Tag Archives: fast company

Top 10 Retail Companies of 2012

Top Ten Retail Companies of 2012 is compiled from a list by Fast Company.

1. Amazon

For creating a virtuous cycle of commerce interwoven into its technology. The Kindle Fire is the purest expression of tablet as consumption engine. It deftly uses free TV shows and movies to drive Prime memberships that in turn fuel greater retail sales. It also invented a market for 10,000-25,000 word stories that didn’t previously exist with its Singles program. The Fire also represents the purest expression of Amazon’s vision: For customers to acquire or consume any content, physical or digital, in as seamless a fashion as possible. In that, the Fire is undeniably a triumph of instant or almost instant gratification.

2. Square

For creating a new kind of mobile, social, and local retailer and streamlining point-of-sale payments. When Square launched in October 2010, it was a mere dongle that plugged into iPhones, enabling anyone–especially small businesses–to accept credit card payments. No more. Square has since set out to transform the entire payments process, launching an iPad app designed to replace the cash register and point of sale credit card equipment and processing and its Card Case app brings the future of the digital wallet to smartphones today without having to wait for a tap-and-pay system of embedded chips and readers.

3. Patagonia

For its aggressive pursuit of sustainability. As part of its unprecedented Common Threads initiative, the outdoor-apparel company launched an eBay storefront where Patagonia owners can sell secondhand clothing. It’s also expanded into music downloads that benefit environmental charities and even a sustainable salmon jerky in an effort to promote sustainable causes. These initiatives themselves don’t make Patagonia any money, but the resulting brand burnishing improves sales every time.

4. Kiva Systems

For powering faster e-commerce shipments thanks to its autonomous robots. Kiva’s order-fulfillment wizards are now roaming the warehouses of such retailers as Toys ‘R’ Us and Timberland, two of the 24 new customers Kiva picked up in 2011 on its way to doubling revenue for the second year in a row. The machines intelligently organize warehouses to be more efficient–even stacking shelves vertically–enabling more accurate orders and less expensive shipping, even for common grocery or drugstore items. “Low-margin goods are the next wave in ecommerce,” says CEO Mick Mountz. “For that to happen, you need efficient pick, pack, and ship like Kiva offers.”

5. UPS

For letting customers tap directly into UPS’ sophisticated logistics system and control where and when packages get delivered. Its new service My Choice gives customers who’ve signed up a heads-up when a package arrival is imminent the next day. That alone (there are also premium services) helps UPS avoid missed deliveries, saving them money, yes, but also driving greater loyalty both to the end user and the retailer shipping the package. My Choice, then, is UPS’ nod to its e-commerce business. Acknowledges Geoff Light, UPS’ vice president of new product development, “Our business has shifted in correlation with what’s happening in retail, toward e-commerce.” More than 30% of UPS packages now ship to consumers.

6. OpenSky

For converting shopping into a social star trip. Users of this shopping platform follow “curators” like Padma Lakshmi, Molly Sims, and Shaquille O’Neal to populate a Twitter-like feed of recommended products. “Why don’t we build a network where people can connect to people who inspire them?” says OpenSky CEO John Caplan. “Tom Colicchio for food, Cynthia Rowley for clothes. People who live in their passions. Those people would every day be recommending new products to you–daily bolts of inspiration.” When OpenSky started, users were connected to 6 curators on average. Now it’s 18.

7. Fast Retailing

For fashioning Uniqlo into America’s Next Big Retailer. The new $450 million, 90,000-square-foot global flagship store–which is actually the largest retail outlet ever opened in New York–is just the beginning: Uniqlo’s goal is to have 200 stores in the United States and U.S. sales of $10 billion by 2020.

8. RelayRides

For building a business out of “underutilized assets” and dragging the car companies along with it. The peer-to-peer car-sharing market made a landmark deal with GM to let millions of GM owners with OnStar rent out their idle cars. RelayRides claims the average vehicle generates $250 in rental fees a month, with an owner keeping 65% of the total.

