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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 media, design, and consumer goods companies.
The COVID-19 pandemic blasted online education years into the future, and exposed its many challenges. At a time when educators and parents alike are still grappling with school disruptions and learning loss, this year’s most innovative education companies sought to supplement traditional schooling and democratize access to education.
Some of these companies, like Duolingo and Coursera, which pioneered online learning, are expanding their reach into new markets with a slate of offerings targeted at moving higher education online. Others are offering a new spin on more conventional modes of instruction, from music education app Trala, which teaches students to play the violin using algorithms that analyze pitch and tone, to Maven, an online course platform designed to allow creators to monetize their expertise. Meanwhile, companies like Lovevery and A Kids Company About are enhancing early childhood education with fresh takes on low-tech toys and topical board books. And the test prep platform Sketchy is supporting a new generation of healthcare workers through years of training, while the publishing giant Pearson is making it cheaper—and easier—for college students to access textbooks through a digital subscription model.
For empowering creators to monetize their expertise as courses
Founded in 2020 by Udemy cofounder Gagan Biyani and partner Wes Kao, cofounder of altMBA, Maven lets creators and influencers monetize their skills and knowledge through online courses that emphasize real-time, peer-to-peer learning, rather than the more common asynchronous model of online courses. Maven further distinguishes itself amid the booming online course market by requiring its instructors to take a class in cohort-based teaching and how to recruit people to sign up. It also has focused mostly on trending topics such as crypto and thriving in the creator economy, for which there are few, if any, courses. Since Maven’s official launch in 2021, the innovative startup’s bet on cohort-based learning already seems to be paying off: Some instructors on the platform earned more than $100,000 from a single cohort last year, with one course’s revenue crossing $700,000. Maven, which takes 10% of a creator’s earnings, raised $20 million in 2021 in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz, which has heavily invested in other creator-based platforms like Substack.
Maven is No. 48 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2022.
For translating its language-learning app to test English proficiency
Over the last decade, Duolingo has become the most popular education app in the world, with more than 500 million downloads. In 2021, the gamified language learning platform made its public market debut in a $521 million IPO. It also logged a record high of nearly 42 million monthly users and 2.2 million subscribers who pay for Duolingo’s ad-free premium tier, doubling its paid subscriber base since the start of the pandemic. Revenue for 2021 was $250.8 million, up 55% from $161 million in 2020. The company is also looking beyond its core product as it grows: Duolingo’s English proficiency test is now accepted by more than 3,000 higher education institutions globally and widely used for job applications and work visas. Duolingo is also expanding beyond online courses for language learning with an English literacy app for young kids that launched in 2020 and a math app that’s in development.
For helping Indian businesses and universities invest in online learning
Coursera has seen explosive growth during the pandemic, doubling its user base to 92 million and going public in one of the biggest education IPOs of 2021. The online education giant attracted a host of new enterprise customers last year, generating $415.3 million in 2021 revenue (41% growth over 2020) with enterprise revenue growing 70% to $120 million. But its most notable expansion in 2021 was international: Coursera now has more than 12.5 million users in India, its second largest market, where the company has forged new partnerships with prestigious universities such as the Indian Institute of Technology and major businesses such as Reliance Industries Limited. Coursera has also rolled out a revenue-sharing model that allows universities to make more money from Coursera classes in exchange for scaling their online degree programs and bringing in more revenue overall.
For making textbooks more affordable—and less biased
Perhaps best known as a textbook publisher, Pearson has heavily invested in digital textbooks and online education offerings. In 2021, 70% of Pearson’s higher-education revenue came from digital products, up from 50% four years prior. The company recently launched Pearson+, an e-textbook platform for college students that uses a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription model. Pearson+ rolled out across college campuses in the United States last fall, with eventual plans to expand globally. Pearson has also issued editorial guidelines to help address racial bias and other blind spots in textbooks, such as removing “master” and “slave” terminology from engineering texts that cover electrical circuitry.
