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The 10 most innovative companies in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in 2022

Fresh solutions from businesses in these regions, including Siemens, ICEYE, and Pangaia, are showing the whole world a new way forward.

The 10 most innovative companies in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in 2022

Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative media, design, and consumer goods companies.

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Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA)—combined—make up one of the most diverse regions on the planet. Home to more than 100 countries and 2 billion people, it’s an active center of thought and resourcefulness among its inhabitants and businesses. This year’s list of the top 10 most innovative companies in the region includes everything from behemoth international giants to tiny startups with no more than a handful of employees. What they share are timely, original ideas, ambition, and impact.

In 2021, Germany-based Siemens enabled BioNTech to adapt its production facility in Marburg to begin churning out lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines in less than half the time expected. FirstCheck Africa, the Nigerian-based woman-led pre-seed fund is betting big and “ridiculously early” on women-led startups on the continent. Cake, an e-bike maker in Sweden, designed a quiet electric bike powered by solar energy and used by conservationists in Africa to sneak up on poachers. ICEYE, a Finnish company, uses eye-in-the-sky satellites to help monitor natural catastrophes down on planet Earth. A U.K.-based company has found a way to turn pollution into ink. A Kenyan company is using software to radically streamline Africa’s shipping industry. A German company is saving water (and the planet) by bringing modular vertical farming facilities closer to cities, and a Nigerian firm is disrupting the ride-hailing industry via its bus subscription service. Finally, two AI companies show how lifesaving and fun artificial intelligence can be. A U.K.-based firm’s AI is capable of “fact-checking” mammograms to make sure the tests were administered properly, and an Israeli company is using artificial intelligence to bring photographs to life—just like in Harry Potter.

1. Siemens

For being the brains behind vaccine production

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As BioNTech prepared to adapt its production facility in Marburg, Germany, to begin churning out vials of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which it developed with Pfizer, the consensus estimate for getting the project done was a full year. That was too long. So BioNTech turned to Siemens—which managed to get the facility ready in five months, fully digitizing the process at the same time. From production documentation to vial-weighing processes that were previously done manually, Siemens’s overhaul got the plant up to speed, enabling the facility to produce as much as 625 million doses in 2021. The companies are now collaborating to expand vaccine-production capacity further, including  a new plant they are building together in Singapore.

2. ICEYE 

For enabling more persistent monitoring of sites on the ground, from space

Radar satellite imaging company ICEYE, based in Espoo, Finland, has been helping customers in such fields as natural catastrophe response and recovery, insurance, maritime monitoring, security, and finance gather crucial surveillance data—in a timely enough manner so that they can act on it—since it was launched in 2014. Now it is giving them the visibility to act even faster. ICEYE’s Daily Coherent Ground Track Repeat (GTR) imaging system, launched in 2021, provides “coherent change detection” every 24 hours, four times more frequently than the previous industry standard, thanks to an adjustment in satellite orbit that allows images to be captured from the same place each day. The system, already in use by FEMA, NOAA, and several large insurance companies, will be rolled out widely in 2022. ICEYE also recently launched four additional satellites with SpaceX (for a total of 16), including one that’s been directed to increase ICEYE’s imaging resolution.

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3. FirstCheck Africa 

For not waiting to invest in Africa’s female founders

FirstCheck Africa, a women-led pre-seed fund, launched in January 2021 with a mission to invest “ridiculously early” in promising African startups led by women, which have historically been underfunded. It has already invested in a number of innovative and locally important portfolio companies, including FoondaMate (which helps students with limited internet access study online), Healthtracka (which lets users order diagnostic tests from home), Tushop (which assesses grocery demand in Kenya on a community level so as to facilitate delivery and bring prices down), and Zoie Health (which provides home consultations and delivery of contraceptive and health testing kits in South Africa). FirstCheck’s cofounders—Eloho Omame, until recently the managing director of Endeavor Nigeria, and Odunayo Eweniyi, cofounder and COO of savings and investment app PiggyVest and cofounder of the Feminist Coalition—both serial entrepreneurs themselves, also work to demystify VC jargon for all prospective founders and the public, via its friendly Instagram and Twitter accounts.  

4. Pangaia 

For capturing carbon, along with the fashion crowd

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The materials science apparel brand partnered with Graviky Labs to create a carbon-capture technology that recycles pollution particles into a water-based ink that is used to print logos and other insignia on clothing. Unlike competitors in the wearable eco-tech space, which market themselves to gearheads and early tech adopters, Pangaia has locked in the fashion crowd and hypebeasts; in three years, the company has attracted a million followers on Instagram. In addition to its three-year-old flower-based down alternative, the company recently introduced renewable, biodegradable fibers made from banana and pineapple leaves, nettle, bamboo, eucalyptus, and seaweed; a sustainable denim series; and an eyewear collection, in partnership with Twelve, that employs a different form of carbon-capture technology. With Colorifix, Pangaia debuted a line of clothes colored by bacteria-based dyes, which sold out within 24 hours of their release. 2021 included another notable launch as well: a B2B business, called Pangaia Science, that is helping brands such as H&M, COS, and Me+Em with their evolutions toward sustainability.

