For the first time since Pinterest launched in 2010, a majority of its more than 100 million users are based outside of the United States. That shift in audience is the catalyst for a wave of innovations from the social network, which its head of product Jack Chou says are crucial as it breaks out internationally. In April, Pinterest released a new iOS app, billed as its "fastest and cleanest" yet. The minimalist design makes the app universally readable in 31 languages, regardless of screen size. Plus, the feed now loads up to three times more rapidly, even on older-model phones—especially vital in developing countries, where only 37% of people have smartphones and many lack computers.
Along with the app, Pinterest has introduced "featured collections," regional ideas and trending pins curated by local tastemakers and Pinterest editors. "The Pinterest catalog of ideas is supposed to be educating and personal for you, the pinner," says Chou. "If you’re searching in the U.K. you’ll see things from Jamie Oliver or Bur-berry. If you’re in France, it’s from a French food blogger. It’s not just about localizing the user interface, but making it relevant."
Pinterest also recently changed its iconic "Pin It" feature to "Save," a word that translates more easily across cultures. "We asked ourselves, What makes the most sense internationally?" Chou says. "How can we build technology that is really great and makes people understand what Pinterest is and why it’s useful?" —Claire Dodson
Milestones: In June, Pinterest expanded its Buyable Pins technology, which allows users to make purchases, from its apps to its site. The service includes more than 10 million products from 20,000 merchants.
Challenges: Despite international growth, Pinterest still earns most of its advertising money from the U.S. The social network needs to continue to target advertising from its high-user-growth countries like Germany and Japan.
In its mission to make tech funding accessible to more people, the six-year-old AngelList, which specializes in connecting early-stage startups with angel investors, has helped raise $330 million for some 920 companies. But in the past year, founder and CEO Naval Ravikant’s attention has shifted from individual investors to professional funds with deeper pockets. "In 2015, we weren’t focused on quantity or volume [of investments]," he says. "We were focused on the quality."
The clearest sign of this evolution was the announcement last October that venture firm CSC Upshot (a new branch of China’s CSC Group) had raised $400 million to invest in AngelList startups, at an average of $100,000 to $200,000 per company. With Ravikant reporting a slowdown in seed-stage funding, the commitment from CSC and similar ones from other large funds promise to be a boon for the site’s startups—and AngelList, which receives 5% carry of any profits. Ravikant plans to recruit two other seed-stage funds by the end of the year.
Yet the arrival of what Ravikant calls "big-money funds" hasn’t curtailed the more populist side of his democratizing mission. AngelList will soon partner with Republic, a new equity crowdfunding site founded by two former employees. Operating under Title III of the JOBS Act, the site allows nonaccredited investors to fund startups and small businesses. Though Republic’s current offerings are limited, Ravikant envisions a future in which companies could raise money on both sites. "Ideally, the crowd will be able to invest in the same financings at the same terms as the top angels and VCs on AngelList," he says. —Nikita Richardson
Milestones: In June, AngelList announced a new fund for startups with social missions.
Challenges: The current $1 million cap on crowdfunding rounds and onerous reporting rules may deter startups from using Republic.
Milestones: The startup AI company, best known for its toy racing cars, successfully raised $52.5 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, JP Morgan, and others. At the same time, Anki revealed Cozmo, its first toy robot, to critical acclaim.
Challenges: Cozmo is expected to go on sale in October, where it will face an uphill battle as toy robots have traditionally failed to gain widespread commercial appeal.
Milestones: In late May, Intel acquired Itseez, a startup specializing in software and algorithms that help to develop autonomous cars. The move is a crucial part of Intel’s plan to remake itself as an Internet of Things company.
Challenges: With mobile and cloud computing becoming the norm, Intel will lay off 11% of its global workforce (12,000 employees) in an effort to shrink its PC division and save $750 million in costs this year.
Milestones: The popular Indian matchmaking website is getting attention for its yearlong "Shaadi Cares" campaign, which includes commercials aimed at curing the "ills of marriage," such as domestic abuse and the illegal collection of dowry.
Challenges: The site faces serious competition in India: Since launching last year, Tinder has become the country’s most downloaded dating app, with 14 million swipes per day.
Milestones: The pharmaceutical company’s 2012 acquisition of deCode Genetics—which specializes in gene discovery—is paying off after the latter announced that it identified a genetic variant that lowers the risk of heart disease. Amgen hopes to use this insight to begin testing a new drug within two years.
Challenges: Amgen’s cholesterol-lowering drug Repatha is a sales dud after doctors and insurers balked at its $14,000-a-year price tag—90 times higher than standard treatments.
Milestones: The virtual-reality production and hardware company is partnering with Shanghai Media Group and China Media Capital to produce and distribute VR content aimed at global audiences.
Challenges: Despite success as an early entrant in the VR market, Jaunt is still struggling to go mainstream. In May, cofounder Jens Christensen stepped aside as CEO; the company is looking for a new leader who can focus on growth.
Milestones: With mobile listening now accounting for more than 64% of all podcast consumption, the nonprofit PRX launched the for-profit spin-off RadioPublic, which is developing a premium mobile app that "makes listening to podcasts as simple as radio."
Challenges: Faced with growing competition, PRX will need to distinguish its podcasts: Earlier this year, Apple reported that there are now more than 325,000 programs available on its popular Podcasts platform.
Milestones: The landscape architecture and urban design firm behind New York City’s High Line is lead designer on a 14-acre stretch of land atop San Francisco’s newly covered Doyle Drive.
Challenges: A year and a half after the firm's bid was accepted for the 10-mile Underline urban trail and park in Miami, the project has a long way to go, with only $10 million committed to the $100 million plan.
Milestones: In late April, NASA awarded the California-based rocket-engine company a $67 million, 36-month contract to build a more efficient solar electric propulsion engine, which would be used to power future deep-space exploration.
Challenges: Aerojet Rocketdyne is competing against Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to prove to the United Launch Alliance (a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing) that it can create an affordable engine for the alliance’s next-gen Vulcan and Atlas V rockets by 2019.
A version of this article appeared in the September issue of Fast Company magazine.