Meet the 15 Entrepreneurs Disrupting Your Industry
Contributors: Jonathan Chew, Erin Griffith, Robert Hackett, Beth Kowitt, Michal Lev-Ram, Laura Lorenzetti, Polina Marinova, Dan Primack, and Leena Rao
Icons by Martín Laksman; Illustrations by James Taylor
Retail. Health care. Finance. Food. Entertainment. When a spark of ingenuity meets a powder keg of motivation, no industry is safe from the explosive effects. Today’s founders have the potential to be tomorrow’s captains of industry. In honor of Venture, an all-new section on Fortune.com, we present 15 disrupters who are impacting their industries in novel ways. Executives of Fortune 500 companies, we advise you: Pay attention.
Founder, SB Projects
Weeks before Justin Bieber will release his new album, Purpose, the tracking numbers suggest a dogfight for No. 1 on the charts. Scooter Braun, Bieber’s manager since discovering the pop star on YouTube in 2008, can’t let the comeback fall flat. He calls an impromptu meeting in Los Angeles, where he suggests a series of “fan experience” events—part concert, part confessional—that would bundle tickets with album sales. Braun quickly books the Staples Center, Bieber announces the event via social media, and Purpose goes on to have the best first-week sales of any album in more than a year. It was the latest masterstroke from Braun, a 34-year-old college dropout who has upended the music industry by placing artists (and their managers) on equal footing with record labels.
The artist roster for Braun’s SB Projects reads like a who’s who of the Hot 100: Black Eyed Peas, Tori Kelly, Karlie Kloss, the Wanted. It has also expanded into television and movie projects, such as the CBS program Scorpion and a Bieber concert film. But not sports—Braun’s too big a fan. “For me it’s still pure,” he says, adding that he’s been approached by athletes seeking representation. “I’m like Spike Lee, sitting courtside. No amount of money is worth taking that away.” And then there is Ithaca, which reports have described as a $120 million investment fund through which SB Projects has backed tech startups like Spotify and Uber. Fortune has learned that the entity is about much more than venture capital: Ithaca also acts as a holding company for SB Projects and previously unreported ownership interests in seven of the nation’s largest music management companies. The structure allows Braun’s influence (and earnings) to be much stronger than previously known.
Braun says his business hustle is inspired by his great-grandfather Irving Slavin, a Russian immigrant who moved to the Catskills with a few dollars in his pocket to start a real estate business. “He used to read Fortune every month,” Braun says. “He worked hard and lived out his dream. If his great-grandson can be in Fortune for being an entrepreneur, well, that’s pretty cool.” —Dan Primack
Weidman Powers (CEO), Walker (Chairman), Code2040
Laura Weidman Powers and Tristan Walker, co-founders of Code2040, both hail from New York City—yet their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Powers is a middle-class Manhattanite. Walker is a Queens native whose father was killed when he was 3 years old. They unite behind Code2040, a nonprofit organization that places black and Latino students inside large technology companies (recent partnerships: Apple (AAPL), Google) (GOOG). The co-founders seek true diversity in the tech industry. Says Walker, 31: “These are the folks who will inspire more people to participate in Silicon Valley.” —Jonathan Chew
Anya Pogharian’s $500 dialysis machine has captured the attention of Bill Clinton and the Cleveland Clinic. Pogharian, 18, was shocked at the $30,000 cost of conventional dialysis machines—a price she felt was far too high for a lifesaving treatment. Pogharian’s prototype is able to filter four liters of blood in 25 minutes, much faster than the usual four hours. She’s working on a third prototype and a business framework for her invention, all while preparing for her first year of college. —Laura Lorenzetti
Plenty of startup “unicorns” hit speed bumps in 2015, but Slack stepped on the gas. The business-communication software maker last year raised its valuation to $2.8 billion, boosted its headcount to 350, and added 470,000 paid users. It even formed an $80 million investment fund to back companies building software for its platform. Developers submitted so many apps that Slack’s review process broke down. Says Butterfield, 42: “That’s really encouraging.” —Erin Griffith