9. Shopify

For democratizing and automating ecommerce tools. Shopify offers pre-made templates that allow people to quickly and easily set up an online store without needing to know how to code a website. Shopify creates tools and templates to power online storefronts. (Notable clients include Rovio, Angry Birds’ parent company, and GE.) Shopify has grown to almost 20,000 storefronts in 88 countries, which did a combined $275 million in online sales, up from $120 million in 2010. Up next: Making it as easy to buy sell to mobile customers.

10. Warby Parker

For doing the seemingly impossible: making possible online prescription glasses sales. How? High design and Zappos-style customer service. The New York-based team designs its own glasses, selling them for $95, and it recently expanded into sunglasses ($150). The company keeps prices low by ordering from manufacturers and selling directly to consumers, avoiding expenses like brand licensing fees and retail markups (a la LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, and others). So far, it has sold more than 100,000 pairs of glasses and says it’s profitable.

Top Ten Most Innovative Music Companies of 2012

Top Ten Music Companies of 2012 is compiled from a list by Fast Company.

1. SoundCloud
For creating a simple, democratic sound-sharing platform embraced by everyone from 50 Cent and Madonna to urban nomads looking to capture an interesting neighborhood sound. More than 10 million users have jumped on SoundCloud’s mission to “unmute the web,” two million of which came in the last two months. In May, it released its API to appbuilders with SoundCloud Labs, where more than 10,000 apps are currently in development. And $50 million from a Kleiner Perkins-led funding round? Well that sounds pretty sweet, too. Read More

2. Spotify
For taking the cake in the battle of the all-you-can-eat on-demand music streaming services (against competitors such as MOG and Rdio). Since its July U.S. launch, Spotify has become Facebook’s default music partner and gained 3 million paying subscribers worldwide, 20% of its active user base. Most surprising? More than half of those paying for the service are under 30.

3. Pandora
For channeling its claim over Internet radio into a $235 million IPO that blew estimates out of the water. A month after the June offering, the service broke its addiction to Flash, launching a beautifully fresh-but-familiar HTML5 redesign. Listener stats continue to rise, even in the wake of Spotify Radio–Pandora saw 13% to 25% listening increases across the top ten U.S. radio markets in the last quarter of 2011.

4. Björk
For creating the world’s first app album. Björk tapped interactive design guru Scott Snibbe to create the phantasmagoric iPad app for Biophilia, her first full-length album in four years, immediately positing it as a new-media model for fellow recording artists.

5. XL Recordings
For being one of the last remaining independent labels to  produce breakout mainstream artists. Adele, M.I.A., and Beck are all on  XL’s enviable current roster, but the label only signs one artist and  releases a half-dozen records a year to maintain its high quality  production. Keeping things small has paid off in big ways, like with  Adele’s album, 21, which has sold more than 17 million copies  since its release last January. In a throwback to the vintage days of  A&R, XL’s handpicked talents speak–and sing–for themselves.

6. Mason Jar Music
For pioneering a new concert model. The Brooklyn-based collective of musicians, artists, and filmmakers eschews large, commercial spaces for nontraditional venues that foster organic collaboration. In October, they partnered with indie darling Feist to stage a 25-piece band for a secret debut of her Metals album at a tiny Harlem crypt. And a recent video for their new Grooveshark series, “Mason Jar Music Presents…,” documents a performance by The Wood Brothers at an abandoned Brooklyn schoolhouse.

7. Ticketmaster
For (finally) putting fans first. The $8 billion company is taking on years of dissatisfied clients and falling sales by revamping the online ticket-buying site to be a destination where fans actually want to be. This year, it’s integrated Facebook with its interactive seat map so friends can buy tickets near each other; partnered with America-approved brands such as Walmart and Groupon on ticket deals; and built an analytics division that lets it mine data about the 26 million monthly visitors to parent company LiveNation’s sites. And the efforts are showing promise: Post-purchase customer satisfaction is at its highest since 2006.

8. Bandcamp
For beating piracy at its own game. Artists on the music distribution platform–once the strict stock of small indie bands–pop up in piraters’ searches for illegal downloads. In turn, fans led to Bandcamp are paying for songs they had no intention of purchasing. Artists on the site have clocked $12.6 million in song and merch sales (of which Bandcamp takes 15%) since the service started up in 2008, and $1 million of that was from December 2011 alone, indicating that paying for digital music is far from dead.

