Entrepreneurs can be accused of many things, but taking the path of least resistance is not one of them. There are too many easier ways to get ahead in life than by trying to build a company. Yet some entrepreneurs almost seem to go out of their way to make it even harder. Instead of grabbing for the low-hanging fruit of the business world -- cloning a proven concept, feeding a fad, carving out a neat little niche -- these individuals stretch for something outrageously original, something against which powerful forces will inevitably align in an effort to preserve the status quo. If most company founders face long odds, these ueber entrepreneurs work in the shadow of a mountain of chips bet the other way.

Madness? Maybe a touch helps. But there's also a calculus at play here. Big ambitions promise big rewards, and not just in dollars. The real payoff is about making a mark on the world -- and it might best be measured in terms of, say, serious injuries averted, Lexus-quality autos at an unbelievably low price, an environment made greener, or a better-connected planet.

If every business is a personal adventure, the following stories are potential epics -- driven by a single person yet with the promise of having an impact on millions. If the ventures fly, their founders will be anointed visionaries and become household names amid the gnashing of competitors' teeth. If the ventures sink, their founders will know that they at least pushed hard against walls that others leave untested. The fact is, these are the sort of heroes highly likely to remain unsung.

But not here.

The Disruptors

Looking Into the Sun
As industries go, they don't get more stodgy than energy. But if David Slawson is right about solar power, our days of oil dependency are numbered.
How I Did It: Jeffrey Citron
First he disrupted the brokerage business. Now, with Vonage, Jeffrey Citron is changing the game on the phone companies.
He Came, He Sawed, He Took On the Power-Tool Industry
Stephen Gass invented a table saw that stops dead when it touches flesh. Naturally, the industry wants nothing to do with him.