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10 Glimpses Of The Future

These 10 past Most Innovative Companies honorees signaled major business and cultural changes to come.

10 Glimpses Of The Future
[Illustration: Markus Magnusson]

1. Real Networks

2008: With its Rhapsody subscription service, the digital audio pioneer tried to woo users to rent, not buy, tunes, bucking a century of consumer behavior.

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Today: In 2016, streaming became the primary way people listen to music, though Napster (née Rhapsody) has just 3.5 million subs, versus Spotify (40 million) and Apple Music (20 million).

2. Method

2008: Embracing the principles of a then-novel business structure called a B Corporation that made social responsibility as important as profitability, the cleaning-products startup grew to $100 million in annual revenue.

Today: There are 1,797 B Corps, including Warby Parker and Revolution Foods.

3. Hulu

2009: The media-backed, streaming TV network created the experience of watching long-form video content on the internet and mobile devices.

Today: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, HBO, Apple, and Hulu have continued to innovate, transforming digital TV through daring originals, predictive recommendations, and offline viewing.

4. BYD

2009: The Chinese battery manufacturer beat GM, Toyota, and Nissan to market with the first plug-in hybrid car. Then its fully electric E6 debuted in 2011, using its lithium-ion ferrous phosphate tech.

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Today: BYD’s marriage of energy capture and storage with cars presaged Tesla’s move in the same direction.

5. Burberry

2011: Under the leadership of CEO Angela Ahrendts, the iconic fashion house used digital savvy (live-streamed runway shows and instant ordering via in-store iPads) to elevate its fortunes.

Today: The fashion industry is fully Instagrammified, while Ahrendts runs Apple Stores, where she has brought fashion to tech.

6. Kiva Systems

2012: Squat, orange Kiva robots upended warehouse management for such brands as Toys “R” Us and Staples, enabling faster shipping and handling.

Today: Amazon acquired Kiva later in 2012 for $775 million. The technology, as well as subsequent enhancements, has delivered for the ur-retailer’s Prime and Prime Now services.

7. GitHub

2013: This collaborative platform for software engineers let organizations such as Facebook and the Obama White House accelerate project development by open-sourcing some code.

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Today: Coding has emerged as an essential literacy, as GitHub and rivals coax enterprises to value pooled projects over proprietary ones.

8. WhatsApp

2014: By disrupting wireless carriers’ SMS business, WhatsApp’s bare-bones messaging service accrued 400 million monthly users.

Today: Facebook spent $22 billion to purchase WhatsApp, which now has more than 1 billion users and is building a messaging-based operating system.

9. Stripe

2015: With high-profile deals to power mainstream digital commerce via Apple and Facebook, the back-end payments service rose to prominence.

Today: Stripe, which embodies the emergence of application programming interfaces­ as fuel for the innovation economy, is seeding global entrepreneurship via its new Atlas program.

10. GE

2016: The granddaddy of old-school business conglomerates embraced cloud computing and sensors to optimize heavy machinery such as jet engines and wind turbines, generating $5 billion annually.

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Today: Sensors, big data, and artificial intelligence are creating an industrial internet and revolutionizing manufacturing productivity.

This article is part of our coverage of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017.