So we’re now officially reached the halfway point of the Fast Company Innovation Festival! If you missed out on our previous days recaps, check out day 1 and day 2.

We’ve been all over New York (literally), having thus far accumulated over 60,000 steps and have quickly become local experts on the subway (only getting lost twice). The quality of the participants continue to impress us. We heard from Pharrell Williams on the importance of companies not being afraid to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone. Universal Music Group on the evolution of the merchandise industry and importance of branding in an ever changing music industry. Restaurant booking app Resy, to understand how to bring frictionless retail and innovation into the restaurant industry. And visited Rebecca Minkoff’s Soho store to listen to her speak on the brand’s origins and how to perfect the investor pitch, and the lessons we can take from rejection.

The standouts of the day?

The Bowery Mission and Leesa

One of the Themes that has been coming up repeatedly from the companies we’ve visited is how the traditional profit model has changed. It’s not just about profits, rather business can be used as a force for good. Social innovation is now a key differentiator between brands and retailers who support social issues create more engaged customers.

But we often don’t get to see this benefit first hand, right?

Leesa produce and distribute luxury mattresses to consumers. Leesa’s mission (who are also a fellow Bcorp) is that everybody deserves a great nights sleep and donate 1 in every 10 mattresses sold to charity, including to the Bowery Mission in Manhattan.

The Bowery Mission in Manhattan is one of the oldest rescue missions and homeless shelters in America (they’ve been around since 1879).

Leesa have donated over 30,000 mattresses to charities throughout the world.

We got to tour the mission and meet with some of the homeless people who’s life’s have been transformed with the help of the great initiative from Leesa. Listening to their stories and seeing firsthand how their lives have turned around was truely inspirational, and an excellent first-hand example how retailers can act as a force for good. The initiative benefits both parties involved. The Bowery mission helps the homeless get a good nights rest and Leesa gains greater customer and staff engagement, as well as increased customer loyalty through the initiative.

Want to transform your life? Leesa believe you need to start off with a good nights sleep. The Bowery Mission is the last place you’d expect to see 600 luxury mattresses.


American Ballet Theatre

The American Ballet Theatre is almost 80 years old. Yet both it’s artistic and commercial entrepreneurial spirit is what see’s it’s gain continual success and new younger audiences, especially those new to the theatre.

The secret? Keep the classics that made Ballet successful in the first place, whilst inventing and reinventing the classics of tomorrow.

The home of the American Ballet Theatre, David H Koch theatre in New York

The company is also leading the way when it comes to the approach in managing it’s dancers. Taking learnings and insights from the professional sports industry, the American Ballet Theatre has an innovative focus on health and wellness.

We got to see a private rehearsal and hear from artistic director Kevin Mckenzie on what it means to be innovative. His thoughts? At the end of the day, innovation is just another word for creativity.

Whilst he admits that a great artistic idea is often a bad business idea, there’s a lot the corporate world can learn from artists. Risk is what drives outcomes for artists. Unlike the corporate world, artists don’t have golden parachutes to protect them and are therefore forced to naturally take risks and be creative in their approach to life.

And his advice for those companies looking to be innovative and creative? Just start, even if you’ve never done it before or not good at. You’ve got to start somewhere and get the creative juices flowing.

How do you know what trends to follow to grow your business? David likened the process of identify trends to surfing, you just need to know what wave to catch. But be very careful going after trends as the expense of your core purpose (ie. that perfect wave). Hold your ideals to standard.