Our 2019 ranking of the businesses making the most profound impact on both industry and culture showcases a variety of ways to thrive in today’s volatile world. Read on to learn how these 50 companies are creating the future today, plus see our top-10 lists of the Most Innovative Companies by sector, from advertising to wellness. We hope you’re as inspired learning from these businesses as we were in .
FOR PIONEERING TRANSACTIONAL SUPER APPS
In the first half of 2018, Meituan Dianping—a Chinese tech platform that expedites the booking and delivery of services such as food, hotel stays, and movie tickets—facilitated 27.7 billion transactions (worth $33.8 billion) for more than 350 million people in 2,800 cities. That’s 1,783 Meituan-enabled services every second of every day, with each customer using it an average of three times a week.
FOR LEVERAGING TRANSPORTATION AS THE PLATFORM TO CREATE A SUPER APP FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA
In Southeast Asia, Grab, the Singapore-based ride-hailing company, forced Uber out of the region in 2018 and acquired its local operations. A few months later, it expanded its app to offer its 130 million users not only food delivery and travel booking, but also financial and other services. These efforts helped Grab hit $1 billion in revenue in 2018 and attract more than $3 billion in fresh funding to expand. Later this year, it’ll add healthcare services from Ping An, the Chinese digital health giant.
FOR GIVING EVERY FAN A COURTSIDE SEAT
In an age of distraction, the NBA holds people’s attention. Last year, the league broke attendance records for the fourth straight season; its streaming service grew subscribers by 63%; and total revenue increased 25%. One reason: the year-old NBA 2K League, the first extension of pro sports into esports, which has 21 teams and games that stream on Twitch. “It democratizes our sport,” says NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
FOR DIVING INTO THE STREAM
Plenty of venerable media empires aspire to be players in the streaming wars. None is better positioned than Disney, which retooled its organization to deliver its own video services rather than license content to Netflix. “We’ll do a better job than others,” says direct-to-consumer chief Kevin Mayer. “We know [our] brands viscerally.”
FOR FIXING RETAIL ONE DATA POINT AT A TIME
While working on a PhD in astrophysics, Chris Moody used supercomputers to simulate how galaxies crash into each other. For his first nonacademic job, he joined Square as a data scientist in 2013. About a year later, he started talking with some data-scientist friends who were employed at a startup called Stitch Fix, an upstart e-commerce service that delivered boxes of women’s fashion, known as “Fixes,” using a mix of algorithmic and human curation.Moody was mystified. “What on earth are you guys doing at a clothing company?” he recalls asking, admitting that his sartorial taste at the time hewed to “what costs less than ramen?” Their response, though, sent his brain firing. How do you mail customers clothes they’ll love, and that fit them perfectly, without the client ever getting measured or viewing the inventory? Soon he was pushing for a job. “When I was interviewing, I was like, Ooh, this is a place where I’m going to be continuously thinking about this stuff in the shower, going to bed, waking up in the morning.”
FOR FLAUNTING ITS ROOTS
With 91 restaurants in eight states and a network of 150 farmers across the country, Sweetgreen has created a fast-casual, farm-to-table empire that’s poised to expand by (at least) another 15 outposts this year. Here’s how the company has embraced innovation to extend its ethos.
FOR KEEPING IT FRESH
It’s edible, tasteless, and can double (or triple) the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Following six years of R&D, last May, Apeel Sciences debuted its plant-based coating on avocados at more than 250 grocery chains, including Kroger and Costco. The technology, which slows water loss and oxidation, has already led to savings: Midwest grocer Harps reduced its avocado waste by 60%.
FOR PROVIDING A MORE ELEGANT WAY TO PAY
Nine years after launching its credit-card-reading dongle for smartphones, Square continues to find ways to make payments less painful. In October, the company introduced Square Terminal: a single-screen card-reading device (picture a smartphone resting on an angled white base) that offers wireless connectivity, a touch screen, and receipt-printing capability. Just as important, the chic device does not resemble “a 1985 calculator, like most other terminals,” says Jesse Dorogusker, Square’s hardware lead.
