What Defines The Most Innovative Companies In The World?

The trends dominating the Fast Company's most-innovative list


When we think of innovative companies, our minds often head straight for the game-changers. The likes of Uber, Amazon and Netflix, for example, all deploy wildly innovative business models and their impact on their particular industries has been stupendous.

When examining the Fast Company's list of the 'Most Innovative Companies of 2016', though, there is room for the established giants. Apple, Taco Bell and Facebook, to name just three, have refused to stop innovating and, as Fast Company put it themselves, do not let 'size get in the way of acting like a startup.' They mingle with relative newcomers in the 50-strong index and demonstrate that innovation is by no means limited to smaller companies. Such a list is eye-opening and offers more opportunities for duplication than a list of game-changing eureka moments. We took a look at the trends that link some very different companies together under the umbrella of 'innovative'.

Emphasis on the digital

The trend that dominates Fast Company's leaderboard is an emphasis on the digital, particularly the mobile. Social media companies are the obvious hubs of digital innovation, but the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Buzzfeed all rank incredibly highly - with Buzzfeed taking first place. There are more digital-only companies featured than any other type, with very few investing in brick-and-mortar high-street stores. Of course, the list reflects the direction of both investment and company focus in recent years, with mobile internet use outstripping that of computer and customers expecting companies to be available on the move.

This is also perhaps where Fast Company's list differs most from Forbes'. The overwhelming presence of digital-only companies over the likes of pharmaceuticals or manufacturers, results in an almost completely different top 10 with very few apps featuring in Forbes' 100.


Companies that remove the necessity of experts feature heavily in Fast Company's table, too. These jargon-simplifying, anyone-can-operate services give the user the tools to perform tasks that were previously the reserve of trained professionals. A good example is Shopify, who look to streamline a user's creation and maintenance of personal e-commerce sites, from Facebook advertisements to mobile online stores. The Canadian company recently struck a deal with FameBit, allowing the latter's 31,000 online content creators or 'influencers' a direct line into commercializing their often considerable followings.

CVS Health were perhaps a surprising inclusion in third. The healthcare giants operate more than 7,800 pharmacies and are part of the burgeoning direct-to-consumer treatment market. Information-driven healthcare is on the rise; online research is (within reason) taking the place of a trip to the doctors and over-the-counter treatment is set to rival traditional means for both price and ease.

Healthcare innovation gets the recognition it deserves

Of the top 20 companies on the list, four are part of the healthcare sector. The companies in the healthcare industry extend further than the established (CVS, for example) and include less widely known but perhaps equally important companies striving to discover innovative treatments.

The likes of Novocure - who have developed a new electricity-based cancer treatment called Optune - and Bristol-Myers Squibb - who create drugs in many areas such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes - all make the list for the strides in different, and much needed, areas of healthcare.

Personal financial services

Just as Shopify is included for its easy-to-use, streamlined e-commerce service, Fast Company also chose to highlight companies looking to provide equally straightforward financial services. Robinhood - another example of a direct-to-consumer service - aims to make investments as simple as ordering an Uber, and is resultantly the fastest-growing brokerage in history with more than $2 billion in transactions made since its founding in 2014.

San Francisco-based Earnest aims to provide better student loans for financially responsible borrowers, offering graduates the chance to refinance their loans at very low rates, with their reduced overheads allowing for such a reduction in rates - Fast Company describe their efforts as part of 'finch's attempts to overhaul our financial status quo'. Affirm offer 'credit that does not suck' and Farfetch aim to take small boutique to the world. The financial services landscape is changing, and Fast Company have recognized those responsible, regardless of their size.

Forbes take a slightly different tact when compiling their most innovative list. 'To be included, firms need seven years of public financial data and $10 billion in market cap', limiting the inclusion of smaller businesses and research-based healthcare companies. Lessons can be learned from both the established and the emerging, of course, but true innovation tends to come from those looking to unsettle the giants, and there are plenty in Fast Company's 50. 

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