Ray Kurzweil Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
because he is Edison's rightful heir
At age 17, Ray Kurzweil appeared on TV's I've Got A Secret with Steve Allen. His secret? The piece of music he played had been composed entirely by a computer he invented. That early acclaim only hinted at the remarkable body of invention that Kurzweil would establish over the next four decades."I'm excited by the link between dry formulas on a blackboard and people's lives," he says.
Starting in 1974, Kurzweil invented in rapid succession a device that recognized printed text; the flatbed scanner; and then a way for machines to connect text to a recorded voice. Combining all three technologies, he developed the Kurzweil Reading Machine to assist the blind. His first customer was Stevie Wonder, who called the reading machine "a breakthrough that changed my life."
Kurzweil sold that business to Xerox in 1980, and then he and Wonder collaborated on a music synthesizer (the partners and the product are shown, above, in 1986) that could replicate the rich tonality of a grand piano and other orchestral instruments. He sold that business in 1990. Now Kurzweil, 57, is working on technology to help hedge funds execute trades based on instantaneous readings of the market.
Though they may seem wildly eclectic, Kurzweil's businesses rely on one basic theme: pattern recognition. "I gather as much data as I can to develop patterns at every different level," he says. Kurzweil's ability to channel that notion into great businesses, time and time again, is itself a pretty remarkable pattern.
- Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
because she took one for the team
- Richard Branson, Virgin Group
because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
- Michael Dell, Dell Computer
for being brilliantly straightforward
- Jim Sinegal, Costco
because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
- Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
for staging an elegant comeback
- Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
- Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
for setting limits
- Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
because he is Edison's rightful heir
- Craig Newmark, Craigslist
for putting the free in free markets
- Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
because his family business makes an art of customer service
- Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
for whipping an entire industry into shape
- Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
- Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
- Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
- Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
for still scrapping
- Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
- Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
for being a notable first with a worthy second act
- Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
for verging on reckless
- Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
- Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
for showing the power of the peer group
- Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
for serving as a mentor to military spouses
- Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
- Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
for creating a true comfort zone
- Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
- Tony Lee, Ring Masters
for saving 16 jobs, including his own
- Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture