The competition for Inc. magazine's 2018 Company of the Year was as intense as it gets. Not only did top contender Netflix announce--and largely pull off--its ambitious goal to produce 700 new titles this year, Lyft finally outmaneuvered its biggest rival, Uber, in one very important and growing segment, micromobility. Even so, this year's winner, Bird--which also happens to be dominating the world of micromobility--proved too tough to beat. 

Here are this year's top contenders and the most exciting companies around:

23andMe

Despite Anne Wojcicki's entrepreneurial pedigree--her sister is the CEO of YouTube--her genetic testing startup, 23andMe, had long been waylaid by one of the toughest federal regulatory bodies around: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. After nearly a four-year battle, 23andMe finally won approval to continue selling its genetic health tests. In 2018, the Mountain View, California-based company then received the first-ever FDA authorization for a direct-to-consumer genetic report for cancer. In genetic terms, it's like splicing a double helix. (Read, it's big.)

Lyft

Not only did the No. 2 ride-sharing company beat its biggest rival to the IPO punch--filing its confidential initial public offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week--Lyft also finally closed on its long awaited deal to acquire Motivate, a bike-sharing company with an estimated 80 percent of the U.S. market. Of course, the San Francisco company's valuation of $15 billion is dwarfed by Uber's estimated $120 billion valuation, should it go public in 2019, as expected.  

Allbirds​

Allbirds was the talk of the town this year. Not only were fans crowing over the comfort and quality of the San Francisco-based startup's shoes, it made headlines for its exotic materials--namely, merino wool, sugarcane, and eucalyptus tree fiber. Not quite like Nike, right? The founders say the company is committed to sustainable and renewable materials, and that focus is paying off. Allbirds grew to an estimated valuation of $1.4 billion in just two years. 

Tuft & Needle

The mattress wars take no prisoners. Phoenix's Tuft & Needle wasn't just a hit with customers; competitors also took a shine to the direct-to-consumer mattress retailer. In a merge reportedly worth half a billion dollars, Serta Simmons Bedding closed the deal with Tuft & Needle in September. With that backing--which amounts to around 40 percent of the mattress market--things are bound to get even more interesting.

Stripe

Stripe serves as the financial backend for more than 100,000 companies, ranging from mom-and-pop-shops to giants like Lyft and Facebook. That traction has helped the eight-year-old San Francisco-based fintech startup raise another $245 million in September, valuing the company at $20 billion. Stripe also launched a new entrepreneurship index in October that it hopes will help policy makers improve the landscape for entrepreneurs around the world.

Rogue Fitness

Former GM factory worker Bill Henniger loved CrossFit, but found setting up his own facilities cumbersome. He hit on a problem. And starting his own home gym-equipment distribution company was the solution. Rogue Fitness later grew to manufacture equipment as well. While estimated revenue in the millions is nothing to scoff at, the Columbus, Ohio-based business is also dedicated to its community--recently building a new headquarters, employing 500 people in a struggling downtown neighborhood.

Epic Games

In a given month, about 80 million people around the world log on to play Fortnite Battle Royale; the multiplayer shooter game has 125 million registered users. But that gaming craze isn't the most exciting thing about the Cary, North Carolina, company now valued at $15 billion. Epic Games is also the maker of the Unreal Engine, the technological backbone that's enabled developers around the world to create their own games. In 2016, Unreal developers had earned more than $10 billion in sales globally

Netflix

Netflix's reign as the ultimate industry disrupter is in tact. This year, not only did the DVD-subscription-service-turned-content-producing-juggernaut win two Academy Awards and 23 Emmys (the same number as HBO), but it also is within striking distance of its ambitious goal of producing 700 new titles in 2018. That audacity is expected to continue, as the Los Gatos-based company announced in October that it would release three films in theaters before making them available for streaming. 

InVision​

Winning the award for the most under-the-radar-yet-important company of 2018 is handily the New York City-based InVision. Not only is the visualization software used by 4.3 million people at thousands of companies, but Amazon's Jeff Bezos claims to be a daily user of the product as well. Who knew making rapid digital prototypes easily sharable would be so useful? 

Asana​

It was a banner year for Asana, a workplace productivity software company co-founded by Facebook alums Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein. The software helps users keep track of work projects' progress, priority status and more. Key partnerships with Slack and Microsoft Outlook helped the San Francisco-based company land a $50 million series E round at a $1.5 billion valuation. Asana also reached 50,000 paying customers this year.

WeWork

This was the year WeWork shrugged off its co-working moniker once and for all. Continuing its trend of launching into various industries, this year led to the New York City company launching a private school called WeGrow and a physical store called WeMrkt. Naturally, with that ever expanding portfolio of businesses and copious real-estate assets, WeWork has an unpredictable future ahead.

SoftBank

One of the biggest stories of the year is that of SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that Masayoshi Son founded as a software company in 1981. Through its $100 billion Vision Fund, SoftBank has become the largest tech investor in the world, widely (and deeply) funding some of today's biggest startups, from WeWork to Uber to Slack. But SoftBank has also found itself mired in major controversy due to its ties with the Saudi Arabian government, which is the Vision Fund's biggest backer-- and which has been engulfed by the scandal relating to the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Patagonia

Political activism is ingrained at outdoor outfitter Patagonia; the Ventura, California, company has given away some $90 million to environmental causes since 1985. But lately the brand has leaned further into its role as an "Activist Company." Patagonia regularly closes up shop on Election Day, but this year it convinced more than 400 other businesses to commit to giving employees the time and resources to vote. It also backed two political campaigns--and in a major move, it vowed to donate the entirety of the $10 million windfall it netted due to the tax cuts passed by Donald Trump in 2017.

Bird

Bird, the Santa Monica, California-based pay-by-the-minute e-scooter rental company, surpassed a $2 billion valuation in less than a year, making it the fastest startup in history to reach unicorn status. In the same amount of time, Bird hit over 10 million rides and landed in more than 120 cities across the world--all the while netting ample drama, from vandalism and theft, to scooter-related injuries and lawsuits, to getting banned in some cities. For all of this and its uncanny ability to flourish amid tough odds--Bird is Inc.'s Company of the Year.

Published on: Dec 10, 2018