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The 10 most innovative joint ventures of 2022

The best business pairings, whether one-off collaborations or new companies, can deliver big results, as in the case of LEAF Coalition, Adidas and Allbirds, and eight more.

The 10 most innovative joint ventures of 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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In business, the best math is one plus one equals three. Joint ventures, whether it’s a formal creation of a new company or organization, a savvy, strategic partnership, or a perfect collaboration, can deliver outsize benefits to each participant. Often these initiatives take the form of achieving a greater societal goal, like combatting climate change, but it can be as simple as delighting fans with an unexpected pairing such as the over-the-top artistic creations from Drake and Chrome Hearts to get people excited about the superstar’s Certified Lover Boy album.

Climate change, of course, is top of mind for many businesses (as it should be), and the LEAF Coalition is a notable team up of businesses, spurred in part by Salesforce, to pay countries to protect their forests on top of other commitments these companies have made to mitigate their carbon footprints. Allbirds and Adidas are doing their own part to make fighting climate change cool, teaming up on a shoe that brings each company’s advancements in minimizing the CO2e of their products into one running shoe that’s light on the feet and the planet—and looks damn good. Lynk & Co, a formal joint venture between Volvo and Geely, is adding a sheen of sophistication and pizazz to sharing electric vehicles, making it a club you very much want to be a member of across Europe. Polaris and Zero Motorcycles are bringing that same kind of excitement from the streets of European capitals to the dirt roads of America’s woods, with Zero’s electric powertrain fueling Polaris’s next-generation Ranger utility terrain vehicle.

Beyond climate change, innovative joint ventures can achieve other important goals. Saylists, created by Warner Music Group and the Accenture Interactive agency Rothco, uses the emotional power of popular music to help kids overcome speech sound disorders. The online education companies 2U and Guild Education partnered to bring a wider variety of courses to the employees of companies such as Chipotle and Walmart to advance their skills and careers. Asana and Vimeo integrated video into Asana’s workplace management platform to bring the resonance of facial cues and voice to everyday corporate communication. As blockchain technology becomes more mainstream and embraced by institutions, it’s companies like Chainalysis and Notabene which are helping to ensure that these businesses can abide by securities laws when transacting in cryptocurrency.

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1. The LEAF Coalition

For paying countries to preserve tropical forests

During the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021, Salesforce, which has long advocated for companies to embrace stakeholder capitalism, joined with eight other businesses as well as the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States to form the LEAF Coalition, which stands for lowering emissions by accelerating forest finance. LEAF, whose business partners also include Airbnb, Amazon, GlaxoSmithKline, and Unilever, launched with a pledge to coalesce $1 billion in 2021 (and billions more in the future) to protect tropical forests by funding and incentivizing countries to commit to ceasing deforestation and achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions while supporting indigenous forest communities. Climate groups estimate that protecting existing forests would alleviate 25% of emissions. LEAF’s partner companies pay $10 per ton of CO2 emissions that countries eschew after they’ve followed through on their promises for five years. By the time of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) last November, LEAF revealed that it had not only met its $1 billion goal but had selected Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Nepal, and Vietnam as the first recipients of that funding. In total, 23 jurisdictions submitted proposals that meet LEAF’s standards, which collectively represent more than 1.2 billion acres of forest land. Their current self-reported emissions reductions significantly exceed LEAF’s initial goal of removing 100 million tons of emissions from the atmosphere. LEAF also announced that it now had 19 corporate members, adding the likes of BlackRock, SAP, and Walmart.org.

2. Warner Music Group and Rothco

For solving speech sound disorders through songs that slap

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Speech sound disorder (SSD), developmentally inappropriate pronunciation errors that impairs the ability to be understood, mostly affects young children. They usually grow out of it, or it can be rectified through repetitive exercises. But those can be boring. Rothco (part of Accenture Interactive) partnered with Warner Music Group (WMG) to create a fun way for kids to learn and practice challenging sounds: a curated collection of 10 English-language playlists for the most common hard-to-pronounce sounds, dubbed Saylists. They developed an algorithm to identify within song lyrics the prevalence of noises that are frequent challenges in SSD, such as “ch” and “g,” and then winnowed the list with the help of a speech therapist to 173 songs in WMG’s vast catalog that kids enjoy singing out loud over and over. For example, Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” is on the “g” playlist, and the “d” one features Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” and “I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran (who has said that rapping along with Eminem albums helped him overcome a childhood stutter). Saylists launched exclusively on Apple Music in March 2021, racking up tens of millions of listens in the wake of its release, and has been received enthusiastically by speech and language therapists.