For adding rosin to the bow of online music instruction
Trala was founded in 2017 with the goal of making music education more affordable and accessible, particularly for adult learners who are new to the violin or picking it up again after years. Beyond just pairing violin students with teachers and providing online tutorials, Trala has developed innovative signal-processing algorithms that can give students immediate feedback on their pitch and rhythm as they practice. It seems to be finding an audience: The app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times across 193 countries. Trala raised a new round of funding in December from Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and other tech executives at companies like Airbnb, LinkedIn, and Coinbase—bringing its total funding to nearly $7 million. The company’s growing profile also helped secure a major partnership in 2021 with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, who will build out its curriculum and create content for the platform.
For creating low-tech toys to support early childhood development
Lovevery proves education companies don’t have to be high-tech to be innovative. It has drawn more than 220,000 subscribers with its popular low-tech toys and subscription play kits that are tailored to support every stage of a baby’s brain development. In 2021, Lovevery sent out more than 1 million play kits. The company debuted a Montessori Playshelf ($400) that encourages toy rotation as well as an app to help advise and support parents. It also introduced a line of toys at Target, to make its products more accessible to all parents, with prices ranging from $9 for its Montessori Sensory Ball to $141 for its play gym. Following a recent $100 million funding round that included repeat investors like Google Ventures and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Lovevery is valued at $800 million.
7. A Kids Company About
For building a topical kids’ multimedia brand
A Kids Company About got its start in 2019 by publishing zeitgeisty books that sought to make societal issues digestible for school-age kids—and help parents broach tough conversations about racism, sexual abuse, and gender identity. With a $7 million funding round and rebrand in 2021, the Black-owned media brand has significantly expanded and now caters to kids of all ages with an innovative collection of board books, a podcast network with shows about climate justice and activism, and a streaming platform positioned as something of a MasterClass for children and teenagers. Nearly half of A Kids Company About authors are from underrepresented groups. The company recently added to its diverse lineup of authors by partnering with former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton on a new title, A Kids Book About Imagination.
For taking the pain out of test prep
Sketchy was created by and for medical students who face the daunting task of studying for licensing exams, by using innovative visual aids and storytelling to increase retention and reduce burnout. Following a $30 million funding round, Sketchy invested in multiple new programs in 2021, expanding beyond study materials for medical school. Sketchy now provides study aids to students in pharmacy school and physician assistant programs, along with MCAT prep. Since launching in 2013, the company has helped 300,000 students become doctors and is reportedly now used by 77% of all medical students in the U.S. In 2021, Sketchy’s monthly revenue grew by 70% year over year; in August alone, 5,500 students signed up for Sketchy, a 25% increase from August 2020.
For turbocharging tutoring with AI
The South Korea-based startup Riiid uses artificial intelligence to help students worldwide improve their performance on critical tests. The company started with tools to help people in non-English-speaking countries, such as South Korea and Japan, succeed on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) to gain admittance to English-language universities. Last October, Riiid formally launched its innovative tutoring app, which does an initial assessment of a user’s proficiency through 10 preliminary queries to predict test performance and then recommends a personalized curriculum to address their weaknesses. The company expanded its purview throughout 2021, partnering with online education platforms in Brazil, Colombia, and the Middle East to assist users with college entrance exams. Riiid has tutored more than 3 million students, and according to the company’s user data, the average TOEIC test score rises by 165 points out of a possible 990 with the help of Riiid’s app.
For supporting school districts as they reopened
PowerSchool, which provides K-12 education software to support more than 45 million students, has been both the acquirer and acquisition target since it was founded way back in 1997. In 2021, after a series of purchases—including Naviance, which is widely used to evaluate college and career readiness—PowerSchool launched a new version of Unified Classroom, a comprehensive suite of products that now fully integrates the company’s learning management and student information platforms, streamlining how schools and teachers oversee everything from attendance and student performance data to accommodations for students with special needs. PowerSchool has inked statewide contracts in Texas and nearly 30 other states and provinces across North America. Last summer, the company went public at a valuation of more than $3 billion and in 2021 it generated $558.6 million, a 28.4% year-over-year increase from 2020’s total of $434.9 million.