For the second year, Fast Company is recognising organisations that have created cultures enabling employees at all levels—not just top executives, computer scientists, or researchers—to innovate. We’ve expanded the list from 50 to 100 companies, schools, and nonprofits of all sizes, from SōRSE Technology, a 30–person startup, to Siemens, a 173-year-old conglomerate employing nearly 400,000 people worldwide. We’re also introducing a whole new category to this year’s list, having invited companies to nominate internal groups for recognition as Innovative Team of the Year.

These companies share a commitment to unlocking the potential of creative individuals and diverse teams. Black & Decker’s “Innovation Everywhere” program nurtured an executive assistant’s idea for eliminating $1 million in spending on records maintenance, while software company SAS pairs employees with nonprofits to jointly solve social challenges. “There’s never been a greater need for innovation than in the face of today’s mounting challenges,” says Paul Daugherty, group chief executive of technology and CTO at Accenture, one of our expert judges. (Accenture served as Fast Company’s research partner for the list.) As much of the world recovers from health, economic, and social crises, there seems no better time to recognise workplaces that spend on technology and R&D and invest in their people. —Stephanie Mehta

01

ALSAC/St.Jude
Memphis

Since its founding, in 1957, by entertainer Danny Thomas, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) has raised money to fund St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, helping to drive the survival rate of childhood cancer patients from 20% to 80%. A few years ago, a young developer at ALSAC named Zach Whitten suggested tapping into the gaming industry to raise money. Backed by ALSAC president and CEO Richard Shadyac, Whitten created a fundraiser that brought in $500,000 its first year. Since 2014, the annual Play Live program has raised more than $26 million by inviting competitive gamers from around the world to raise small donations from followers during live-stream events. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more generous and caring community than gamers,” says Whitten, now an ALSAC director of innovation.

The organisation has an Innovation Department (ALSAC staff have used virtual reality to create a St. Jude Hall of Heroes display and augmented reality to enhance storytelling around St. Jude patient journeys) and a Digital and Innovation Advisory Council, consisting of executives from top companies, including PayPal, Facebook, and Hulu.

“My colleagues and I go to Google,  to Facebook, to Salesforce, to Amazon, and immerse ourselves in their culture,” Shadyac says. Top companies might want to begin scheduling their own field trips to Memphis to study ALSAC’s bottoms-up success with innovation.

04

Dell Technologies
Round Rock, TX

Last year, more than 40,000 of the computer giant’s employees participated in 13 employee resource groups across 60 countries, and through a program called Project Immersion, Dell employees can also lead courses at select historically Black colleges and universities. Each year, the company honors outstanding contributors along its supply chain during its Innovation Olympics. 

06

Sonatype
Fulton, MD

The open-source software development company encourages employees to take one day every other week to work on a passion project—more than half of Sonatype’s products began as “innovation day” experiments. Employees can also take advantage of biannual hack-o-­vations, forming small teams to devote an entire week to developing a new idea. Last year, the company launched Sonatype Labs, an internal think tank and incubator focused primarily on open-source security.

08

4G Clinical
Wellesley, MA

Small and nimble, clinical trials company 4G Clinical moves quickly to leverage technology to expedite medication for FDA approval. When the coronavirus hit, the team pivoted to focus on delivering drugs to step up clinical trials. “Starting in mid-March, we have been at the forefront of getting trials directly to people’s homes,” says founder and CEO David Kelleher. “When COVID-­19 hit, we acted fast.” 

09

Coursera
Mountain View, CA

During the first quarter of every fiscal year, employees at any level at online learning platform Coursera propose ideas to grow the company’s revenue. At 2019’s “Hypergrowth” session, Mario Chamorro, then running the company’s operations in Spain, suggested Coursera focus on the Latin American market. Chamorro was given a small team to carry out his plan. Later that year, the team closed the biggest sale in the company’s history and has grown to 11 people, and the number of Coursera customers in the region has increased by 50%.

02

Google
Mountain View, CA

Whether its famous “20% rule” ever actually existed has become a matter of some debate, but there’s no arguing that Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation (including “Aim to be ten times better,” “Ship and iterate,” and “Fail well”) spawned such high-profile products as Google News, Google Alerts, and Google Maps Street View.  The relentless focus on innovation that turned Google into the world’s leader in web services is now driving its recent breakthroughs in quantum computing.

03

Johns Hopkins University Apl
Baltimore

The state-of-the-art research facility is the kind of place where a random conversation between barely acquainted colleagues led them to enter an internal multidisciplinary innovation competition dubbed MOSH PIT, combining research into navigational planning in brains with autonomous robotic swarms. After winning the competition to earn funding, the researchers scored a grant from the National Science Foundation to help advance the field of swarming technology.

