Louis C.K.’s production company, Pig Newton, appeared on the Most Innovative Companies list in 2013 for pioneering a direct-to-consumer model to sell his comedy specials and stand-up tickets, wresting distribution from middlemen. Now, C.K. is branching further out into Hollywood with his favorite funny people in tow. Shortly after breaking the hearts of fans of Louie—the FX hit that Pig Newton produces—by announcing an “extended hiatus,” the company confirmed it would produce three other comedies for the 2015–2016 TV season: Better Things, an FX show featuring Louie costar Pamela Adlon; a yet-to-be-named series for Amazon starring comedian Tig Notaro—whom C.K. helped rocket to fame by selling her work on his website—and Baskets, in which The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis will play a graduate of a Parisian clown school. (Yes, you read that correctly.) But everyone’s favorite schlub is still innovating for fans: He recently released an album from his sold-out run at Madison Square Garden, which people can purchase for whatever amount they choose—even via bitcoin.
Milestones: C.K. will write, direct, and star in I’m a Cop, his first film since 2001’s notorious Pootie Tang.
Challenges: FX Networks CEO John Landgraf recently said that Louie’s hiatus—the second of its five-season run—could last up to two years.
“I’m giving you the option to set your price anywhere from 1 dollar to 85. I hope you like it.”
— Louis C.K., Founder, Pig Newton, to fans via website
“We’ve been looking for the perfect CEO to build a great company that’ll go head-to-head with the behemoths that dominate this space.”
— Phil Libin, Executive chairman, Evernote
Milestones: Cofounder and CEO Phil Libin stepped down in July, handing the reins to Chris O’Neill, a former business operations head at Google X. Libin, now “executive chairman,” expressed faith that O’Neill is the person to finally take Evernote public.
Challenges: In September, a widely shared article predicted that Evernote would be the “first dead unicorn,” citing a lack of product innovation and recruitment issues.
Milestones: Shortly before selling its Here maps to driverless-car aspirants Audi, BMW, and Mercedes for more than $3 billion in August, Nokia was cleared to merge with French telecom Alcatel-Lucent—acquiring its Chinese outposts and the famed Bell Labs in the process. Nokia’s recent N1 tablet and Ozo, a virtual-reality camera (below), have some predicting its comeback as a major electronics maker.
Challenges: Nokia, which sold its mobile assets to Microsoft in 2013, will now compete with powerful new market entrants—including China’s Xiaomi.
Milestones: In a bid to compete with Yelp and GrubHub in the $70 billion food-delivery sector, the daily-deals platform launched Groupon To Go, a takeout and delivery service that promises to save customers up to 10% on orders.
Challenges: The company, which has been harshly criticized by Wall Street for its consecutive profitless quarters, will subsidize Groupon To Go discounts by taking smaller commissions from restaurants.
Milestones: Livestock produce 44% of the methane emissions that build up in the earth’s atmosphere each year, which contributes to global warming. But a recent study of a “clean cow” powder developed by Dutch life sciences company DSM found that feeding the substance to cows can curb emissions by more than 30% with no deleterious effects on the animals’ health. DSM hopes to obtain regulatory approval and make it commercially available by 2018.
Challenges: The consumer market for meat and milk is projected to skyrocket in developing nations—including in South Asia, where demand will grow by 125% by 2030—which will mean a sharp increase in bovine burping.
Milestones: In August, the furniture retailer said it would sell only LED–based lighting at its 300-plus stores starting this fall, as part of a broader sustainability push that includes investing in renewable-energy startups.
Challenges: The company’s reputation recently suffered, following the deaths of two small children from improperly mounted Ikea dressers. In response, it now offers free anchoring kits at all stores.
Milestones: In a deal estimated at $230 million, Yahoo purchased the social commerce site, gaining access to Polyvore’s 20 million–plus users and relationships with 350-plus retailers.
Challenges: Pinterest, which crossed 100 million users this fall, recently added a buy button and (finally) became a direct competitor to Polyvore.
Milestones: To help celebrate its 20th anniversary, in September, eBay revamped its apps with sleeker browsing and real-time analytics for sellers.
Challenges: Following a long-anticipated split with PayPal, eBay announced that it would also be ending its same-day delivery service and apps for motors, valet, and fashion.
“Healthcare IT until very recently was basically billing systems.”
— Paul Meyer, Chairman and president, Voxiva
Milestones: A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that users of Voxiva’s Text4baby program, which regularly sends pregnant women and new mothers health information—such as infant safety videos and alerts for important checkup reminders—were twice as likely to get flu vaccinations as those who don’t use the service.
Challenges: The program, heralded as “historic” by former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra in 2010, only reaches 900,000 users today.
Milestones: The ad agency recently helped Dominos roll out a new system that allows customers to order a pie using a simple pizza emoji or tweet. The campaign, which the agency followed with literacy cards to help parents desperate to understand emojis, earned CPB a Titanium Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival of Creativity.
Challenges:Parent company MDC Partners, which also owns L.A. ad powerhouse 72andSunny, is currently weathering a major investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Founder Miles Nadal resigned in July amid the scandal.)
Everyone hates bug bites, but when the tiny offenders carry dangerous disease, they can transform from mere nuisance to harbingers of devastation. Enter biotech firm Oxitec (a Most Innovative Company in 2013), which this year put its scientists to work on field trials in Brazil and Panama, where they eliminated populations of the yellow- and dengue-fever-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito. And this past summer, Oxitec applied a self-replicating gene technology—which introduces insects incapable of producing viable offspring—to combat another harmful pest: Plutella xylostella, or the diamondback moth, an insect whose larvae ravage cruciferous vegetable crops such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts and require $5 billion annually in pest-control costs. In several early experiments, Oxitec was able to significantly curb the population growth of diamondback moths. The company might make its genetically modified moths commercially available following field trials and USDA approval.
“Over the last 50 years, dengue has risen thirtyfold—
a virtually unchecked expansion of the disease.”
— Hadyn Parry, CEO, Oxitec
Milestones: In August, U.S. biotech giant Intrexon acquired Oxitec for $160 million. The change will enable Oxitec to broaden its efforts in insect pest control and focus on combating the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes.
Challenges: Facing off against mosquitoes, which live in almost every corner of the world, is no easy task: According to Oxitec, mosquito-borne illnesses kill a person every 12 seconds.