FOR RISING TO THE TOP
One of the buzziest food products of 2018? A milk alternative made of pulverized oats. Founded in 1994, Swedish company Oatly was the first manufacturer to commercialize oat milk, but it was only after launching in the U.S. in 2016 that the product became a sensation, at one point last year selling for $200 per case online.
FOR LIVE-STREAMING THE REVOLUTION
“Where gamers go, everyone else follows,” says Sara Clemens, COO of Twitch, the video service owned by Amazon. Once the domain of video-game aficionados, Twitch is now pulling in mainstream viewers with its vision for the future of live TV. Last fall, it reworked its IRL channel to promote subcategories for cooking, fitness, and talk shows.
FOR INCUBATING CULT BRANDS IN-HOUSE
One room is full of sequins and kids’ clothes. Another has lamps and tables, and yet another houses beakers of various dishwashing detergents. This is Target’s Minneapolis-based design lab, where Julie Guggemos, the company’s senior VP of product design, leads the creation of hundreds of thousands of items for the company’s in-house brands.
FOR SELLING OUT
What do Kith, Ford, and NFL running back Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode boutique have in common? They’re among the more than 600,000 merchants that rely on Shopify’s e-commerce tools to sell products. In 2018, Shopify introduced one-click ordering—using any payment method—as well as chat-based commerce and AR tools to showcase large items like furniture.
FOR FENDING OFF MALWARE AND ONLINE SURVEILLANCE
AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield VPN, software that encrypts users’ online activity, was downloaded 100 million times in 2018 (up from 70 million in 2017). “Amid every global security or censorship event, we have massive spikes in usage,” says cofounder and CEO David Gorodyansky.
FOR SHAPING FITNESS CLASSES INTO MUST-SEE TV
Seven years after launching as a stationary bike company that allowed subscribers to live-stream digital cycling classes, Peloton has morphed into a $700-million-a-year-in-revenue fitness powerhouse that produces hundreds of hours of videos for a community that includes runners, yogis, and more. “We are a content creation shop at this point,” says cofounder and CEO John Foley.
FOR BRINGING AI TO MARKET
Chinese commerce giant Alibaba’s Hema Xiansheng stores are the showpiece of what it calls “New Retail,” the seamless blending of the digital and physical experience. “Consumers don’t think about the world online versus offline,” says Alibaba Group president Michael Evans. “Neither should brands and retailers.”
FOR HELPING US BELIEVE OUR EYES
Early one morning in April 2017, a series of horrific photos and videos began hitting Facebook and YouTube showing civilians in a rebel-held area of northern Syria writhing on the ground and gasping for oxygen as deadly sarin-based gas—which witnesses said was dropped from the sky by the Syrian government—filled their lungs. It was one of the worst chemical attacks in the country’s nearly decade-long conflict, yet the United Nations Security Council failed to adopt a resolution to intervene. They were stymied by Russia and its allies, who dismissed the visual evidence as staged.
FOR PUSHING ITS PROCESSORS
Apple’s most impressive new product of 2018 wasn’t a phone or a tablet, but a chip: the A12 Bionic. Debuting in last fall’s iPhones, it’s the industry’s first processor based on a seven-nanometer manufacturing process. The A12’s 6.9 billion transistors deliver dramatically faster performance, lower power consumption, and more raw muscle for intensive applications.
FOR LETTING BUSINESSES BUILD LIKE GAMERS
Video-game development company Unity Technologies is known for software that lets developers build 3D animations, in real time, at a fraction of traditional costs. (Users pay Unity a flat subscription fee rather than a percentage of game revenues.) In 2018, the company expanded its 3D developer tool kit to a number of new industries, including architecture, film, and automotive.
FOR PICKING UP THE PACE
Last year, Domino’s tallied more than 60% of its U.S. sales via digital orders, achieved its 30th straight quarter of same-store sales growth, and saw its stock rise 22% in a tumultuous market. These milestones were driven by the company’s efforts to get its pies into people’s hands as quickly as possible, including geofencing public parks to enable outdoor delivery and challenging cities to improve their roads in a cheeky, faux-PSA campaign.
