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Best Workplaces for Innovators 2022: 9 U.S. category standouts

North Carolina-based Alex Lee takes top category honors.

Best Workplaces for Innovators 2022: 9 U.S. category standouts
[Photo: Kevin Lanceplaine/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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From annual pitch competitions to robust internships, these nine U.S. companies have created infrastructures for innovation, leading to important breakthroughs.

Winner

Alex Lee 

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Hickory, North Carolina

This wholesale company, which owns subsidiaries, including Lowes Foods and KJ’s Market, prioritizes innovation through its annual “Sparx” program. The Shark Tank-style event allows employees at the grocery and retail wholesaler to pitch ideas, and three winners earn seed money for further development. The initiative is not only limited to an annual competition, however; Alex Lee emphasizes the importance of this program through soliciting ideas from employees on a biweekly basis. These submissions are reviewed monthly, and a $100 spot award is given to the winning employees through the company’s “Fast Sparx” initiative.

Finalists

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Altoura 

Seattle, Washington

Altoura University, the in-house program for onboarding new employees, has proved so effective that the collaborative software company has expanded the offering to include its customers.

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Audible 

Newark, New Jersey

The audiobook and podcast company’s Next Chapter Returnship Program is a four-month paid internship for those who left the workforce to care for a dependent; providing professional career coaching and often a full-time job offer to those who complete the program successfully.

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Balto

St. Louis, Missouri

In 2021, the software company’s engineering team created the “Hack-Pack,” a program open to any employee interested in expanding their coding and software-developing skills.

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Clayco 

Chicago, Illinois

In 2021, the construction company was granted a patent for its Fall Arrest Acknowledgement System (FAAS), which aims to prevent worksite fall-related injuries and deaths.

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Farmer’s Business Network

San Carlos, California

The eight-year-old ag-tech company has implemented a strategy to produce its own ingredients and source others directly from China, bypassing supply chain issues and lowering its prices for consumers. 

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Lafayette American 

Detroit, Michigan

The advertising agency isn’t shy about its unconventional approach to business, hosting daily stand-ups that resemble talk shows more than meetings to keep morale high throughout the pandemic and the Great Resignation. 

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Pella Corporation

Pella, Iowa

After 20,000 cycles of testing, the door and window company has introduced its Easy-Slide Operator window, designed to enhance functionality for consumers of all ages and physical abilities. 

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QuarkStar 

Las Vegas, Nevada

The electrical manufacturing company has discovered innovative ideas from unorthodox sources. After discovering the dimensional constraints of LED lights, the team was inspired (by a tail!) to reshape previously short and thick LED packages, when the CEO’s cat unexpectedly joined a Zoom call. 

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