This year's crew of founders may span industries, but they all share a similar fearlessness that helped their companies find success.
Though Hand was British Petroleum’s SVP of Global Brand, Marketing and Innovation, for several years, she’s on a much more environmentally friendly mission today. Project Frog aims to revamp the construction industry with simple-to-build spaces (they takes days, rather than months to construct) that consume about 50% less energy than traditional buildings for sectors like education and healthcare. Hand’s plan seems to be working: revenue is expected to more than double this year.
Hartz started Eventbrite, an online ticketing platform, with her now-husband Kevin in 2006. Since its founding, the company has raised $140 million from firms like Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global Management and reached $2 billion in gross ticket sales this September. Entrepreneurship forced Hartz to appreciate candid and collaborative conversations. “I had to learn how to ask for help,” she says. “Everyone always thinks it’s brave to go out alone, but I think it’s even braver to put yourself out there in front of others, and to figure out how to work together.”
After years working with large consumer product companies like Stride Rite and Keds, Pieri grew frustrated with the difficulty mom-and-pop shops had launching new products. “The more innovative a product—as opposed to mainstream and “known”—the harder it was to get distribution,” she explains. In response, she launched The Grommet, a discovery platform that connects customers with inventors’ stories and their products, five years ago. Pieri, whose company helped launch products including SodaStream and Fitbit, counts HP CEO Meg Whitman as a mentor and has a side-gig as an entrepreneur in residence at Harvard Business School.
In 2008, Janah talked to a call center worker from Dharavi, India, the largest slum in South Asia, while working as a consultant. The worker said there were millions of unemployed villagers as talented as he was. “I thought, ‘What if outsourcing could generate a few dollars for billions of people, rather than billions of dollars for a wealthy few?'” Janah says. She went on to launch Samasource, a tech platform that connects impoverished women and youth with large corporations like Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft to complete digital projects. To date, the non-profit has helped over 16,000 people rise above the poverty line and it recently launched SamaUSA, a domestic program for low-income students living in San Francisco.
In early 2005, Stone and her co-founders Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins noticed that there were countless women blogging, but mainstream media rarely linked to their posts. The trio decided to host a grassroots conference that year and attracted sponsors like Google and Yahoo. It quickly sold out and soon after, they launched BlogHer.com. The publishing platform turned blogging into a lucrative business for many women — it paid $25 million to 5,000 of its bloggers between 2009 and 2012 — and now reaches an audience of 92 million.
Ten years ago, Steele was a successful investment advisor speaking at ITU World, a United Nations conference on technology for government. That same week, California experienced its first-ever gubernatorial election recall. Steele couldn’t believe these kinds of hiccups were happening during such important races (the infamous Florida presidential election recall was only three years prior), so she decided to solve the problem herself. To date,169 countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, used Everyone Counts’ electronic voting platform, as did the Academy Awards committee.
Rios is no stranger to hard work. She moved to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was a child. She graduated at the top of her high school class and raised a family while putting herself through college. She was not intimidated when she started Nation Waste Inc. At just 22, months after graduating from the University of Houston, she took out loans and purchased two trucks, jumping into the male-dominated waste-removal industry. Today, her Houston-based company has 24 full-time employees. “It is pretty amazing when I look back and see, I started as a little girl entering the United States with my parents and now I am truly living the American dream,” says Rios.
Wang studied computer programming while growing up in China. After college, she hoped to move to the U.S. to start her career. Wang was one of the million pro-democracy students who protested in Tianamen Square in 1989, and she had a difficult time crossing the Pacific. The next year, the Chinese Students Protection Act was passed and Wang got her master’s in computer science at University of Houston. She worked at several Silicon Valley startups (and launched her own, iBizWomen.com) until September 11, 2001. The attack inspired her to create Binary Group, a technology consulting company that works with the Federal Government. Over the past 16 years, Binary has helped its clients save piles of money — like the Army 20th Support Command, which cut $60 million over five years for its satellite communication bandwidth requirements.
Collins grew up in rural, apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s. Her childhood inspired her to focus on empowering women living below the poverty line through grassroots efforts. The Wonderbag, which was inspired by watching her grandmother cook with cushions, uses heat retention technology to cook food for 8-12 hours without the need for additional fuel. Collins witnessed the benefits African women received from using Wonderbags, reducing the amount of time they spent collecting firewood. For every bag sold, another is donated to a household in Africa, and in the past four years, the Wonderbags have found themselves in 600,000 African homes. Collins has launched the Wonderbag in the U.S. on Amazon, and hopes to sell the products via other retailers by 2014.
In 2005, Davidson found herself constantly picking up sippy cups her one-year-old son Jake would toss to the ground. She went to Target, bought a sewing machine, and created the SippiGrip, a leash-like contraption for a sippy cup. Her entrepreneurial dreams were slowed, however — she was recruited by Microsoft to join the HR team working with its X-Box Group. But in 2007, she launched the SippiGrip at a national trade show. Fortuitously, Target approached her to join its 2008 Parent Invented Products Program and today, Davidson’s BooginHead line is sold by retailers like Walmart, Babies “R” Us, and Amazon.com.