FAST COMPANY: In a list normally dominated by scrappy startups, footwear giant Nike impressed the magazine with its FuelBand and FlyKnit Racer technologies.
In 2012, Nike's experimentation yielded two breakout hits. The first is the FuelBand, a $150 electronic bracelet that measures your movements throughout the day, whether you play tennis, jog, or just walk to work. The device won raves for its elegant design and a clean interface that lets users track activity with simple color cues (red for inactive; green if you've achieved your daily goal). Press its one button for a scrolling stock ticker of how many calories you've burned, the number of steps you've taken, and your total NikeFuel points, a proprietary metric of activity that Nike encourages you to share online. The FuelBand is the clearest sign that Nike has transformed itself into a digital force. "Nike has broken out of apparel and into tech, data, and services, which is so hard for any company to do," says Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.
The other innovation is the Flyknit Racer, featherlight shoes that feel more like a sock atop a sole. Created from knit threading rather than multiple layers of fabric, it required a complete rethink of Nike's manufacturing process. The result is a shoe that's more environmentally friendly and could reduce long-term production costs. "Flyknit could turn the [shoe] industry on its head," says Nike sustainability VP Hannah Jones.