In the beginning there was the Company. Capital 'C' if you please. It predated the Exodus. It was around while man was still groundbound on our Lost Home. When man went into the Universe the Company led the way in search of riches. It tethered asteroids and brought them into orbit for the hungry factories to devour. Gold, platinum, titanium and far more exotic minerals. The Company went with the capital "C' in this era. Company ships explored and mined and brought manufactured goods to colonies and raw materials to Earth and later other factory worlds.
But there was a problem. Other people were getting rich. It started with independent prospectors and then free traders. They started nibbling at the crumbs the Company dropped and then began to grow into true competition, This was despite efforts. The problem was there were just too many riches in the Universe. Anyone with a ship could get rich eventually if they had half a brain and a half sober crew. The ones who didn't died of course and smarter people eventually bought their ships.
The Company changed its focus. The goods related industries became a sideline. Now it branched into research and design. Sure you could get rich with a ship, but a ship that moved twice as fast as yours would get you rich in half the time, no? New products, ships, equipment, robots ... weapons. Now the Company traded in ease of use and quality of life and there was a lot of life to upgrade.
Again there was a problem. Keeping information to yourself was nearly impossible. If you built a faster FTL drive some clown with a big enough fabricator would start printing his own. Copyrights, patents and IP laws were nearly impossible to enforce acrosss light years. There were other safe guards, write protection, ICE, what some unprofessional types called booby-traps. But showing something was possible was usually enough for smart guys and gals to figure out how to do it themselves. Even worse the huge structure of the ultimate corporate culture was not as innovative as smaller leaner companies.
So the Company lost its edge in research and development but it didn't take it lying down. It sought a solution because having a lot of credits wasn't enough. It had to have all the credits. The shareholders were bastards. By now the Company was a legal and literal entity. An AI group mind had been overseeing operations for centuries. Its solution was simple. In a limitless (or nearly so) Universe there were always new discoveries. Alien worlds provided new organics, pharms, foods in rare cases, sentients to sell to. The Company set out to monetize discovery.
Its factory subdivision was nearly forgotten by the few meatbags still in higher management. But their AIs were still obedient. Through a diverse web of shipyards, banks, and scientific foundations the Company began giving loans to explorers for ships, providing newer ships and travel services. It even opened a division for a public face that would aid travelers and provide amenities like passages, quarters and news feeds. All of these were one more information source. They tracked people recorded discussions and checked logs on their financed ships. Not only did the Company demand a share of new discoveries, its personnel acted on the intelligence their hostels and liners provided to beat explorers to the big finds and put in a claim before the independents.
By now the Company was so huge it was nearly impossible to notice, like the air you breathed. No government or law agency had the resources to track its activities. Some conspiracy theorists spouted off occasionally which amused the Company on some level. It really wasn't a conspiracy when you already owned it all and were merely doing business. No. It was more unfathomable than deliberate obfuscation.
Across settled space the only outward sign of its omnipresence: the Travellers' Aid Society hostels opened their doors for another day's business.