FOR EMPOWERING FINANCIAL APPS
Mobile apps now allow consumers to trade stocks and crypto (Robinhood), save money (Acorns and Qapital), and make payments (Venmo)—and most have one thing in common: Plaid. Its technology, a suite of banking APIs, enables developers to connect new digital tools to legacy financial systems.
FOR FINDING HARMONY AMID DISRUPTION
There’s a good chance that your favorite bop from 2018 came from a Universal Music Group artist: Drake’s Scorpion was the top album of the year on Apple Music, Ariana Grande was Spotify’s most-streamed female artist, and Taylor Swift’s Reputation ranked No. 1 on Billboard’s year-end album chart. Amid the music industry’s digital transformation, Universal is redefining what a modern label should look like. Its recent landmark deal with Taylor Swift promises profits to artists should Universal sell its reported 4% stake in Spotify.
FOR ENCOURAGING ADMINS TO THINK LIKE DEVELOPERS
Airtable is a cloud-based workflow system that lets anyone—from intern to CEO—analyze data in a non-scary way. The six-year-old startup’s cult status and $1.1 billion valuation stem from how easily Airtable users can work with data to unlock insights, foster collaboration, and generate reports.
FOR KNOWING HOW TO CHILL
You’ve probably eaten something today that was shipped by Lineage Logistics. About 90% of the food Americans consume requires refrigeration at some point during transport, and Lineage provides that service for some 3,000 customers, including food giants Walmart, Tyson, and McDonald’s.
FOR CODING MAGIC
As CEO of Kano, which makes kits that let anyone code and build their own computerized toys, Alex Klein is on a mission to “give [people] an understanding of—and influence over—the tech in their lives.” In October, Klein launched the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit, a $99 wand-building set that teaches users how to program accelerometers, magnetometers, and gestural controls.
FOR MAKING MILLENNIALS OENOPHILES
Subscription wine club Winc became one of the top-50 wineries in the U.S. last year by flipping the typical business model on its head. While traditional vintners make a wine and then market it, Winc creates bottles based on more than 5 million customer ratings from its 75% millennial subscriber base. “Our winemaking team has done an incredible job of taking those signals and sourcing the grapes,” says cofounder Brian Smith.
FOR PROPOSING A BETTER WAY TO DO E-COMMERCE
Shan-Lyn Ma and Nobu Nakaguchi, both Gilt Groupe alumni, had seen firsthand the things that can derail an e-commerce company, such as excessive inventory and a cumbersome returns process. “We kept those in mind when we started Zola,” says Ma. More than 500,000 couples have since used the five-year-old service to create wedding websites, guest lists, and registries of products from more than 600 brands.
FOR TURNING CARBON EMISSIONS INTO POWER
Last spring, a steel mill in a city east of Beijing began transforming carbon emissions into fuel, thanks to a first-of-its-kind bioreactor filled with microbes that eat waste gases and produce ethanol—as many as 16 million gallons a year at the mill. The six-year-old Chicago-area biotech company LanzaTech designed the system, which can be used at a variety of industrial sites, in an effort “to show the world that carbon reuse is feasible, possible, and can make economic sense,” says CEO Jennifer Holmgren.
FOR DANCING TO INDIA’S RHYTHM
Apple Music is gaining a foothold in India, and Spotify plans to enter the market in 2019, but “to achieve scale in India you need local advantage,” says JioSaavn CEO Rishi Malhotra. The music-streaming company, which was formed in October 2018 when streaming startup Saavn merged with telco giant Reliance’s JioMusic service, offers more than 40 million tracks in 15 regional languages for 38 million monthly active users.
FOR SECURING YOUR ONLINE IDENTITY
Jumio is the service that allows you to upload a photo ID and snap a selfie to verify your identity for a bank, WeWork, or Airbnb account instantly. In 2018, the company launched a new AI lab, where researchers train algorithms to identify the fraud risk of an ID and automatically direct those that warrant further scrutiny to human reviewers.
