When Luvo debuted on our Most Innovative Companies list in 2014, the startup had just recruited ex-Lululemon CEO Christine Day to lead its efforts to bring healthful, low-calorie meals to the arctic aisle. (Each of Luvo’s organic offerings is made with less than 2 teaspoons of sugar and less than 500 mg of sodium.) Luvo, now sold in more than 5,000 store locations, managed to double its sales within the past year—in part by attracting consumers to its mission. This past summer, Day recruited Seattle Seahawks quarterback and Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson as a brand ambassador and investor. (He joins Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin and longtime backer Derek Jeter, who also serves as brand development officer.) As part of the deal—based on a similar model Day created at Lululemon—Luvo will provide meals and nutrition education for Wilson’s Passing Academy youth football camp. “Our ambassadors are walking away from other big food endorsements and saying, ‘We want to make a difference,’ ” says Day.
Milestones: Since Luvo began selling its meals on Delta flights in 2013, the airline has been widely praised as one of the top domestic carriers for healthy food.
Challenges: The frozen-food industry has been declining as people seek fresher fare. Luvo must keep convincing customers that it’s more Whole Foods–on-ice than Hungry-Man dinners.
“Customers have become more educated. They’re reading food labels and rejecting preservative-laden food.”
— Christine Day, CEO, Luvo
Milestones: The company recently partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to offer free MBA courses.
Challenges: Though anyone can take the classes, only students who are enrolled in the university’s full iMBA program (tuition: $20,000) can get a degree.
Milestones: The Japanese gaming company surprised investors with its best first quarter since 2012, netting $9.3 million in profits. Sales were driven by the new Wii U game Splatoon.
Challenges: Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away unexpectedly in July, just as the company was solidifying its turnaround (which includes a foray into mobile gaming).
Milestones: In May, the eco-friendly engineering firm installed a test unit of its “air-bubble shield” in smog-ridden Beijing. (The device resembles a bus stop and filters up to 70% of pollutants.) The pilot could expand to more public spaces.
Challenges: The company’s plans to erect a new 500-acre Apple data center in Ireland have been met with opposition from locals concerned about its impact on area wildlife.
“Shoot allows you to send photos and videos directly between mobile devices, no matter what device you use or what network you’re on.”
— Erik Pounds, VP of product management at BitTorrent, via the company blog
Milestones: In its continued evolution into a legitimate file-sharing tool, BitTorrent has launched several apps based on Sync, its cloud-storage system, including Shoot, which allows mobile users to send media via QR codes. The company has also courted Hollywood, using its Bundle service to release two movies, David Cross’s Hitsand Spring by Drafthouse Films.
Challenges: In April, BitTorrent laid off more than a quarter of its domestic workforce to focus on Sync.
Milestones: Panera has joined the “clean eating” movement proselytized by companies like Chipotle: In May, the chain announced that it would remove at least 150 artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, and sweeteners from its menu by the end of 2016.
Challenges: The move could strain relations with big-brand suppliers like PepsiCo as Panera tries to wean patrons off soda.
Milestones: The L.A.–based advertising agency recently worked with Google to install a series of portraits of notable disability activists outside prominent Washington, D.C., buildings to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Challenges: Brooklyn artist Maya Hayuk is suing the ad agency and Starbucks, its client, for copyright infringement after the coffee company launched a campaign that featured art with a resemblance to her work.
“We are in a strong position in an otherwise competitive industry.”
— Anders Ronevad, CEO, Vestas
Milestones: With contracts pouring in from more than 70 countries across six continents, Danish turbine producer Vestas Wind Systems announced that its Q2 orders reached 2,467 megawatts (up from 1,750 in Q1), helping the company capture 37% of the market and eclipse competitors like GE and Siemens.
Challenges: After a protracted period of layoffs, including the exit of former CEO Ditlev Engel, Vestas has taken significant cost-cutting measures in an effort to bring down the price of its turbines.
“I think that ever since we started the company, there has always been acquisition interest.”
— Mike McCue, CEO, Flipboard, at the Mobile Beat 2015 conference
Milestones: After releas-ing a web app in February, the news-aggregation service announced a 75% surge in readership. Capitalizing on that success, the company raised $50 million from JPMorgan Chase in a series D round.
Challenges: Apple’s recent announcement of a revamped version of its Newsstand app, now shortened to News, may further fuel calls for Flipboard to consider acquisition by a larger company.
Milestones: In July, the 13-year-old San Francisco–based online clothier released its first in-house label (below). Modcloth also opened a pop-up shop in its hometown, a possible sign of more brick-and-mortar stores in the future.
Challenges: Following a drop in U.S. retail sales, the company weathered two rounds of layoffs in 2014.
A global push for online payments
In July, payment-processing startup Stripe announced it had signed both Visa and American Express as investors and allies in its mission to perfect the handling of online payments around the world.
“In order for us to stay at the forefront, it’s important to have partnerships and relationships with the card networks, to have direct access to the financial infrastructure that they provide,” says Stripe COO Billy Alvarado, who’s been with the startup since 2011.
“Part of the promise of the Internet is that your physical location should be largely irrelevant.”
— Patrick Collison, CEO, Stripe
The deal will enable Stripe—which, as of August, operated in 21 countries across four continents—to leverage its partners’ global networks to bring its software to more businesses. In return, it has helped American Express develop a buy button of its own, which allows customers to quickly make secure purchases across the web. A similar program may be in the works with Visa.
“The Internet is incredibly powerful in terms of being able to create a level playing field for people across the globe,” says Alvarado. “For us to be able to build that infrastructure is a very exciting proposition.”
Milestones: The company’s valuation reached $5 billion over the summer, thanks to investments from Visa, American Express, and Silicon Valley stalwarts Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital.
Challenges: The startup faces stiff competition from PayPal-owned Braintree, which handled $22.8 billion in payments in 2014.