Since it was founded in 2003, online apparel retailer Revolve has grown slowly, deliberately, and profitably. Last year the Los Angeles company sold $440 million worth of 1970s-style bohemian dresses, low-cut bodysuits, and stacked-heel sandals. If you’ve never heard of Revolve, that’s by design. Co-founders Michael Mente, 35 (above left), and Mike Karanikolas, 37, known to their 400 employees as “the Mikes,” haven’t chased tech-blog hype or venture-capital-fueled growth. The strategy has worked. As buzzy, well-funded competitors like Nasty Gal and Gilt Groupe endure layoffs and change hands for a fraction of their soaring valuations, Revolve beats expectations. It topped its 2015 revenue projection by 10% and expects to grow 40% to 50% next year. “We’re trying to build a business for the long term,” Mente says, “a business that we want to own forever.” The Mikes hope Revolve becomes a billion-dollar company. Not in value, mind you—but $1 billion in sales. —Erin Griffith
Directors, Making a Murderer
Filmmakers Moira Demos (above right) and Laura Ricciardi touched a nerve when their wildly popular TV miniseries, Making a Murderer, was released on Netflix (NFLX) in December. The duo spent a decade following Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man wrongly sentenced to 18 years in prison (and now serving time for another gruesome crime). They pitched the documentary to HBO and eventually sold the rights to Netflix. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have petitioned for Avery’s release. —Michal Lev-Ram
CEO, Digital Asset Holdings
Blythe Masters is no longer just one of the most powerful women on Wall Street—she’s one of the most powerful women on the block too. That’s “block” as in “block chain,” the distributed ledger technology that powers digital currencies like Bitcoin. The former J.P. Morgan (JPM) executive who (for better or worse) helped pioneer the creation of credit default swaps in the 1990s has returned with a new venture, Digital Asset Holdings, that is exploring how to apply the cryptocurrency-friendly protocol to other parts of the financial services industry. Masters, 46, says the block chain could eliminate billions of dollars’ worth of redundancy, latency, and error costs in the post-trade processing of assets like bonds and equities. That aspiration has attracted no shortage of attention in the banking world: The company has raised more than $60 million from 15 of the world’s biggest financial and tech firms and has begun a trial program with her former employer. —Robert Hackett
If legacy restaurant companies could start from scratch, most of them would want to look like Sweetgreen. The high-end salad chain, backed by big-name investors like Steve Case, Danny Meyer, and Daniel Boulud, hits all the right notes in today’s food industry—healthy, fresh, organic, and local. The recipe has resonated with diners, who keep lines long at Sweetgreen’s 40 locations. But traditional chains could learn about more than just food from the company’s co-CEOs. The Georgetown University classmates have been tech pioneers, and 30% of Sweetgreen transactions are made through its website or mobile app. The trio are also rethinking management strategies. To stay close to customers, Sweetgreen almost completely shuts down the corporate offices five times per year so that everyone can work in its restaurants. —Beth Kowitt
Twenty-nine-year-old Josh Bruno quit his job at Bain Capital Ventures, turned down a Harvard Business School offer, and founded Hometeam. With $38.5 million in venture capital, the two-year-old New York City company aims to rethink how in-home care is administered to senior citizens. Bruno rejects the popular independent-contractor model and instead employs caregivers as W-2 workers with health benefits, 401(k) plans, and a career progression path. The startup pays 30% to 50% more than the hourly industry standard and uses software to match caregivers with seniors. —Polina Marinova
Data analytics is changing how companies make business decisions. Piraye Yurttas Beim believes that it could change personal decisions too—like whether to have a baby. Beim’s startup Celmatix makes software called Polaris that crunches medical data from millions of women to accurately predict which treatments, from in-vitro fertilization to freezing one’s eggs, will result in pregnancy. Nearly 7 million American women have trouble conceiving a baby, resulting in a $9 billion fertility industry. More than 12 fertility clinics in the U.S. are using Celmatix software to help tens of thousands of patients become pregnant. Next up for Beim? Developing the first-ever genetic test that will predict infertility. —Leena Rao
A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Fortune Entrepreneurs.”