3. Asana and Vimeo

For picturing the video-centric digital workplace

The office pop-in is perhaps the greatest loss in the pandemic-related shift to hybrid or wholly distributed work. Gone is the brief exchange in which a question gets asked and answered or a project update gets relayed. Now that moment has been transformed to a 30-minute live videoconference, which has been shown to be wearying for workers, or text-based communication where all nuance gets lost. Asana, the work management platform, and Vimeo, the professional video service, worked together to introduce asynchronous video to Asana last summer. Employees can convey so much more information in a video, both explicitly—Vimeo enabled direct-to-camera video, sharing documents or a visual presentation, or both via picture-in-picture—and implicitly, in tone and body language. Attached video clips are automatically transcribed by Asana, making them searchable and part of the larger “work graph” that the company seeks to create for customers. Asana continues to woo more customers as the nature of work changes, growing revenue approximately 70% every quarter and it soared past 2 million paid seats in the enterprise. Vimeo, meanwhile, generated $392 million in 2021, a 38% year-over-year increase, as it pushes more deeply into enterprise and integrates its video into other popular platforms such as LinkedIn and Patreon.

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4. Lynk & Co

For driving car-access-as-a-service

Lynk & Co is a joint venture between the Chinese car brand Geely and the Swedish car maker Volvo (both of which are part of Chinese conglomerate Zhejiang Geely Holding) to experiment with the very idea of car ownership. Initially formed five years ago, Lynk & Co started to roll out its service in Europe last summer, offering a plug-in hybrid compact SUV with a distinctive front grille called the 01. Although the car is technically available for purchase, Lynk & Co is focused more on selling monthly memberships. For up to 500 euros a month (approximately $566), members get a car if they’d like or just access to one where they can pay per use. Members can share their 01 via a digital key, earning money every time they do. Lynk, whose mission is to increase the utilization of the average vehicle from 4%, had initially set first-year goals for its European launch of being in five densely packed European cities and wooing 9,000 members. It reported late in 2021 that it had signed up more than 27,000 members across Amsterdam; Berlin; Munich; Antwerp, Belgium; and Gothenberg, Sweden.

5. 2U and Guild Education

For taking employees to school—on the boss’s dime

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Amid the Great Resignation, employers—particularly those in the service sector—have been raising wages and burnishing benefits in an effort to retain and attract workers. An education benefit, where companies offer and pay for degree and/or non-degree programs, became an even more compelling perk in this climate, and 2U and Guild Education, both of which are online education companies, entered into a partnership in February 2021 to support businesses seeking to develop employee talent. Guild Education serves major companies such as Walmart, Lowe’s, the Walt Disney Company, and Chipotle with courses and notably its technology platform facilitates tuition assistance for tuition-reimbursement programs, so employers pay for their employees’s ongoing education. With the 2U deal, now Guild could offer them access to 2U’s online course catalog, which includes degree programs from such colleges and universities as the University of California, Berkeley. The 2U university partners that now have courses or programs available on Guild’s platforms are Morehouse College, Michigan State University, and the University of Minnesota. By the end of 2021, 10 online programs from 2U (or edX, which 2U formally acquired last November) were live in Guild’s learning marketplace, with employers funding the courses of study. These included an online undergraduate degree program from Morehouse Online as well nine part-time boot camps in fields of study such as data visualization and analytics, cybersecurity, and digital marketing. The CEO of 2U has told investors that extending into the enterprise is both the fastest-growing segment of 2U’s business as well as its biggest opportunity. Guild Education’s tuition-assistance benefit plans give 2U the chance to sell not only short courses but also degree programs—at just the moment when workers are looking to learn and grow their careers.

6. Adidas and Allbirds

For wringing carbon out of shoes you’d actually wear

Both Adidas and Allbirds have been committed to creating more Earth-friendly footwear for several years, but their first collaboration dropped in May 2021 when the two brands introduced what they dubbed Futurecraft.Footprint. The concept shoe achieved the breakthrough of requiring just 2.94 kilograms of CO2 emissions to make; for comparison, Allbirds’ flagship Wool Runners’ carbon footprint is 9.9kg CO2. The Futurecraft.Footprint brings together the sustainable progress that both companies have made into a single form: The midsole is based on Adidas’ Lightstrike midsole but made with Allbirds’ bio-based sugarcane. The upper is 77% recycled polyester and 23% Tencel, which is made from wood pulp. Unlike a lot of concept projects, though, the companies launched it commercially in mid-December, a low-carbon running shoe that was more than just for show. The $120 sneakers, which were available only in white, quickly sold out in all but the most extreme sizes. The companies have announced that a wider release—in four new colors—would come in spring 2022.

