Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative personal finance, security, and data science companies.
This year’s most innovative finance companies are using technology to automate operations, using capital to fight climate change, and using data to fight fraud and improve credit.
Ramp, a corporate card, gives companies personalized control over when and where employees spend their budgets and also flags items like duplicate expenses, helping companies save money. Spiff, which automates sales commissions, and FloQast, which automates accounting workflows, are also designed for CFOs and their teams.
To lower carbon emissions, GoodLeap provides financing to homeowners looking to electrify their homes with solar panels, batteries, and more. Hannon Armstrong, meanwhile, has quietly become an important player in financing large-scale carbon offset projects, like wind farms.
To combat e-commerce fraud, Forter takes a network-based approach, scanning transactions at brands including Nordstrom and Priceline to look for systemic patterns.
Esusu and Karat Financial are taking a nontraditional approach to credit. Esusu partners with landlords to count renters’ monthly payments toward their credit scores. Karat, a Y Combinator graduate, serves entrepreneurs in the creator economy by using their followers and other social metrics as inputs in its credit model. Then there’s Aon, which is helping companies properly value and insure their IP—in many cases, their most important asset.
For programming corporate expense rules down to the merchant level
Barely a year after its launch, Ramp is the fastest-growing corporate card in the United States. Its 2,000 enterprise customers—from the real estate broker Douglas Elliman to the creative agency Red Antler—use Ramp to consolidate corporate cards, expense management, bill payment, and more into one Slack-integrated platform. Ramp gives businesses the ability to build custom parameters into their cards, making it easy for its customers to keep costs in check and enforce expense policies. Last July, for example, Ramp became the first credit card able to program cards at the merchant level, so companies can either restrict a card’s use with specific vendors or to create an approved list of the only vendors where charges can be made. The company claims that one-third of its customers switched over from American Express, and 90% have adopted Ramp as their comprehensive spend-management platform. Ramp earns a fractional fee off every transaction, and when you’re talking about a card that hit $1 billion in annualized spend less than 15 months after launch, those tiny fees add up. Ramp completed its second and third funding rounds in February and August of 2021, raising a total of $415 million.
Ramp is No. 25 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.
For bounding from rooftop solar loans to efficient HVAC, geothermal heating, and more
GoodLeap, led by a former SolarCity executive, has become the country’s biggest rooftop solar financing provider in just three years by effectively serving as a bridge between homeowners, lenders, and installers. Last year, the company made more moves to gain traction in the $430 billion market for sustainable home upgrades in the United States. In June, GoodLeap announced that it was rolling out a slew of new products (resilient roofing, efficient HVAC, geothermal heating, and water-saving landscaping) onto its platform, enabling homeowners to bundle more projects into a single loan. The San Francisco-based company uses its own underwriting engine to expedite approval processes and provide homeowners with flexible payment plans, potentially expanding its pool of customers. Last July, GoodLeap announced its first securitization to include both residential solar and sustainable home improvement loans—$417 million worth. Sponsored by Credit Suisse affiliate Lime Residential, the move enhances GoodLeap securities, in the form of bundled loans, as attractive options for institutional investors seeking assets to add to their ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) portfolios. Before the end of the year, GoodLeap announced that it had funded over $10 billion in residential solar and sustainable home improvement projects, including $4.8 billion in 2021 alone.
GoodLeap is No. 30 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.
For being the anti-fraud bodyguard for e-commerce merchants
E-commerce fraud cost retailers more than $20 billion in 2021, in addition to creating headaches for consumers subject to account takeovers or identity theft. Forter helps its customers, which include Nordstrom, Asos, and Instacart, prevent fraud and protect the identities of more than a billion global shoppers through its AI-powered platform that focuses on individual consumer behavior patterns rather than rules that may wind up discriminating against certain kinds of consumers (such as those shopping from an area deemed “high crime.”) In March 2021, in partnership with Capital One, Forter launched Trusted Authorization, which gives merchants a direct connection with issuing banks and offering them access to Forter’s fraud insights, reducing false declines. Two months later, Forter extended its fraud-prevention platform to payment service providers (third-party companies like Stripe or Square that facilitate transactions between merchants and banks). The company also released two other new products for merchants last year, one aimed at protecting rewards programs from fraud, another to help spot abusive returns practices. Over the last 18 months, Forter has doubled the number of merchants in its global network—which represent more than $250 billion in annual online transactions—and increased annual revenue by 130%.
4. Hannon Armstrong
For betting on pro-climate returns
Hannon Armstrong is one of the largest and most established climate investors, with a portfolio worth $3.2 billion. Long before climate tech came into vogue, the firm has been backing projects in solar, wind, and other elements of green infrastructure that will reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience to climate change. Since 2013, Hannon Armstrong has delivered a 576% total return to its investors, and in 2021, the company made many significant new renewable energy investments, including $20 million in the Bluestone Solar project in Chase City, Virginia, and $62 million in Blackrock Wind Farm in West Virginia. Both projects aim to help diversify the energy economy of the region.