9. The Echo Nest
For launching Echoprint, a completely open-source music identification program that brings the technology of closed systems like Shazam to the masses. Echoprint currently has a catalog of 13 million songs that is designed to grow in tandem with its community. For example, its data license stipulates that you must contribute any new “fingerprints” you discover back to the Echoprint developer community.

10. Turntable.fm
For turning music sharing into a novel social experience. Turntable.fm’s 110,000 active users–about 30,000 of whom are logging 10 to 20 hours a month–can DJ their favorite songs to each other in virtual “rooms,” either from their personal libraries or from the service’s own catalog, supplied by copyright heavyweights ASCAP and BMI. Since its debut last January, the service has inspired several copycats, notably Facebook’s “Listen With” feature which launched this January. In the age of made-for-you personal playlists from the likes of Pandora, Turntable.fm is a breath of fresh air.

Top 10 Innovative Web/Internet Companies

This year’s Top Ten Web/Internet Companies is compiled from a list by Fast Company.

1. Google
For breaking through in more than just search. YouTube dominates online video, and its lineup of premium original channels represents the most dramatic advance for the medium since YouTube’s debut. Its Chrome browser has surpassed Firefox and arguably delivers the best browsing experience. And display advertising is a legitimate second gusher of revenue. Read More

2. Tencent
For fueling China’s Internet boom–and boldly moving West. Chinese Internet giant with Facebook-like numbers–more than 700 million users, $3 billion in revenue, and $1 billion in profits–is pushing QQ mobile onto western platforms such as the Apple App store and European application store GetJar. It’s leading the pack in imperializing the U.S. social gaming market, as evidenced by a recent partnership with Zynga and a purchase of California-based Riot Games that represents one of the largest acquisitions of an American company by a Chinese company. Read More

3. Airbnb
For using the web to enable real-world sharing of apartments and spare rooms. The virtual hotel chain saw 500% growth in the last year, surpassing 5 million nights booked through Airbnb. Its influence is felt widely through all of the other real things people now share via the Internet (cars, parking spaces, and so forth) as well as in the uptick in design-oriented online experiences and designers playing key roles in tech startups. Read More

4. Dropbox
For simplifying web-based storage with its easy-to-use cloud file-sharing and storage system. The platform-agnostic cloud-sharing service boasts 45 million users saving more than 2 billion files each week. In October, it launched a business-specific service called Dropbox for Teams, formally introducing the file-sharing service to the corporate workplace. The company founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi is now valued at more than $4 billion. Its estimated revenue for 2011 is $240 million, though the vast majority of users pay nothing at all with its freemium model. Read More

5. Gogo
For flying high with a slew of web services for air travelers. Of the ten North American airlines that provide Wi-Fi, Gogo works with nine of them. The company has taken its commanding lead of the market–it has 85% share of what’s still a nascent market–and expanded upon mere internet access to build a platform for entertainment, gaming, shopping, and local services that broadens Gogo’s appeal and utility and lets airlines empower economy passengers carrying a laptop, tablet, or smartphone to have a first- or business-class experience. Read More

6. Akamai
For seamlessly routing Internet data from providers’ servers to users’ computers, tablets, and mobile platforms. The web content network delivers 30% of all web traffic, and its complex algorithms are helping big-name clients such as Apple, Facebook, and Netflix deliver content faster and more efficiently. In 2011, Akamai’s peak total traffic increased more than 70% over the previous year, to 8.7 terabits per second. It also focused on optimizing content for live-streaming on mobile devices. And Akamai handles the traffic with grace: Last year’s Royal Wedding broke livestreaming records, and Akamai delivered more live content for that event than any other provider.

7. Zaarly
For creating a proximity-based marketplace services lets sellers outsource tasks and errands. Individuals and businesses name their price to fulfill those needs. Zaarly recently raised $14 million, and in October HP’s Meg Whitman joined the company’s board. Ashton Kutcher, an investor, anonymously hired someone to fetch him coffee. Less than a year after launching in May at LA Startup weekend, the average Zaarly assignment costs around $52 a pop and almost 100% of people who post are repeat users.

