The future: Mobile entertainment for all
By supporting early-stage companies—such as Control4, whose universal-remote apps command TVs, thermostats, and more, and Viewdle, whose augmented-reality tech can recognize human faces—Best Buy gets first dibs on the next-gen mobile products they create, "which gives [the retailer] a decided edge over its competition," says Tim Bajarin, president of consumer-tech consultancy Creative Strategies.
The future: Not just a car—a smart urban-navigation system
"We want to go beyond the vehicle," says BMW i Ventures VP Ulrich Quay. The automaker's year-old fund has committed roughly $100 million toward mobile apps that tell drivers when, for example, it would be faster to take the subway (accounting for lights and traffic), or how to best navigate cities by foot. Those investments are a great way for the high-end carmaker to "connect with a younger, more tech-savvy demographic of buyers," says Dominique Bonte, a transportation-tech analyst at ABI Research.
The future: Synthetic diamonds are forever
Element Six, the De Beers subsidiary that manufactures synthetic diamonds, funnels millions to startups that use the stones—known for their high thermal conductivity and resistance to radiation—in all kinds of products. Among them: radiation detectors (from U.K.-based Diamond Detectors), semiconductors (from Diamond Microwave Devices), and electrochemical reactors that treat wastewater and landfills (from Advanced Oxidation). "It's really a growth vehicle," says Susan Wheeler, managing director of Element Six Ventures.
The future: A streamlined medical system
The health-insurance behemoth is pouring roughly $300 million into startups such as Nexidia, whose analytics help improve customer service; InVivoLink, which tracks and analyzes data from medical implants; and Phreesia, whose software simplifies how doctors register patients and accept copays. By improving the medical system, BCBS could "lower costs for itself and its customers, which is right in line with its corporate goals," says Michael Liang, a partner at the Chicago investment firm Baird Venture Partners.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.