For unlocking the value of IP
Half a century ago, intangible assets, such as trademarks, patents, and licensing agreements, comprised less than 20% of the value of companies in the S&P 500; today, that bundle of rights accounts for 90%. Determining those values, though, can be fraught, not to mention a cumbersome drain on resources. In November 2020, the IP valuation division of Aon, the $64 billion market-cap insurance giant, released a new tool to streamline the process. The Quality of Intellectual Property (QoIP) platform helps deal teams accelerate their ability to construct clear and compelling IP-value narratives. The QoIP catalogs a company’s entire portfolio of patents, trademarks, trade secrets, brand assets, and so forth, highlighting protected valuable technologies and competitive advantages. Aon’s new service also predicts future revenue streams and benchmarks IP quality versus competitors. Last July, Aon constructed an IP insurance policy for Entrinsic Bioscience that enabled the biotech company to secure $49 million from Jefferies Group in non-dilutive capital, one of the seminal benefits of Aon’s solution. Shavelogic, an upstart men’s grooming brand, used a similar strategy to value its 150-plus patents, helping it raise $100 million in September 2021.
6. Relay Payments
For connecting supply chains with faster transactions
This past year has made alarmingly clear that our supply-chain infrastructure is in crisis. Relay Payments solves one piece of the puzzle, modernizing payment processes in a segment of the freight industry that has thus far lagged in its adoption of digital transactions. Focusing quite literally on where the rubber meets the road, the Atlanta-based company has developed an electronic payment system aimed at freight handlers, shippers, carriers, and third-party logistics companies. Relay’s platform enables rapid, secure, contactless transactions right at the shipping dock and has been embraced by key companies such as Coyote Logistics, Great Lakes Transport, Old Dominion Freight Line, and Southeastern Freight Lines. Relay doubled its number of clients this past year, and the platform is processing more than 250,000 transactions a month.
For automating the tedium of tracking sales commissions
As global business—and its patchwork quilt of tax regulations—gets ever more complex, paying out commissions has become a fraught process that pits sales teams against finance departments. Four-year-old Spiff automates commission payments, simplifying workflows for financial teams and helping sales reps get paid correctly and on time. In October 2021, the company released a top-to-bottom redesign of its flagship product, the Spiff Commission Designer, featuring an intuitive interface that resembles a typical spreadsheet but is backed with low-code/no-code automation and can pull in disparate info from across customer relationship management or enterprise resource-planning platforms. In 2021, Spiff nearly doubled its customer base and increased annual revenue by a multiple of four.
For being a CFO’s BFF before an IPO
FloQast enables controllers and their teams to automate workflows and prepare for audits—like Slack if it were just for accountants. Last year, the company introduced FloQast Ops, a workflow manager that enhances collaboration by increasing transparency across the accounting operation—accounts payable, sales, accounts receivable, compliance, and reporting—as well as ReMind, which enables accountants to automate the request and collection of information required to complete reports and audits. FloQast has 1,400 global customers, including Roblox, Sonos, and Zoom, and it has become an essential tool for companies preparing to go public. The company claims that it has helped 50 startups on their road to an IPO.
For boosting renters’ credit scores with every payment
Esusu, founded in 2018, creates financial tools designed to help the 45 million Americans it describes as “credit invisible,” meaning that they don’t have the kind of recurring payments such as student loans that traditionally build good credit. Last year Esusu introduced a new rent-reporting credit building tool: For an annual fee of $50, renters can opt in to have current and even their prior two years of rent payments reported to the credit bureaus. (If a renter is late on a payment, Esusu unenrolls them rather than sending information. Landlords can also choose to offer to pay the annual fee as an inducement to attract reliable strivers and fill empty units.) The company works with more than a third of the largest property managers in the United States. One of them, the Promise Homes Company, reported that 87% of its residents had improved their FICO scores by an average of 21 points. After successfully helping 2,300 Esusu users living in one of Related Companies’ affordable housing units, Related extended its relationship with Esusu last November, offering all 50,000 of its affordable-housing residents free reporting of on-time rent payments to the three major credit bureaus. That same month, Freddie Mac created incentives for more property owners to use Esusu, offering to pay closing costs on loans if they use Esusu. In January, the company raised a $130 million Series B, giving it a $1 billion valuation.
10. Karat Financial
For transforming a creator’s social followers into working capital
While working as a product manager at Instagram, Eric Wei kept encountering people running accounts who were generating healthy annual incomes through advertising and sponsorships but would fail to qualify for credit cards or would be refused apartments, because traditional banks didn’t understand their business as a digital creator. Wei and former banking analyst Will Kim founded Karat Financial to meet the unique financial service and wealth management needs of this emerging class, which is estimated to generate at least $20 billion in economic activity globally. Karat gives creators (who as of the end of 2021 have to be referred by an existing customer or apply) a credit card whose spending limit is determined in part by their social following. The Karat Black Card, which has become a cultural signifier among the creator class for Karat’s custom laser etchings, is a no-fee, interest-free credit card that offers 3% to 5% cash back on business-related purchases such as gaming or streaming equipment. (Karat generates revenue from merchant fees on cardholders’ purchases.) Karat reports that its average client has 1.8 million followers and annual income in excess of $500,000. It supports them with both a dashboard to track all their spending and data insights from its aggregated intelligence, such as sharing that its customers’ Instagram followers are worth 77 cents each, 10 times more than TikTok followers. Karat has also built out a financial literacy program that offers creators workshops on accounting basics, scaling their businesses, and whether they should be a limited liability corporation. It also has an on-staff certified financial planner for its customers. The company’s creators, who almost always cite that they had trouble getting credit with even card issuers focused on startups, include the DJ 3LAU, Twitch chess phenom Alexandra Botez, and real-estate influencer Graham Stephan; a dozen Karat holders earned a Streamy Awards nomination in 2021.