This is Inc.'s 10th annual 30 Under 30 list, and what a difference a decade has made in the lives of the young entrepreneurs who have been counted among its number.
Who knew, back in 2006, that Mark Zuckerberg would become a household name, or that Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos would one day be a health industry superstar and America's youngest female billionaire? Or that Sam Altman (Loopt, 2007) would run Y Combinator and that Quirky's Ben Kaufman (Mophie, 2007) would morph into a poster child for innovation? Other companies on our list have been acquired by the likes of Google, Oracle, and Intuit, a handful have gone public, and a few are no longer in business.
But while the companies may grow, change, or fade from the radar, their founders remain vibrant forces in the entrepreneurial community, whether at the helm of the companies that made our list, back in the startup game with new companies, or immersed in something entirely different. For us at Inc., that's the very best part of 30 Under 30--watching the trajectories of the entrepreneurs we've singled out and feeling a bit like we're part of their journeys. This isn't just a list for us; it's a community.
And what a community it is. Our newest crop of honorees was chosen from more than 550 applications, culled by our staff down to 120. That list was then sent to our panel of five judges: Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and, now, Revolution LLC; Scott Belsky, founder of Behance; Sarah Prevette, a 30 Under 30 alum (Sprouter, 2010) and founder of Future Design School; Troy Carter, CEO of Atom Factory; and Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite. These folks helped us narrow the list further, and after much deliberation, we chose our final 30.
Some quick data points: The median age of this year's winners is 27; two-thirds of them started their companies with partners; a third of the companies have female founders; they collectively employ roughly 1,700 full-time employees and they've amassed a total of approximately $1.5 billion in venture capital. Revenues range from zero to $75 million. Number of hours logged to build 30 incredible companies: incalculable.
1. Consumer product innovation is hot
Sure, innovation has been a common theme among our 30 Under 30 companies, but this year it's, well, off the hook. Sols is creating 3-D custom orthotics from pictures of your feet taken on an iPad. Athos makes exercise clothing that will measure how your body moves and how hard your muscles are working. Soylent hacks your dinner table with a powdered meal replacement that purportedly contains all the nutrients a human needs to live. Casper disrupts the staid mattress industry with an affordable, direct-to-consumer product that's crazy comfortable. This is innovation not for innovation's sake, but with the intention to improve our lives. There's nothing small or easy about what these companies are trying to accomplish.
2. Disruption pays off
Innovation-starved industries are irresistible for entrepreneurs, as they cry out for greater efficiency and the promise of technology-driven improvements. Dinesh Wadhwani of ThinkLite reinvented LED light bulbs to fit into existing fixtures so that big companies would have a far more cost-effective way to convert to energy-efficient lighting. Watch out, General Electric. Avant shakes up the traditional banking sector with a consumer-lending platform that targets people with imperfect credit ratings. Zoe Barry's ZappRx is taking the paperwork pain out of the specialty drug prescription industry, and Stripe is quietly eating the lunch of entrenched competitors in the $1.5 trillion global e-commerce payments industry. These companies take a good look at the status quo, identify the pain points, and build their companies around creative solutions.
3. Big data rules
Big data is big business these days. Technology gives us reams of information on everything from Twitter postings to traffic patterns. It's valuable information, provided you know how to collect and analyze it. Next Big Sound uses data to help predict music industry hits by analyzing Pandora plays, YouTube views, and social media traffic. Poshly provides beauty brands with consumer insight that it gleans through product giveaways and media partnerships. And Knotch uses visual interfaces such as color spectrums to garner insight into consumer emotions opinions--information that's valuable to marketers as well as to media companies.
4. Online marketplaces get sophisticated
Everyone has an online presence these days, right? Well, not really. And that's a tremendous opportunity, as several of our 30 Under 30 have discovered. Olga Vidisheva's Shoptiques brings small boutiques online, giving local businesses a national presence. CoachUp is a platform that allows athletes to connect with private coaches to raise their game. Wanderu aggregates bus schedules so that travelers can book intercity trips on a single platform. The Zebra has built an online tool to help consumers shop for the best deals on auto insurance. And then there's Twice, the online version of your favorite local consignment shop. These companies have all built highly sophisticated back-end technologies to bring buyers and sellers together in way that wasn't possible just a few years ago.
Is one of these bright young things the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elizabeth Holmes? We don't have a crystal ball, but we do know when we see energized entrepreneurs with smarts and great ideas. This year's class is in very good company with our 300 alums, and we look forward to the shameless brag: We knew them when.
Now go vote for your favorite company!