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 music, design, and consumer goods companies.
The way content is both created and consumed continues to shift rapidly, thanks to digital innovations (hello NFTs!) and media industries turned upside down by the pandemic. These companies led the way in pioneering new ways of delivering news and entertainment to people in fresh, curated ways at a time when traditional models were greatly strained. For instance, Hodinkee connected watch lovers with small, independent sellers that didn’t have the capacity to sell online; and Hybe partnered with a cloud-streaming platform for a virtual BTS tour that drew nearly 1 million viewers at a time when touring was on hold.
Companies also came up with new ways of rewarding creators whose livelihoods have historically been at the mercy of digital platforms’ ever-changing algorithms, rewarding primarily only the upper echelon of social media influencers. Spotter provides YouTube creators with money to invest in new content creation by buying their back catalogs, and PRX allows its podcast creators to own their own intellectual property.
But perhaps no development rocked the 2021 media landscape more than NFTs, which ushered in a more democratized way to both access and own content—not to mention tell stories. In February 2021, when the digital artist Micah Johnson put up an NFT of the first chapter of a 10-part story about a young, Black boy wearing an astronaut’s helmet, it sold for $2 million and became the center of a metaverse that includes film, TV, and art projects.
For finding new ways to release content, reach listeners, and cultivate fandom worldwide
In 2021 two of the biggest artist management groups in the world—Hybe, the company behind K-pop sensation BTS; and Ithaca Holdings, led by Scooter Braun, who first discovered Justin Bieber—merged in a $1 billion deal. The new entertainment behemoth creates a diverse, global entity that puts a focus on brand management and multimedia entrepreneurship as it scales. Hybe has already branched into gaming and education, and through Ithaca’s subsidiary SB Projects, there has been a concert film featuring Bieber; a beauty business built around client Ariana Grande; and a TV drama on CBS, Scorpion. The company is also embracing technology in new and interesting ways in order to connect its clients to their fans at a time when traditional touring has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. In 2020, Hybe partnered with the cloud-streaming platform Kiswe for a virtual BTS tour that drew nearly 1 million viewers. Company revenue in 2021 surpassed $1 billion.
For rendering artists and Hollywood into the metaverse
The Los Angeles-based cloud graphics company Otoy sits at the epicenter of the NFT explosion in Hollywood and is working with the industry to bring entertainment IP to the metaverse in new and creative ways. This year, the company released Rndr, a blockchain computing platform to tens of thousands of artists, including Beeple and Pak. Otoy’s projects include a collaboration with the Gene Roddenberry Estate to bring Star Trek footage and even original field scans of the Starship Enterprise to Rndr and another with DC and Marvel Comics artist Alex Ross to create a new superhero universe on the platform. Otoy also provides NFT software to digital creators, and in the first half of 2021, artists using Otoy technology generated over half a billion dollars in NFT sales. The company is now pioneering the next phase of metaverse culture: holographic NFTs, such as the one by Beeple that debuted late last year, through a collaboration with LightField Lab.
Otoy is No. 36 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.
3. Magnolia Network
For fixing up Discovery’s unscripted programming
Four years after Chip and Joanna Gaines’s popular home renovation show Fixer Upper went off HGTV, the couple has rebranded themselves as network executives. Last summer saw the debut of the Magnolia Network on Discovery Plus, which the couple oversees and curates, programming both their own shows (Magnolia Table and a Fixer Upper reboot) and those of other home and lifestyle entrepreneurs. The streaming network debuted with more than 150 hours of premium unscripted programming, and is also taking over the DIY cable network in January 2022. The network’s digital-first strategy has given the couple time to experiment and tweak shows and is testament to the way people consume television today. It is also a testament to the Gaines’s savvy approach to building an empire worth a reported $1 billion that also includes books, retail, and hospitality.
4. The Record
For breaking news on critical cybersecurity breaches
In 2020, Recorded Future, one of the world’s leading cybersecurity firms, launched The Record. The editorially independent news publication breaks news on the cybersecurity space, leveraging access to its parent company’s security intelligence data and analysts, much in the way Bloomberg takes advantage of its proprietary market data. In just over a year, The Record has become a leading news source on the underreported—and nationally pressing—subject, breaking news about 10 Indonesian government ministries and agencies that were breached by Chinese hackers and publishing interviews with cybercriminals and ransomware groups, such as REvil and BlackMatter. Those Russian hackers were tied to some of 2021’s biggest cybersecurity breaches. The Record‘s website attracts over 400,000 average monthly page views, and a newsletter was launched in early 2021. Podcasts and video content are planned for the coming year.
