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Best Workplaces for Innovators 2022: 11 small company standouts

Madrid-based BBVA AI Factory takes top honors in the small company category.

Best Workplaces for Innovators 2022: 11 small company standouts
[Photo: Esperanza Doronila/Unsplash]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators 2022. Explore the full list of companies that are leading incubators of internal innovation talent.

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Among those with fewer than 100 employees, these 11 companies foster exceptionally innovative environments. Though they may be small, their potential for impact and growth is just the opposite. 

Winner 

BBVA AI Factory, Madrid, Spain  

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When a group of data scientists within this AI unit of the Spanish multinational financial services company raised concerns about finding time to explore opportunities outside of assigned projects, BBVA AI Factory launched a company-wide program allowing teams of 3 to 4 employees to devote several months to problem-solving projects beyond their job scope. In the first iteration of this project, teams developed a new data-labeling tool for fellow employees that has since cut time devoted to such tasks by 50%.  

Finalists  

Audigent, New York, New York 

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Having a CEO with a disability has helped the data management platform, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider ways to promote the mental and physical health of its team, including wellness benefits like the biweekly small-group counseling sessions offered to all employees.

Axle Payments, New York, New York  

This payment automation and financing platform company structured its development cycle with growth in mind, dedicating one week each cycle so that 25% of its engineers’ time can be devoted to innovative and personal projects without hindering company-wide collaboration.

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Bond Financial Technologies, San Francisco, California  

After the number of female employees at this fintech company tripled during the pandemic, Women of Bond was formed, a company-supported safe space welcoming female employees to gather at speakers’ series, happy hours, and other events.

Bospar, San Francisco, California  

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When Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8, banning abortion after six weeks, the tech PR firm announced they would pay all relocation expenses for staff members in Texas who were considering leaving the state, a decision that has since grown into a partnership with 11 PR agencies connecting fellow employees seeking relocation due to the restriction of bodily rights.  

Brein, Lima, Peru  

This innovation hub of BRECA Group, the Peruvian business conglomerate, offers over 35 learning programs to BRECA partner companies, including think boot camps, AI training, and data-analytic hackathons.  

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 Swiftly, San Francisco, California 

The public transit schedule-and-operations-tracking platform’s system that updates schedules for riders in real time has since been used to help riders during the pandemic and extreme weather events.

The Starr Conspiracy, Fort Worth, Texas 

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The marketing agency responded to the pandemic with what they call a “reverse mullet,” the party-in-the-front-business-in-the-back workplace model that gives employees full autonomy over selecting clients, permanent three-day weekends, daily two-hour blocks of quiet time, and meal reimbursement funds.    

Tipping Point Media, Malvern, Pennsylvania 

This media company partners with a local Pennsylvania high school to connect teams of students with the resources they need to create their own virtual- or augmented-reality projects.  

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Uvaro, Langley, Washington 

Realizing that the COVID-19 pandemic was hindering people from applying to the technology job training company’s programs and classes, Uvaro launched a tuition-deferral model allowing participants—especially those new to the workforce, women of color, and single mothers—to build their professional skills without any cost burden. 

The Variable, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 

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In their annual “Good Idea Fair,” all employees at this advertising agency are eligible to pitch a new product or business to a panel of venture capitalists and CEOs for a chance to win money—an event that, in 2019, launched the peanut-butter-trail-mix-combo product, Peanut Better, in only 8 weeks.

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