Profile

Omniture

After being acquired by Adobe for $1.8 billion, the Web-analytics firm released software that allows companies to track mentions on Twitter and measure app use on smartphones and Facebook. Read the 2008 Profile

Pelamis Wave Power

The ocean-energy firm's second-generation wave-energy converter, the P-2, is expected to hit the water soon, and it should store more energy at a lower cost than its predecessor. Customers have already lined up: British utility company E.on has ordered a P-2, and in December, Pelamis struck a deal with the Swedish utility company Vattenfall to develop a wave-power farm off the Shetland Islands. Read the 2009 Profile

Procter & Gamble

Under its FutureWorks umbrella, P&G ventured into services and sought to reach customers outside the home, testing Mr. Clean car washes and experimenting with Tide-branded dry cleaners. It recently acquired upscale retail chain the Art of Shaving, which could help P&G reach more high-end customers. Read the 2008 Profile

Pure Digital Technologies

Pure Digital's Flip digital-video recorders continue to top Amazon's camcorder sales charts, but now that nearly every smartphone has a decent video camera, Pure Digital—which Cisco bought for $590 million in stock last May—may need a new trick. It did launch FlipShare TV, which allows users to watch their vids on a television, but got only lukewarm reviews. Read the 2009 Profile

Q-Cells

Demand for photovoltaic solar cells sputtered along with the global economy. Worse, rival Asian companies, which benefit from much lower labor costs, effectively launched a price war in the solar-cell market. Q-Cells' 2009 losses totaled more than $1.4 billion, but there was some good news: The company announced that it had created a next-generation poly-crystalline solar-cell module that set a new record for efficiency. Read the 2009 Profile

Raser Technologies

Raser proudly showed off its drive-train technology in a 100-mpg H3 Electric Hummer last year, with the participation of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ensuring press coverage. The company's stock tanked, though, as investors still hadn't seen a successful geothermal plant—critical to Raser's future viability—up and running by the end of 2009. Read the 2009 Profile

RealD

After a wave of Hollywood success (Avatar, Coraline), 3-D-technology firm RealD is hoping for more, with Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, and Jackass 3-D all due out this year. It's also moving to the small screen. Sony and JVC Kenwood both licensed the company's viewing technology for Blu-ray. Read the 2008 Profile

RealNetworks

RealNetworks' music-streaming service, Rhapsody, launched an iPhone app in September. A week later, the company debuted the Federation of Studios, a program for small to midsize video-game developers. It rewrites a game's code into versions that work on operating systems such as BlackBerry, Android, Nintendo DSi, and iPhone. On January 13, founder Rob Glaser stepped down as CEO. The stock shot up 19.6% the next day. Read the 2008 Profile

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The honor of designing the world's tallest building is prestigious but fleeting. Chicago's SOM is the current champ: On January 4, the Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai—all 2,717 feet and 150 stories of it (the taller of New York's World Trade Center towers was just 1,368 feet and 110 stories). The firm also broke ground in November on the Digital Media City Landmark Tower in Seoul, Korea. At 2,100 feet, it will be East Asia's tallest tower when it's finished in 2014. Read the 2009 Profile

Sun Microsystems

After years of financial struggle, the maker of the ubiquitous programming language Java sought a lifeline in the form of a buyer. Oracle agreed to buy the company for some $7.4 billion, pending EU approval. Meanwhile, more than 6,000 Sun employees were laid off last year and thousands more are expected to lose their jobs this year—cuts the company said would have been avoided if the EU hadn't delayed the deal twice. Read the 2008 Profile

Target

Though Target has suffered along with the rest of the retail sector, the company doubled down on its strategy of hiring big-name designers to drive sales. Recent collaborations include Anna Sheffield for jewelry, Carlos Falchi for handbags, and coming in April, Eugenia Kim for hats. Read the 2008 Profile

Tata GroupChairman

Ratan Tata gave the nearly 100 companies under the conglomerate's umbrella some tough love last year: It was up to each, he said, to figure out how to survive the recession. If they couldn't, they wouldn't—he would offer no bail-outs. Clearly, Tata Group still saw opportunity in the marketplace. In May, it announced plans to build the world's cheapest high-rise apartments in India; Nano-like in their simplicity, each unit will cost just $8,000 to $15,000. In December, the company debuted the $16 Tata Swach, the world's cheapest water filter, which uses rice-husk ash and silver particles to kill bacteria. Read the 2008 Profile