FOR MATCHING CANCER PATIENTS TO BREAKTHROUGH TREATMENTS
The promise of precision medicine is becoming a reality in cancer treatment, where patients now routinely have tumors genomically tested before deciding on how to respond. Just over a year ago, Foundation Medicine received FDA approval for FoundationOne CDx, a test that analyzes tissue samples for alterations across 324 genes known to drive cancer, helping oncologists steer patients to immunotherapies, clinical trials, or genetically matched drugs made by partners.
FOR SCANNING SMARTLY
Early detection through a CT scan can be the difference between life and death for lung cancer patients, improving the five-year survival rate from 16% to 56%. Radiology specialists, however, are in short supply and often overworked, leading to waiting lists and errors.
FOR FIGHTING DISEASE AT THE SOURCE
Last August, Cambridge, Massachusetts–based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals became the first company to bring an RNA interference (RNAi) treatment to market, winning FDA approval for its drug Onpattro. The drug treats peripheral nerve damage and other symptoms in people with the rare and previously untreatable condition of hereditary amyloidosis.
FOR MOBILIZING AGAINST TOXINS
Direct-to-consumer skincare and cosmetic brand Beautycounter refuses to use more than 1,500 legal but questionable chemicals in its products, but for founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew, there’s another number that’s even more important: 40,000. That’s how many remote salespeople help promote the company’s expanding line of clean-beauty products, such as its new biodegradable makeup-remover wipes.
FOR CREATING A HOTEL CHAIN THAT OPERATES LIKE AIRBNB
“Early on, we thought: How do we deconstruct the services and operations of a hotel, and [rebuild] them in the age of mobile phones?” says Francis Davidson, founder and CEO of the short-term apartment-rental company Sonder. Combining Airbnb-like rooms with the consistency of a stylish boutique-hotel chain, Sonder has knit together a network of more than 2,000 rentals in 18 cities across North America and Europe over the past seven years.
FOR CULTIVATING RESILIENT PLANTS
Indigo Ag develops crops capable of surviving climate change. The company finds plants thriving where they shouldn’t, then tests them for unique microbes that the company can use in natural seed coatings to cultivate additional hardy specimens. In 2018, Indigo’s resilient corn provided over 10% more yield per acre than traditional seed.
FOR DIRECT-DEPOSITING TRUST
Brazilians have traditionally been able to bank only with a handful of large institutions that charge some of the highest lending rates globally. Four-year-old Nubank, now the largest digital bank outside of Asia, with 5 million users, offers a compelling alternative with its low-fee credit cards and payment accounts.
FOR FEEDING THE HYPEBEASTS
For his first game as an L.A. Laker last October, Kyle Kuzma entered the Staples Center in a pair of vintage 2003 Nike Zoom Flights. It was partially to honor teammate LeBron James, who had worn the style for his NBA debut, but also to build awareness. Not for Nike: Kuzma isn’t a spokesperson. He’s the first brand ambassador for GOAT, the online sneaker-resale platform.
FOR REBUILDING THE LIBRARY
One of the first things you notice in the new Calgary Central Library, which opened in November, is what isn’t there: a reference desk. Instead, librarians roam the soaring, four-story building, approaching patrons the way salespeople greet customers at the Apple Store. International architecture firm Snøhetta, which designed the $245 million structure with the Canadian firm Dialog, has some experience with libraries.
FOR SCALING HIGHER EDUCATION FOR AFRICA’S RISING GENERATION
With 50% of its population under the age of 19, Africa will be home to the world’s largest workforce by 2035: a billion-plus people who will transform the continent. Statistics like these inspired Ghanaian entrepreneur Fred Swaniker, who opened the African Leadership Academy high school in Johannesburg, in 2008, to turn his attention to higher education. He founded his first African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius in 2015, and, two years later, opened a second undergraduate campus in Kigali, Rwanda.
FOR SCORING IN THE CLUTCH
Pro sports teams can now create merchandise that responds to fan demand near instantaneously, thanks to online retailer Fanatics. The company offers a new low-bandwidth shopping site that works in stadiums with poor cell service, and a platform for predicting demand using myriad digital cues. As a result, NFL merch sales rose 50% last year and Fanatics won deals with major European soccer clubs and esports’ Overwatch League.