5. Kheiron Medical 

For using AI to “fact check” breast scans for proper positioning

In 2021, the applied science company, founded in 2016, launched Mia IQ, an AI tool that can automatically scan mammograms to detect signs of suboptimal breast positioning and compression—things the human eye can’t always see, but that can hinder the detection of cancer. If Mia IQ’s check of the mammogram detects a suboptimal scan, the radiologists can work with the technician to improve results going forward and adjust training programs. They can also call patients back for another screening, if necessary. The tool, which is registered with the FDA, is currently in use by radiologists.   

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6. Sote 

For streamlining Africa’s shipping industry 

Sote (Swahili for “all of us”) is Africa’s first licensed logistics company that’s using software to help importers and exporters on the continent move cargo via waterways and navigate customs and other regulations having to do with trade. Sote, which was founded in 2018 and charges around $1,500 per container handled, provides a real-time dashboard that allows manufacturers, retailers, and distributors unprecedented and much-needed visibility into forwarding and receiving processes and shipment status, saving time and money. (Previously, tracking this information paying customs fees had been done via phone, email, and other analog methods.) Kenya-born founder and CEO Felix Orwa, who splits his time between the company’s offices in Nairobi and Palo Alto, has said that the company—which aims to do for Africa what Flexport, which has raised $2.2 billion, is doing for the rest of the world—has more than tripled its customer base in the past year, with 50 customers having signed on as of December 2021. Revenue, he says, is up 200% year over year. Sote secured $4.4 million in venture funding in 2021, bringing its total raise to more than $8 million. 

7. D-ID 

For using AI to enable moving photographs—just like in the Harry Potter movies

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D-ID’s AI-powered live-portrait technology leverages deep learning algorithms to bring a photo to life, no matter how old it is. Just upload any portrait of a person—even your father as a boy, or your great-great-grandmother—and it becomes animated. According to the company, people have already done this more than 100 million times, thanks to a partnership with genealogy service MyHeritage called “Deep Nostalgia,” which launched in February 2021. The five-year-old Tel Aviv-based AI company has extended this new “creative reality” in other directions over the past year as well, via a promotion for the recent Hugh Jackman film Reminiscence that allowed viewers to insert themselves in a starring role, a public service project called “Listen to Our Voices” that reanimated the faces of women killed by domestic abuse, and a partnership with Josh, India’s TikTok. In November, D-ID announced a partnership with AR/VR company Glimpse to develop immersive experiences in the metaverse.

8. Infarm

For bringing larger-scale vertical farming closer to the end users

Infarm, already a giant in the vertical farming sector with operations in 50 cities in 11 countries—and a retail network that includes chains such as Whole Foods, Aldi, Safeway, Kroger, and Marks & Spencer—grew even bigger in 2021. The Berlin-based company, which launched in 2013, debuted a new, high-capacity facility called a Growing Center that can produce what the company says is up to 400 times more efficient than traditional farms and recirculate 20 liters of water condensation per hour, using up to 10,000,000 fewer liters of water per year than traditional farms. Nearly 20 Growing Centers are currently under construction or development, in cities including London, Paris, Copenhagen, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, and Tokyo. What makes them so easy to build is their modularity. Each Growing Center is made from dozens of individual small-footprint “farming units,” which can be constructed in a matter of weeks. The company raised a $200 million Series D in December 2021, which will fuel an expansion that includes the Middle East.

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9. Cake 

For engineering silent, streamlined electric bikes that combat real problems

The six-year-old Swedish electric bike manufacturer had a turbocharged 2021. In addition to launching a showroom in Stockholm and a factory in Sweden, and raising $60 million in funding, the company unveiled several noteworthy new vehicles: a city bike, which sold out within about a week of its September release; a durable electric utility bike for delivery drivers, craftspeople, and other service providers; a Polestar-compatible vehicle that can be mounted on the back of a Polestar EV and charged by the car while it’s being transported—on a highway, for instance—then used for last-mile commuting. And then there’s the Kalk AP, which offers sustainability on a whole different level. Conservationists in Africa have traditionally used motor bikes to patrol savannas in an attempt to thwart and catch poachers. However, those bikes require fuel—scarce in some regions of Africa—and their loud engines alert poachers to their approach. Cake’s quiet, solar-powered Kalk AP nullifies these two drawbacks. In October, Cake’s first Kalk AP models were delivered to rangers with the Southern African Wildlife College in South Africa, who are helping to refine the vehicle for optimal use in the bush. A limited charity arrangement with Salt Lake City-based solar power company Goal Zero will let people donate to the effort by buying a bundle—a bike, a solar power station, and solar panels—enabling rangers to charge their bikes off the grid.

 10. Shuttlers

For making bus transit an appealing option 

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Commuting by bus in Lagos (Africa’s most populous city) and Abuja (Nigeria’s capital) had been a dangerous and frustrating proposition, with people having to run after buses in order to get seats, and robbery and kidnapping a constant threat. For the cities’ emerging tech workforce, just getting to work was a challenge. Now, via the Shuttlers app, people can book a seat for a journey along a fixed route in advance. It’s less expensive than ride-hailing options, with no surge pricing, and a subscription offering. B2B options allow companies to cover some or all of their employees’ commutes and even charter buses directly. Shuttlers, which has been bootstrapped for most of its six-year existence, partnered in 2019 with Ford and the Global Water Challenge to help women use their commuting time to access development training and professional support, raised $1.6 million in 2021, and is working to expand beyond Nigeria.

  

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