8. CloudFlare
For protecting and securing better than anyone has done before. CloudFlare is essentially a security product, protecting companies from web threats that hamper load times. Its Automatic IPv6 Gateway, free to customers, solves a critical problem at a time when IPv4 addresses are running out: site owners won’t have to alter a single line of code to adapt. Just over a year after the service launch, CloudFlare was powering more than 100,000 websites, and at least 5% of those saw more than 1.5 million monthly page views.

9. Pinterest
For turning the universe of internet images into gorgeous dream boards. Pinterest represents a creative form of using images as a means of digital communication as well as giving users a distinctive way of presenting their personality and creativity. The site recently surpassed 10 million monthly unique visitors faster than any other, and it’s easy to see why. Users curate beautiful objects of desire from anywhere across the web into themed sets, transforming its pages into a visual feast. Businesses have started to see the value in showcasing their own goods–or their own good taste–driving even more traffic.

10. Badoo
For creating one of the world’s largest, most functional, and fastest-growing dating network. Growth exploded in 2011: Badoo now boasts 133 million users and is available in 35 languages. It launched in the U.S. in 2011 with fun features like Ice Breaker and Interests, which made it easier for strangers to start conversations around shared interests rather than merely attractive profile photos.

Top 10 Most Innovative Consumer Products Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Consumer Products. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Nissan

For creating the Leaf, the first mass-market electric car.

02 / Nike >>

For its mix of sports, style, and yes, plastic bottles. Nike developed 2010 World Cup jerseys for 10 countries/teams from discarded plastic bottles scavenged from Japanese and Taiwanese landfill sites. The bottles were melted down to produce a yarn for fabric for the jerseys.

03 / Samsung >>

For transforming itself into a steady source of cutting-edge electronics. Samsung has rolled out new and sophisticated options for kitchen appliances, including the Samsung FTQ307 induction range, which features a three-fan convection oven and warming drawer, and the Samsung RF4287, which features a flexible middle drawer that can help save energy usually lost to people (especially kids) opening the entire fridge and hanging in the doorway.

04 / Dyson

For continuing to rethink urban appliances–with style. The Dyson City vacuum, technically known as the DC26 Multi-floor Vacuum, is explicitly designed for urban apartment dwellers in need of a space-saving solution. Dyson Air Multiplier fans draw in air and amplify it, from 15 to 18 times, with no blades or grille, producing an uninterrupted stream of smooth air without unpleasant buffeting.

05 / P&G

For implementing a systemized, measured means of achieving a broader set of sustainability goals. Executives announced this year a series of 10-year goals, including using renewable energy for 30% of its factories and 20% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packages.

06 / Whirlpool

For its smart washer and dryer line that brings the kind of intelligence and personalization to laundry that we’ve grown accustomed to in, say, our home-entertainment centers.

07 / Method

For doubling down on its commitment to both good design and sustainability in home cleaning products. Its new eco-friendly laundry detergent uses pump technology (a first for laundry detergent brands) to eliminate the mess created by traditional jugs of detergent. If the consumer follows the “four pump” rule, there is less wasted detergent.

08 / Oxo

For reshaping more and more everyday household tools with its smart design ethos. The International Design Excellence Awards recognized the Oxo cork pull, which comes with a built-in foil-cutter; the firm also won a bronze Spark Design Award for its GG 360 LiquiSeal Travel Mug. Next up: moving out of the kitchen. Oxo Tot is a kid-friendly line that includes bathing, cleaning, feeding, and lighting gear.

09 / Unilever

For helping consumers change their cleaning habits to become better stewards of the earth–and making more of its own eco-friendly products–as part of its Cleaner Planet Plan.

10 / Merck

For developing a groundbreaking FootMapping technology for its Dr. Scholl’s brand that uses 2,000 pressure sensors to measure the different areas of the foot that take the biggest hits when walking, and then recommends different orthotics solutions. FootMapping is part of an in-store orthotics center that Dr. Scholl’s (a brand in Merck’s consumer care division) is installing in drug stores and shoe retailers.

Top 10 Most Innovative Education Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Education. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / NYU

For opening up a second campus in Abu Dhabi. There, NYU is shepherding the most successful and ambitious attempt yet to export overseas a full-fledged American liberal arts university.