05

BOSTON SCIENTIFIC
Marlborough, MA

In 2019, the medical device company launched 87 new products, including a revolutionary single-use duodenoscope developed by a 150-person team of internal engineers and clinical experts. According to the FDA, greater than 5% of reusable scopes are contaminated with pathogens that can cause fatal infections.
“The team was huge,” says executive vice president Dave Pierce, “and the investment significant. We were lucky to have the resources to put against this.  You can’t do it on a shoestring.”

07

Alibaba
Hangzhou, China

There is plenty of room for small-team innovation at the largest mobile and commerce company in the world. In 2017, Tmall, the largest B2C e-commerce platform in China, launched a retail innovation division called the Tmall Innovation Centre. This past year, TMIC partnered with global food brand Mondelez to create snack packs specifically for the Chinese market. The product development cycle was only 130 days—less than half the industry average.

10

Aetion
New York

The healthcare technology company uses data and predictive modeling to answer questions about how certain treatments will affect different sectors of the population. The company has a separate labs team completely focused on innovation. The labs team, says CEO Carolyn Magill, “makes sure that our scientists have time to do research with academic partnerships to support the latest thinking, and participate in peer-reviewed research.”

11 / Stripe – San Francisco

The online payments company has become a dominant player in less than
a decade by continuing to create elegant solutions its clients love.

12 / Abbott – Abbott Park, Il

The company invests in educational programs for employees at all levels, including STEM internships for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

13 / Microsoft – Redmond, Wa

Under CEO Satya Nadella, the company has been investing more heavily in innovation around AI, apps, and devices such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

14 /AARP – Washington, D.C.

Employees can opt into AARP’s Innovation Champ training to work on new startups. Winners of pitch competitions get a six-month stint in the company’s Innovation Labs.

15 / HP – Palo Alto

A new, 150,000- square-foot 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Centre of Excellence will serve as one of the world’s largest research facilities in the field.

16 / U.S. Air Force – Las Vegas

Innovation division AFWERX uses networks to locate, partner with, and fund civilian collaborators to solve engineering challenges.

17 / Figma – San Francisco

The small design-software startup holds staff-wide “Maker Weeks” twice a year.

18 / Amazon – Seattle

Last year, the company pledged more than $700 million to retrain a third of its workforce.

19 / Ørsted – Gentofte, Denmark

This Dutch energy company hosts a two-year, paid graduate program that sets students up with company mentors.

20 / Diageo North America – New York

The alcoholic beverage company’s accelerator unit works exclusively with its smaller brands.

21 / Salesforce – San Francisco

Salesforce Ventures has backed more than 300 enterprise cloud startups. Fifteen have since gone public, and 60 have been acquired.

22 / First Mode – Seattle

The engineering firm is employee-owned, and structured to spin out subsidiaries easily, so any employee with good ideas can reap the benefits of success.

23 / Doxel – Redwood city, CA

This AI construction technology company has a policy that lets any employee call meetings to explore ideas, regardless of seniority.

24 / Pfizer – New York

The drug giant is spinning out its existing consumer-facing businesses to become a “smaller, science–based company,” creating six specialised units.

25 /AKQA – Melbourne, Australia

Employee concern about deforestation led to research funding for a product that halts machinery in protected areas of the Amazon.

26 / Zebra Technologies – Lincolnshire, Il

The enterprise technology company submitted just under 600 invention concepts for patent consideration in 2019 alone.

27 / Centric Consulting – Dayton, Oh

An Internal Innovation Advisory Committee at this digital consulting firm guides employees through research, prototyping, and funding for promising projects.

28 / Nestlé USA – Arlington, Va

An Open Channel initiative lets any employee submit product ideas and, if selected, receive training to launch products.

29 / AbCellera – Vancouver

The company concentrates on cutting-edge research, partnering with larger drug companies to send early breakthroughs into commercial development.

30 / Bending Spoons – Milan

Employees at this app publisher establish their own work schedules and can enter into any number of (paid) innovation contests.

31 / Bayer AG – Leverkusen, Germany

The pharmaceutical giant offers funds and support to help any worker create solutions to problems in their work.

32 / Capital One – McLean, Va

Each year, the credit card company tests hundreds of ideas through its Innovation Labs.

33 / Bowery Farming – New York

The Modern Farmer Roundtables at this indoor agricultural company help farmers train for roles on the business side of the company.

34 / Webflow – San Francisco

The SaaS company encourages employees to dedicate 10% of their workweek to projects outside their main jobs.

35 / Ironclad – San Francisco

The digital contract platform hires specifically for women and people of colour.

36 / Ofinno – Reston, VA

Office structure and perks at the small software company encourage casual conversations that lead to new patents.