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[Illustration: Daniel Salo]

7. Polaris and Zero Motorcycles

For making outdoor recreation vehicles even more electrifying

In late 2020, Polaris, the $8 billion-plus maker of popular all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and other off-road vehicles, partnered with Zero Motorcycles, a 15-year-old electric bike developer, to incorporate Zero’s electric powertrain into off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Polaris put its first numbers on the board from the Zero venture in December 2021 when it unveiled an electric version of its Ranger utility terrain vehicle (UTV). Although Polaris has had an electric Ranger in its product lineup, it’s relied upon a lead acid battery rather than Zero’s more modern EV-style lithium-ion one. The Ranger XP Kinetic’s electric motor is an adaptation of Zero’s air-cooled ZF75-10 that is also in the motorcycle brand’s top-of-the-line SR/S bike and has a higher power-per-weight ratio than any Ranger that Polaris has ever made. The Polaris news has already sparked hundreds of millions of media impressions and lit up site traffic for the vehicle, selling out two hours after preorders went live. The vehicles have a starting price of $25,000 and will ship in summer 2022.

8. Chainalysis and Notabene

For putting confidence on the blockchain

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In the eyes of governments worldwide, there are two significant problems with cryptocurrency: Scams perpetrated on citizens are still widespread and difficult to police, and there has been a lack of tools for creating a regulatory framework. There are businesses who want to work within a clear set of rules, and the March 2021 integration between Chainalysis and Notabene created an important first step and signaled the way forward for how businesses can bolster trust in blockchains and not run afoul of the law. Chainalysis is a blockchain data platform that works with everyone from cybersecurity companies to government agencies in more than 60 countries to help them investigate crypto, and Notabene helps companies abide by existing laws that govern crypto transactions. Their partnership developed a tool to offer cryptocurrency businesses the ability to automate transactions while still complying with the Travel Rule, which dictates that financial companies relay data to the next financial party in transactions over a certain size, typically $1,000 or 1,000 euros. Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs), such as cryptocurrency exchanges, are required to identify the originators and beneficiaries of these trades. With this deal, VASPs can obtain know-your-customer (KYC) info and immediately forward it to the other side of the transaction. In the wake of this partnership, Notabene forged several other industry relationships to further build out Travel Rule abidance, and in December, Chainalysis announced that it would help Robinhood implement the necessary compliance within its crypto wallet.

9. PsiQuantum and GlobalFoundries

For pushing quantum computing beyond being a science fair project

In May 2021, PsiQuantum, a 5-year-old startup, and GlobalFoundries (GF), a $6 billion semiconductor manufacturer, revealed a manufacturing breakthrough in the quest to develop a workable, real-world quantum computer. GF developed the first single photon detector in a silicon chip within a semiconductor fabrication plant (and not a research lab). This means that the element necessary to “see” the qubits, the essential building block of quantum computing, can be integrated into a chip where the companies can then scale up those chips to be able to process useful computations. The achievement validates the companies’ shared bet that they can lean on the 50-plus year history of semiconductor chip advancements and then seek quantum scale.

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10. Chrome Hearts and Drake

For taking the streetwear–celebrity collaboration to the extreme

The Los Angeles-based luxury brand Chrome Hearts (CH) has been known to be a Drake favorite for at least a couple of years as the superstar rapper has been photographed in everything from the brand’s cross-patch denim to a customized Rolex that Drake posted to his Instagram in the summer of 2020. But the two cemented their relationship in May 2021 for an even-more-exclusive-than-usual collaboration in Drake’s promotional efforts in advance of his album Certified Lover Boy (CLB). The mission of the team-up was to create items that would be keepsakes for a generation, and the CLB x CH merchandise includes a few expected items such as hoodies but also unconventional ones such as a jade face roller. (Both of these products sell in the low-to-mid thousands on the streetwear-centric shopping site Grailed.) The most outrageous piece produced by the pair was made just for Drake: A custom Rolls Royce. It features an interior outfitted with quilted leather (which is fire retardant in the event of an accident), three of the brand’s crosses replaces the iconic Rolls hood ornament, and oversized chrome rims engraved with the phrase “Fuck You.” The Rolls was showcased at the Miami Institute of Contemporary Art for a couple of weeks last May so fans could appreciate the artistry of the adaptation. When Certified Lover Boy finally dropped in September, Drake topped the charts yet again, breaking a Spotify record for most streamed album in a single day and amassing 1.7 billion streams in its first six weeks.

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