TBWA\Worldwide

The advertising giant got huge props for its work over the past 10 years—Adweek called "Get a Mac" the Campaign of the Decade; and iPod "Silhouettes" the Out-of-Home Ad of the Decade. Ad Age named TBWA the decade's third-best agency, also citing its work for Pedigree and Mars. Despite fumbles with Pepsico's Gatorade, the shop landed filmmaker Spike Jonze for Absolut. Read the 2009 Profile

Tesco

The world's second-largest retailer (behind Walmart) continued to diversify, rebranding its financial-services unit as Tesco Bank, which sells insurance and makes consumer loans. (Coming soon: mortgages.) It also took an active role in bringing new products to market, partnering with Warner Bros. to release Virtual DVDs—when a customer buys a DVD, it comes with a code to download a digital copy of the movie, which can be played on any device. The first two titles to get the treatment: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Hangover. Read the 2008 Profile

Timberland

Timberland continued its crusade of conscience, releasing 200,000 boots with soles made from discarded tire rubber—about 50 tons' worth. In November, it gained access to a huge new market, signing a deal with a division of Reliance Industries, India's largest private company, to sell boots in that burgeoning economy. Read the 2008 Profile

Toyota

Even before quality problems led the Japanese carmaker to stop sales of eight popular models, Toyota had sunk to its first loss in seven decades. In June, Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota Motor's founder, took over as CEO and reiterated the company's green-car efforts. In December, Toyota celebrated the 10th birthday of the Prius, declaring that 1.2 million had been sold worldwide. The plug-in version is scheduled for sale in 2011; the electric/gas hybrid will travel 14.5 miles as an electric vehicle on a single charge and when the gas kicks in, get about 135 miles per gallon. Read the 2009 Profile

Ubisoft

The video-game industry has had a rough year, and Ubisoft was no exception. Sinking sales, though, didn't slow plans to open a full development studio in Toronto ($250 million in funding from the Canadian government made things easier). Plus, the firm is releasing the based-on-the-movie-based-on-the-video-game Prince of Persia video game, which should be worth a few dinars. Read the 2009 Profile

Vestas

The world's biggest wind company slowed its plans for global domination as the faltering economy snatched the wind from its turbines' blades. In December, Vestas halted production at a Colorado plant but didn't ax any employees. Instead, it took the opportunity to retrain and retool its workforce. Its blade factory on Britain's Isle of Wight met a worse fate; it was shuttered in August. Read the 2009 Profile

Warner Music Group

Warner Music's revenue was down 9% in 2009, and the company continues to search for a better business model. In September, the company finally settled a scrap with Google that dated back to 2008 over its content appearing on YouTube. Also, it said in December that videos and concerts from its artists were set to hit Hulu. Read the 2009 Profile

Weta Digital

The special-effects house has racked up the hits: Three of the past year's biggest Hollywood films—Avatar, District 9, and The Lovely Bones—owe much of their success to Weta's stunning visuals. Founder Peter Jackson was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in December. Read the 2009 Profile

Whole Foods

In August, CEO John Mackey both alienated die-hard customers and delighted conservative pundits when he penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed railing against health-care reform. On December 24, he gave up the title of chairman of the board following years of petitioning from shareholders to separate it from the CEO position. The company also declared a return to its healthy roots after Mackey admitted it sells "a bunch of junk." Read the 2008 Profile

W.L. Gore & Associates

The company best known for Gore-Tex fabric and Elixir guitar strings is still cranking out cutting-edge products. Added to the lineup last year: RideOn, a cable system for Tour de France cyclists, and Tenara, an architectural fabric used in the new retractable roof over Wimbledon's Centre Court. Read the 2009 Profile

WuXi PharmaTech

The Chinese drugmaker's stock price more than quintupled in 2009. Chief executive Ge Li said the company would soon add viral toxicology and large-scale manufacturing to its repertoire. Read the 2009 Profile

Zappos

The online shoe store stoked a huge jump in sales by exploring media both new and old. Videos of employees, not models or actors, vetting new kicks led to a boost of between 6% and 30% for each featured shoe. This year, Zappos plans to expand from 8,000 online videos to more than 50,000. The company also dabbled in print, mailing out its first catalogs; the average catalog order turned out to be more than double that of an online one. No wonder Amazon paid $1.2 billion to snatch up the company. Read the 2009 Profile

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