02 / LinkedIn >>

For developing LinkedIn’s Career Explorer, which offers users career path recommendations that are tailored to their interests and based on the real paths of professionals with similar profiles. CEO Reid Hoffman is also actively involved in the national conversations surrounding the future of education, and envisions his company as a 21st century diploma.

03 / Khan Academy

For building a collection of more than 1,800 short, simple video lectures and chalkboard demos that cover everything from math to physics to economics. The brain behind these web tutorials: Sal Khan, a 33-year-old Harvard MBA who developed the project out of his closet. Now, with Gates Foundation funding, he’s taking his adaptive learning system to classrooms.

04 / Discovery Education

For leading the way in the digital learning movement by making video-based content that reaches more than half of all U.S. schools, including 1 million teachers and 35 million students. The company developing digital math and science curricula for public school students in Chicago and Detroit.

05 / Togetherville

For creating a social network built on top of Facebook for kids, families, and teachers that allows them to express their thoughts on educational issues. Roughly 90,000 U.S. schools are already included in its database.

06 / Autodesk Sustainability Workshop

For teaching mechanical engineers (for free) the principles behind sustainable design. The workshop is the brainchild of designer Dawn Danby, who has worked on furniture, urban planning, and retail systems projects.

07 / OpenStudy

For building a social learning network where students can ask questions, offer help, and connect with other students studying similar topics. Its mission is to make the world one large study group, regardless of students’ locations or backgrounds.

08 / Irynsoft

For providing the first basic mobile platform that allows users to take a course on their iPhone. It has already been adopted by MIT Open CourseWare.

09 / Straighterline

For developing an online for-profit college where the first year costs $999.

10 / Inigral

For creating Facebook apps that help students stay in college by connecting them to a community of students who share their interests. Inigral also received the first-ever venture investment from the Gates Foundation.

Top 10 Most Innovative Design Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Design Companies. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Stamen Design »

For clever ways of delivering both bountiful information and surprising beauty gleaned from data sets — and Twitter.

02 / Local Projects.

For showing how digital design can create powerful emotional experiences.

03 / Hoefler & Frere-Jones

For creating brilliant typefaces used in everything from presidential campaigns to stock tables.

04 / Berg

For tackling design challenges, from iPad apps to RFID tags, as if they were science experiments.

05 / Fuseproject

For proving that great commercial design can be used to underwrite great philanthropic design.

06 / ideo

For opening its own innovation processes to the world.

07 / Ammunition

For cutting-edge consumer electronics that still have soul.

08 / Pentagram

For graphic design that sets a new standard, for old-school books as well as newfangled animated logos.

09 / Michael Van Valkenburgh

For transforming rotting docks and wastewater facilities into enchanting environments.

10 / Studio Dror

For melding visual poetry and practical multitasking in products, interiors, and architecture.

Top 10 Most Innovative Architecture Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Architecture. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Snøhetta >>

For design that’s both social and beautiful that blurs the lines between architecture and landscape. Snohetta’s buildings are notable for their “architecture of engagement,” in which the social experience of the structure is as important as its form.

02 / BIG

For winning high profile commissions and international accolades–a feat given the firm’s small size–thanks to the work of its Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. The studio has designed Denmark’s much-lauded pavilion for the Shanghai Expo, put the final flourishes on the Figure 8 House in Copenhagen, unveiled a pyramid-shaped residential tower for Manhattan, and knocked off the competition for a waste treatment facility in Denmark by envisioning the unglam building as the site of an urban ski slope.

03 / Foreign Office Architects

For its bold vision for the digital media education center at Ravensbourne College, which defines the school as a machine for learning by melding departments, rethinking the function of classrooms, and incorporating social media into design.

04 / Sanaa

For Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s ability to design properties that meld light, transparency, and materiality into ethereal spaces. These winners of the 2010 Pritzker Architecture prize designed the acclaimed New Museum in New York and the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. Next up: a new branch of the Louvre.