FOR DESIGNING A LESS WASTEFUL FASHION INDUSTRY
An estimated 15% of all clothes and shoes churned out daily in the $3 trillion global fashion industry go unsold and are dumped in landfills or—worse—incinerated. “Fashion is driven by guesswork months before something is sold in a store,” says Hal Watts, cofounder and CEO of London-based software company Unmade, which combats overproduction by enabling clothing brands to offer shoppers customizable items that are unlikely to sit on shelves.
FOR SIMPLIFYING FERTILITY TESTS
Modern Fertility began selling its $159 home fertility test last May, the first to measure eight reproduction-related hormones from a finger-prick sample. Recent medical advances have made finger-prick testing routine for drug analysis, nutrition monitoring, and HIV screening, but it wasn’t widely applied to fertility testing until Modern Fertility and its partner labs ran studies that confirmed the method’s accuracy for measuring target hormones.
FOR BRINGING SPACE DOWN TO EARTH
While Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk brag about their enormous rockets, capable of carrying heavy payloads into space, L.A.-based Rocket Lab has embraced a different strategy. Its 56-foot Electron rocket can carry only about 500 pounds, but it can reach space for just $5.7 million per launch (SpaceX, by contrast, spends $62 million to $90 million per trip), making putting satellites into orbit a possibility for companies both small and large.
FOR FORGING AN INDIE FILM COMMUNITY
The movie Eighth Grade, YouTube star Bo Burnham’s directorial debut about middle-school Sturm und Drang in the age of social media, was a hit among critics at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. But it became a commercial success a few months later thanks to a shrewd campaign by the New York–based boutique film and TV studio A24.
FOR REWARDING TALENTED EDUCATORS
Founded more than a decade ago by public school teacher Paul Edelman, New York City–based Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) enables educators to sell peer-rated lesson plans to one another. In January 2018, TpT expanded its reach with TpT for Schools, which allows administrators to place their own school- or district-wide orders for educational resources, including single-topic or full-year curricula, classroom management tools, and videos.
FOR MAKING THE ORDINARY EXTRAORDINARY
If the idea of a smart coffee cup sounds silly to you, you probably haven’t tried the Ember Ceramic Mug. Envisioned by the San Francisco design studio Ammunition, it has a built-in heater to keep coffee warm for hours, but otherwise looks and feels like any other mug. This is the firm’s specialty: “We’ve all experienced technology that creates barriers,” says Ammunition partner Robert Brunner. “We focus on amplifying the everyday.”
FOR EDUCATING REFUGEE CHILDREN
For nearly 50 years, Sesame Street has taught children at home. But what about kids who have no home? “Those impacted the most from displacement—young children—are receiving the least,” says Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s president of global impact. In late 2017, the organization received $100 million from the MacArthur Foundation and expanded its efforts with the International Rescue Committee.
FOR FEATHERING OUR NEST EGGS
“Don’t make people do the math,” says Noah Kerner, CEO of digital-investment pioneer Acorns, which is on a mission to help people squirrel away money as effortlessly as possible. The company launched in 2014 with a product that rounds up users’ daily purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically puts the difference into investment accounts; a growing stable of brand partners (320 and counting) offer further contributions for qualifying purchases.
FOR QUARANTINING FACEBOOK
When Facebook users learned last March that the social media giant had given their sensitive information to political-data firm Cambridge Analytica, Mozilla (parent company of the security-focused browser Firefox) reacted fast: Within eight hours, the product team had built a browser extension called the Facebook Container.
FOR COOKING UP DELICIOUS SOCIAL SPACES
When Robert Thompson opened the first Punch Bowl Social—an “eatertainment” concept that combines games and food—in his hometown of Denver, in 2012, he had one thing in mind: to encourage real, human interaction among millennials, inspired by the Victorian-era tradition of gathering around a bowl of punch. “This generation demands experiences, which also manifests itself in food and beverage,” he says.