For presenting its creators with full control and rights in their audio projects
The nonprofit network PRX—behind audio series, such as This American Life and TED Talks Daily—and the TRAX podcast network for teens, launched Radiotopia Presents in 2021, a podcast series that allows its creators to have full creative control of their shows and own their IP. The innovation has led not only to greater financial rewards for artists in the podcast space but also to an incubator model: The Radiotopia podcast Song Exploder became a documentary series on Netflix, and others are being turned into books. PRX’s dedication to serving underserved audiences is evident in TRAX, a podcast network for kids between the ages of 9 and 13 that features personal storytelling and episodes on science and Greek mythology. TRAX has been downloaded more than one million times, and saw a 104% increase in downloads during the first seven months of 2021 compared to the the last eight months of 2020, when it launched.
6. 6AM City
For rising to the challenge of community-centered local news
As the media landscape has become increasingly fractured and politicized, 6AM City has emerged as a hyper-local news source that aims to spark conversation and community through its three-pronged mission: “Doing. Positive. Service.” The company’s daily email newsletters are now active in 24 cities across the U.S., including Boston and Portland, Oregon, combining need-to-know news with local goings-on. Over the past year, they have effectively served as a refreshing supplement—or in the case of municipalities where outlets slashed budgets or closed shop during the pandemic, even more—with its highly skimmable morning read. 6AM’s participatory model relies on reader feedback to inform its coverage, including BLM demonstrations and COVID-19 updates, and features the voices of local leaders through its reader-submitted Voices platform. Over the past year, 6AM’s revenue has doubled to $5.2 million, and its subscriber base has grown to 800,000 subscribers. It has more than 450 active advertisers with over 95% advertiser retention. Additionally, throughout COVID-19, the company retained all of its advertiser contracts.
For realizing that it was time to make the elite, male-oriented watch world more accessible to all
Once a blog aimed at horology enthusiasts, Hodinkee is now valued at more than $100 million, and counts TCG, LVMH Luxury Ventures, and singer John Mayer as investors. The platform, which is an authorized dealer for luxury brands like Tag Heuer and Omega, generates a steady flow of editorial content and podcasts, which have evolved to cover the broader intersection of watches with society and culture. Over the past year, the company has worked to make the elite, male-oriented watch world more accessible by posting content by a wider swath of contributors—including a story by entrepreneur Cara Barrett, arguing in favor of unisex watches and a more gender-blind industry; and an essay by writer Mychal Denzel Smith about the connotations of race and luxury items, like watches. During the pandemic, Hodinkee sought to democratize the industry further by highlighting smaller watch shops around the world, which did not have the capacity to sell online, as well as independent watchmakers. It’s also launched a series of collaborations with Swatch. The site receives 1.4 million unique visitors per month and has over 1.5 million followers across social media channels.
For providing a blueprint for how NFTs can breed new forms of democratized storytelling
Aku, a young, Black boy dressed as an astronaut, became an NFT sensation in February 2021 when the first chapter of his 10-part story was dropped on the blockchain by former MLB player and digital artist Micah Johnson. It sold for $2 million, and with that, Aku became the first substantial piece of NFT IP to begin winding its way through traditional media, thus providing a blueprint for how the metaverse can breed new forms of democratized storytelling. An Aku TV series and film project are in development, and in December, “Aku World” arrived at Miami’s Art Basel, a three-day immersive exhibition, where guests could purchase unique Aku digital works and create their own avatars within the Aku universe, which they could then mint into NFTs. Aku’s avid fanbase led to $10 million in sales for the crypto-native IP in just six months.
For investing in YouTube creators’ back catalogs to fund ambitious new work
Conceived by a cofounder of the YouTube multichannel network Machinima, Spotter seeks to solve one of the biggest problems plaguing the creator economy: 78% of full-time, online influencers only make $23,500 a year. Enter Spotter, which invests in creators’ back catalogs, writing checks from between $50,000 to $30 million for the rights to a creator’s past content. This allows YouTube stars, such as MrBeast, Dude Perfect, and Like Nastya, to invest in infrastructure and future video projects, all the while retaining rights to their IP and revenue on future content. Spotter’s library has more than 120 channels that deliver 9.4 billion views a month. The company has already pumped more than $350 million into the influencer economy and plans to invest another $650 million more over the next two years.
For building up the podcasting business with video, live audio, and more targeted ad opportunities
Three years after the groundbreaking streaming music platform launched its first podcast, Spotify now has over 3.2 million audio series—over a million more than Apple—including some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Joe Rogan, Dax Shepard (via his Armchair Expert series); and Bill Simmons’ digital sports hub, The Ringer. This meteoric growth has come via a combination of savvy acquisitions (such as Anchor, which makes it easy to record a podcast) and a commitment to fast-paced experimentation. In recent months, Spotify has rolled out video and live audio features, as well as more targeted advertising opportunities for brands. Similar innovation is being demanded on the artist side of the business, however. Musicians have voiced unhappiness regarding compensation, specifically in reference to Spotify’s popular, year-end playlist feature Spotify Wrapped. And a dispute over royalties for comedy writers (as opposed to performers) resulted in a lawsuit, with performances by Jim Gaffigan, Kevin Hart, and John Mulaney being yanked from the service.