05 / REX

For transforming the abandoned skeleton of an unfinished hotel in Istanbul into the Vakko Fashion Center and Power Media Center, a significant new addition to Turkey’s contemporary architectural landscape. Joshua Prince-Ramus’s firm also won accolades in 2010 for designing the Wyly Theater in Dallas, the Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo, and the Finnish Innovation Funds’ Low2No sustainable development in Helsinki

06 / Michael Maltzan

For scoring tony commissions, such as designing Michael Ovitz’s house, while also tackling less glamorous work by by providing shelter and other accommodations for the poor in Los Angeles. Over the past 16 years, Maltzan has also worked on several housing projects and designed an arts complex for underprivileged children.

07 / Kengo Kuma

For developing a signature style that uses light and nature to reinterpret the design of traditional buildings. Kengo Kuma’s big win in 2010 was beating out an array of the globe’s heaviest architecture hitters to create a new landmark building for the Victoria and Albert Museum in Dundee, Scotland.

08 / T.R. Hamzah & Yeang International

For going beyond the usual LEED guidelines and broadcasting the green credentials of the buildings the firm designs by wrapping them in continuous strips of vegetation. Next up for thei Malaysian firm: a 26-story high-rise in Singapore whose photovoltaic panels, natural ventilation, and biogas generation plant are all wrapped in a “living wall” that covers half of its surface area.

09 / Moshe Safdie

For having a banner year, despite the difficult economic climate for architecture, and for debuting projects from Singapore to Arkansas. His most recent commission: a large residential tower in China.

10 / Diebedo Francis Kere

For doing innovative architecture projects in his native Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Among them: using traditional unbaked mud bricks to rebuild a school.

Top 10 Innovative Companies in Brazil

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Brazil. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Azul >>

For converting bus riders into frequent fliers. Brazilian-born David Neeleman, founder of Jet Blue, brought the low-cost airline model to his home country and tweaked it to fit its nuances. About a quarter of the flights cost less than the same trip on the bus–and passengers without credit cards or with low credit limits can pay by direct bank withdrawal or in installments.

02 / Ambev

For leading the merger that formed the world’s largest brewer. When Belgian brewer Interbrew teamed up with this company to form Inbev, the boys from Brazil quickly initiated takeovers of giants such as Anheuser-Busch and Burger King. Ambev, best known for its signature beer brands Skol, Brahma, and Antártica, as well as the wildly popular soft drink Guaraná Antártica, is the conglomerate’s Latin American property and operates in 14 countries.

03 / Petrobras

For becoming the world leader in ultra-deepwater drilling. While many oil majors were content to skim the easy stuff when oil was cheap in the roaring ’90s, Petrobras invested heavily in bluewater oil deposits, using cutting edge seismic sonar to find oil and developing innovative rigs, pipes, and pumps to retrieve it from the ocean bottom. It now controls 14 ultra deepwater rigs worldwide. It’s also the sole operator in Brazil, where massive reserves of oil were recently found buried off the Atlantic coast.

04 / Osklen

For designing clothing that’s both chic and sustainable. To manufacture its chic sportswear, the company has experimented with everything from handmade silk to leather from sweet water fish to latex from the Amazon. The clothier now touts store in five countries; its second U.S. outlet opened in South Beach in 2010.

05 / Embrapa

For pioneering innovations in tropical agriculture. In 2010, Embrapa employed traditional techniques to boost vitamin content in banana, beans, corn, manioc, and squash. It also used gene splicing to increase disease resistance in papaya and beans, and up the energy content of sugar cane, Brazil’s ethanol source. Recently, Embrapa launched a Brazil-Africa partnership to share agricultural technology.

06 / Gerdau

For responding with speed and smarts to shifts in the market for steel. The most international of Brazil’s steelmakers doubled down during the recession, investing $750 billion in new plants and modernization and rescaled production to concentrate on supplying emerging markets in Asia and Latin America, which continue to grow as the richest countries struggle.

07 / Natura

For growing a green empire with Brazilian flora. Brazil’s largest beauty and personal care products company relies on local plants for its cosmetics and personal care products, uses recycled materials in its packaging, and supports environmental projects in the country.

08 / Embraer

For challenging the outsourcing model in the aviation industry. The brainchild of Brazilian engineering geeks and military technocrats, Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica, better known as Embraer, “stood the outsourcing model on its head,” in the words of emerging market analyst Antoine van Agtmael, by importing the world’s best avionics parts and ginning them to a flying machine designed by Brazilians, instead of Boeing or Airbus.