37 / Highline Beta – Toronto

The small Canadian VC/incubator hybrid is establishing a track record for funding employee ideas and spinning them out into their own companies.

38 / MRM – New York

Internal programs such as RapidVenture and Lab13 enable the Worldgroup agency’s employees to collaborate with clients in developing new products.

39 / RBC Ventures – Toronto

The Royal Bank of Canada created this subsidiary two years ago as a fintech laboratory, where some 200 employees test and develop new ideas.

40 / Genentech – South San Francisco

The original biotech company invests more than $11 billion annually in R&D and emphasises cross-functional collaboration that leads to frequent breakthroughs.

41 / T-Mobile – Bellevue, WA

The biannual Datapalooza is an internal innovation competition that most recently attracted 300 participants from 13 different U.S. offices.

42 / Vincit – Helsinki

To support a flat organisational structure, developers in the company’s Irvine, California, office created a leadership-as-a-service tool that provides real-time analytics.

43 / RS21 – Albuquerque

Employees mobilised to create the Urban Health Vulnerability Index in just five days, a free tool that identifies high-risk COVID-19 populations.

44 / Mastercard – Purchase, NY

A company-wide brainstorm resulted in the True Name card, allowing consumers to put the name that reflects their identity on their credit card.

45 / Bosch – Stuttgart, Germany

The 134-year-old automotive parts and power tool manufacturer has invested $33 billion in R&D over the past six years.

46 / Framery – Tampere, Finland

The privacy-pod company’s annual innovation festival is open to everyone, from the custodial staff to developers.

47 / Orchard – New York

By pairing tech and non-tech groups, the online real estate company creates collaborations that result in product breakthroughs.

48 / Etsy – Brooklyn

By migrating data to the cloud, the online marketplace was able to shift 15% of its engineering head count to customer experience and innovation.

49 / Mirvac – Sydney

The real estate firm’s Hatch innovation program funds internal ideas, like last year’s rent-to-buy initiative, the first of its kind in Australia.

50 / Iterate – Oslo, Norway

At the Norwegian consultancy, a summer intern’s master’s thesis evolved into Vake, which utilises machine learn—ing and satellite images to track ships in real time. 

51 / Siemens – Munich

The 173-year-old industrial software giant—the world’s largest—offers opportunities for employees at all levels to innovate.

52 / Regeneron – Tarrytown, NY

Learning from past failures expedited the biotech company’s REGN-EB3 Ebola therapy, and it’s now focusing on COVID-19.

53 / VIPKid – Beijing

The Chinese online learning company’s encouragement of ideas from every level leads to products like the “Mini Mighty Book Club.”

54 / Twilio – San Francisco

A bottoms-up approach to innovation spawns successful programs such as the Crisis Response and Prevention Initiative.

55 / Stanley Black & Decker – New Britain, CT

The industrial tool manufacturer’s Innovation Everywhere program enabled one executive assistant to elimi-nate $1 million in annual spending.

56 / Compuware – Detroit

The software company integrates its customers into innovation competitions; winning employee teams receive funding for new products.

57 / Turbonomic – Boston

The software company invests more than 30% of revenue in R&D, and pairs developers with non-tech employees.

58 / PayPal – San Jose

The online payments company continues to operate with an ethos of “everyone can innovate,” bearing fruit such as a new credit card reader made of recycled ocean plastic.

59 / World Food Programme – Munich

The innovation accelerator of the UN’s anti-hunger division connects humanitarian organisations with startups.

60 / DNAnexus – Mountain View

The DNA analytics company dedicates time each week for employees to explore new ideas, yielding breakthroughs like BigTop, a new VR presentation of data.

61 / SōRSE Technology  – Seattle

In pursuit of innovating new uses for CBD and THC oils, the small cannabis industry startup sends employees for additional training in food science.

62 / Space10 – Copenhagen

Ikea’s nonprofit innovation lab follows a “playful research approach” that results in projects like SolarVille, solar panels and microgrids that generate electricity in remote locations.

63 / CNN – Atlanta

CNN Digital’s emphasis on collaboration among different functional groups led to the breaking news platform CNN Live Story.

64 / Johnson & Johnson – New Brunswick

The world’s largest healthcare company has four innovation centers around the world, and last year invested more than $11 billion, or 13.4% of revenue, in R&D.

65 / Nvidia – Santa Clara, CA

The graphic processing unit pioneer’s Deep Learning Institute offers all employees access to hands-on training in AI and data science.

66 /Ansys – Canonsburg, PA

Last year, the simulation software company launched the CEO Innovation Awards, recognizing six employees with $10,000 prizes for breakthrough work.

67 / Chobani – Norwich, NY

The yogurt company’s new Innovation and Community Centre, at its Twin Falls, ID, campus has a 15,000-square-foot R&D facility and faith centre.

68 / Deere & Company – Moline, IL

The 183-year-old machinery manufacturer offers a pay plan that allows employees to share in the financial rewards of their innovations.

69 / SAP – Walldorf, Germany

At SAP.iO Venture Studio, employees cultivate ideas into full-blown ventures, such as Brilliant Hire, a platform that eliminates unconscious bias from recruiting. 

70 / PepsiCo – Purchase, NY

All employees can suggest and vote on a Big Idea, the winning team earning a $50,000 contribution to the nonprofit of its choice.

71 / Square Root – Austin

A company-wide cultural initiative called “Adventures in Empathy” yielded a product to assist retail field managers.

72 / Wongdoody – Seattle

The branding and consumer insights subsidiary of Infosys operates six technology and innovation hubs across the U.S.

73 / Lenovo – Beijing

The company behind the world’s first foldable PC runs an emerging businesses group to incubate employee ideas.

74 / Rippleworks – Redwood City

The nonprofit offshoot of cryptocurrency giant Ripple provides employees $2,000 a year for education.

75 / Arcadia – Washington, D.C.

Every employee at this software company is paired with a customer service rep, gaining insights to fix product issues.

76 / Citi – New York

The financial conglomerate encourages internal entrepreneurship through D10X, a program where employees build and launch new products and services.

77 / Motorola Solutions – Chicago

The company offers monetary awards to employees as their inventions pro-gress through the U.S. patent process.

78 / November Five – Antwerp, Belgium

The digital agency devotes an afternoon every month to internal “meetups,” four-hour team sessions designed to share knowledge across functions.

79 / GoDaddy – Scottsdale, AZ

The internet domain registrar and web-hosting company leverages employee ideas born during internal hackathons and through the Innovation Awards program.

80 / TE Connectivity – Schaffhausen, Switzerland

In 2019, the Swiss tech company filed more than 1,000 patents and earned approvals on about 1,300 more.

81 / AES Corporation – Arlington, VA

The electric power company’s 10-year strategic alliance with Google is driving research into how technology can improve power generation and distribution.

82 / Morgan Stanley – New York

The 85-year-old financial firm runs an annual Strategy Challenge that partners nonprofits with Morgan Stanley employees to solve organisational challenges.

83 / Inveon – Istanbul

The commerce-tech company operates an early-stage business accelerator and reinvests 35% of annual revenue in R&D.

84 / IBM – Armonk, NY

Last year marked the 27th straight year of U.S. patent leadership by IBM: 9,262 in fiscal 2019, with more than 1,800 related to artificial intelligence.

85 / Slack – San Francisco

Through its #papercuts channel, any employee at the workplace communications platform can offer solutions to customer bugs. 

86 / Workday – Pleasanton, CA

The enterprise software company hosts annual employee innovation weeks.

87 / Nottingham Spirk – Cleveland

The consultancy approaches every assignment with vertical integration, ensuring company-wide collaboration.

88 / Square – San Francisco

The mobile payment company’s flexible loan product, Square Capital, was born out of an internal hackathon.

89 / Blackbaud – Charleston, SC

The cloud computing company asks employees to de-vote the last Thursday of every month to a side project.

90 / Jump 450 – New York

This ad agency pays employees 50% of top-line revenues, resulting in compensation that’s 400% higher than average.

91 / SAS – Cary, NC

Its annual Social Innovation Summit teams employees with outside organisations to address problems such as climate change.

92 / Brex – San Francisco

Last year, at the fintech company’s “Brexathon,” five employees built the mobile app for Brex Cash in three days.

93 / The Variable – Winston-Salem

This management and advertising consultancy has seen four incubator-born products launch in its first
two years.

94 / DockYard – Hingham, MA

The company holds weekly “DockYard Days” for employees to focus on innovative projects.

95 / WillowTree – Charlottesville, VA

The app developer dedicates employee downtime to developing products for nonprofits.

96 / Shopify

Ottawa, Canada Employees at the e-commerce platform have access to confidential career coaching, with more than 6,000 sessions booked last year.

97 / Ripple – San Francisco

In response to an employee idea, the fintech company created the University Blockchain
Research Initiative, donating $50 million to 17 colleges for cryptocurrency and blockchain research.

98 / Daa – Dublin

Any employee at this airport authority can apply to the Future Factory, a 12-month, hands-on program that empowers its students to build innovative projects.

99 / Intel – Santa Clara, Ca

The chip manufacturer invested more than $13 billion in R&D last year, funding massive research groups, patents, and incubators.

100 / Avocados from Mexico – Irving, TX

This nonprofit marketing agency for Mexican avocado farmers developed a custom innovation workshop with Yale University.

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