09 / Metalfrio Solutions

For identifying and exploiting a profitable niche. While larger electronics and white goods manufacturers dominate world markets by offering a broad range of products, Metalfrio decided to pour its efforts and R&D into one good thing: plug-in refrigerators, coolers, and freezers for business establishments.

10 / Solar Ear

For making hearing aids affordable. Two-thirds of the world’s 600 million hearing-impaired people live in poor countries, but the batteries that run most hearing aids cost $1 and last less than two weeks. Recognizing this problem, retired Canadian appliance dealer Howard Weinstein developed the world’s first digital solar-powered rechargeable hearing aid, which costs a fifth the price of standard equipment. His Sao Paulo-based not-for-profit, whose employees are all hearing-impaired, now ships to 30 countries.

Top 10 Innovative Gaming Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Gaming. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Zynga >>

For dominating–and monetizing–the social-gaming industry. The largest social-games developer in the world touts hundreds of millions of monthly active users on FarmVille, Treasure Isle, Zynga Poker, Mafia Wars, and more. But what’s truly innovative is its all virtual-goods revenue model: By creating immersive, addicting games, Zynga has roped gamers into paying real money for make-believe “virtual” goods that let them move up in the games or to give their friends gifts. Although small, those numbers add up: Zynga is already profitable, and it’s valued at more than $7 billion.

02 / Apple >>

For developing the year’s most successful new gaming platform: the iPad. The tablet has not only sold more than 7 million units since its April debut (and will generate countless more with this month’s iPad2 launch), but also fostered all sorts of new mobile-gaming innovation: Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, Enigmo, etc. Apple also made a serious–and smart–move into social-gaming with September’s launch of Game Center, a mobile platform that gives multiple users the ability to play on the same app in real time.

03 / Microsoft >>

For developing the controller-free Kinect. Microsoft wowed with several creations in the past year–a better Bing, the Windows Phone 7–but we’re more impressed by what it destroyed: the relevancy of remote controls. Using an assortment of sensors, its hands-free Kinect for Xbox 360 console, which launched in October, reads human voice commands, facial cues, and gestures in the real world (e.g., a punch), and then responds accordingly on-screen (e.g., a video-game knockout). To date, the gaming hit has sold more than 10 million units–more than enough to kick-start its transformation into a full-fledged entertainment platform. Among the forthcoming features: content from Netflux and Hulu Plus, as well as avatars-only virtual worlds for Microsoft’s 30 million Xbox Live subscribers.

04 / Valve

For creating Steam, a global digital distribution platform that’s quickly becoming iTunes of the gaming industry. Every day, more than six million global unique gamers access the Steam Web app to buy one or more of its 1,200-plus titles, which include computer and videogame blockbusters such as Valve’s own Half LifePortal, and Left 4 Dead. Steam launched in 2006, but in the past year alone, it introduced support for Mac titles and grew its userbase to roughly 30 million accounts.

05 / Facebook >>

For developing the biggest social-gaming platform on the planet. Facebook’s 600 million-plus users have logged thousands of hours playing the likes of Zynga’s CityVille (93 million monthly active users) and Popcap’s Bejeweled Blitz (11 million monthly active users). With September’s launch of Facebook credits–effectively giving the network its own currency–the social-networking titan is also poised to drive the growth of the multibillion-dollar virtual-goods market.

06 / IBM >>

For its audacious move into serious games. In October, IBM released CityOne–dubbed by bloggers as “SimCity for the real world”–which is the most robust effort to date to solve real-world problems with a game. The free, interactive app targets business leaders, city planners, and government agencies, and touts more than 100 crisis scenarios that require the application of new technologies–most developed and sold by IBM, of course–to create more efficient water use, lessen traffic congestion, and develop alternative-energy sources. IBM’s serious-games initiative also extends to education: Students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities around the world tap another IBM sim called Innov8 to practice running virtual businesses.

07 / Rovio

For developing Angry Birds, which has easily been the year’s biggest mobile-gaming success story. Since its December 2009 debut, the app–which has users catapult birds to knock down assorted obstacles–has been downloaded more than 30 million times. To capitalize on its own phenomenon, Rovio is launching a line of plush toys, and execs are in talks about a TV/movie deal.

08 / Emotiv Systems

For pioneering the thought-controlled gaming genre. In December 2009, the company unveiled its first commercial product, the EPOC headset, which plugs into a USB port and makes it possible for specially designed computer apps to be influenced by the player’s mind and facial expressions. Emotiv recently launched an EPOC app store that now features 7 offerings, including a “Cortex Arcade” game that lets users control Pong paddles with their mind.

09 / Scvngr

For turning everyday life into a game. Building on the “check-in” system popularized by Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places, this mobile app offers an array of challenges emphasize real user activity. “Fear Factor,” for example, gives restaurant patrons points for photographing their food from an odd angle to make it look unappetizing. Since the Google-backed startup’s May launch, it has secured 1,000 corporate customers–including 7-11, Coca-Cola, and AT&T–and logged more than 1 million downloads of its iPhone and Android apps.

10 / Nexon

For being the only Asian virtual-goods giant to make inroads in the United States. The company’s online games, including Maple Story (more than 90 million players worldwide) and Combat Arms, are bigger than World of Warcraft. Today, more than 30,000 retailers–including Target, Blockbuster, and Walmart–sell prepaid cards with Nexon’s virtual currency.

Top 10 Innovative Music Companies

Here’s Fast Company‘s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Music. What do you think? Are these companies worthy of the list? Which companies should or should not have made the cut?

01 / Pandora »

For taking personalized music on the road. Last year, Pandora founder Tim Westergren settled into his groove, making it clear his music discovery engine had no interest in playing Spotify and Rhapsody’s web-based game. His target? Radio: terrestrial and satellite. Pandora has more than 80 million listeners for its personalized streaming music service, and it dominates the mobile market (the Pandora app is on more than 20 million iPhones), peeling off more than 2% of all terrestrial radio listeners. Overall, Pandora is available for at least 200 unique devices now, from Blu-ray players to flat-screen TVs. Next up: filing for an IPO.

02 / Coca-Cola

For building a $300 million, 160-country World Cup campaign–it’s biggest ever–around the Somali-born pop star K’Naan. The deal went so well that it redefined the way that Coke works with content providers.

03 / Big Champagne

For creating a pop chart that factors in YouTube views, social media mentions, and more–an important addition in an age when it seems like more people watch Lady Gaga on YouTube than listen to her records.

04 / Arcade Fire

For pushing the limits of HTML5 and interactivity in its “We Used to Wait For It” video to create a personalized viewing experience. Fans can enter an address of the home they grew up in, and the video uses shots from Google Maps and Street View to make the song and the video about them. Arcade Fire also partnered with YouTube to livestream one of its concerts.

05 / Terra.com

For proving that the music industry can still be profitable. Terra runs Sonora, a.k.a. the Spotify of Brazil, which offers free streaming music across virtually any platform. (There are already at least 2 million tracks from major and indie label artists.) And the annual Planeta Terra festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil has become an ongoing experiment in sustainability.

06 / Hello Music

For being an A&R company that values artistry over business. When aspiring artists submit music, Hello Music promises that a team of music-industry experts, who have all been musicians, will listen to every piece of it. Then, they’ll provide a free profile highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Based on that, Hello Music also determines how–if at all–artists might turn their art into business, making money off of what it calls a “river of pennies,” a.k.a. small cuts from all of the deals it secures.

07 / Converse

For advancing the “branded” record label. At Converse Rubber Tracks, an in-development studio in Brooklyn, artists will get free recording time in exchange for agreeing to do future promotions with Converse. The shoe titan is not looking for revenue from the songs themselves–artists will actually keep ownership rights–but it is hoping to gain access to on-the-verge bands, which will generate goodwill down the road.

08 / Sonos

For building a modern, affordable wireless sound system that integrates with computers, portable music players, and Web apps (Napster, Rhapsody, Spotify)–and sounds great, too.

09 / Songbird

For creating an open-source music listening/organizing platform that can be customized–think new colors, layouts, skins, etc.–into something way more personal than iTunes.

10 / Weezer

For customizing its own business through unusual record and marketing deals–and still producing great music.