For more than 10 years, Inc.'s 30 Under 30 list has given us a tantalizing glimpse into the future. Millennials often start and build companies to address problems that are unique to their 80 million-member generation. They perceive opportunities that may escape their older counterparts, but the companies that emerge from those unmet needs frequently benefit us all. (Think: Facebook, Airbnb, Box, Mint.com, Modcloth, Rent the Runway, Birchbox, Github, Squarespace--our list of prestigious alumni goes on and on.)
Like all great entrepreneurs, they see big problems as massive opportunities and have managed to convince employees, customers, and investors that going along for the ride they're on could very well be life changing. What has been true for our previous honorees is also true for this year's class, although they appear to have upped the ante on innovation.
As always, assembling our list was no easy task. Our staff diligently reviewed approximately 540 applicants and then drew on an outside panel of judges to help us make final decisions:
- Ben Lerer Thrillist Media Group and Lerer Hippeau Ventures
- Diane Hessan Startup Institute
- Dave McClure 500 Startups
- Debbie Sterling GoldieBlox
- Raj Sisodia Babson College (who reviewed applications, and weighed in)
You can read more about our judges here.
This year's honorees
Approximately 25 percent of this year's companies have female founders or co-founders, which very closely correlates to the total number of applicants with female founders; less than half hail from the traditional New York City and Bay Area startup hubs (a welcome change); the median age of all under-30 founders is 28 (a year older than last year), and two thirds of them started companies with co-founders (remarkably consistent with previous years). The vast majority (26) have venture and/or angel funding and have collectively raised approximately $444 million. Revenues range from zero up to $50 million and more.
So, yes, they're impressive group, but even more so when you consider what they're actually up to. If you ever entertained the notion that Millennial entrepreneurs basically make iPhone apps and video games, that preconception ends now.
Here's a snapshot of the most significant trends.
Tackling enormous health issues
Colleen Costello (Vital Vio) is developing white-light technology that can be used to disinfect health care facilities; TJ Parker (PillPack) has completely redesigned the way people take medication; Armon Sharei (SZQ) is engineering immune cells to fight cancer; Danny Cabrera (BioBots) makes 3-D bioprinters that can fabricate living tissue; Eric and Alex Dolan (Neutun Labs) have developed a seizure-tracking tool for people living with epilepsy.
The founders of these companies were often motivated by personal experience--a dad who was a pharmacist, a grandmother with a MRSA infection, a close relative with epilepsy. Confronted with problems that had no obvious solutions, they sought to build solutions of their own.
Shaking up stagnant industries
"Disrupt" is an overused word, but how else do describe someone who's hell bent on turning an industry on its head?
Jessica O. Matthews (Uncharted Play) founded an unconventional energy company that is turning anything that moves (i.e., jump ropes, soccer balls, baby strollers) into a source of power; David Widerhorn (Neurensic) uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify shady trading practices in the financial industry; Jessica Scorpio (Getaround) is transforming privately owned vehicles into shared and connected sources of transportation; Josh Bruno (Hometeam) is using mobile technology to vastly improve case management at his elder care company.
Notice a theme here? These entrepreneurs are using technology to up the game in industries where innovation has been sadly lacking. We hope they'll up the game for more established players.
Making cool products
We'll admit it: We're suckers for new products that make our hearts beat a little faster. On this year's list, you'll find a fish tank that can grow tomato plants (Grove), a phone case that can actually print photos (Prynt), wireless earbuds that let you control how you hear the world (Doppler Labs), and a solar-powered inflatable light source small enough to fit in the back pocket of your jeans (LuminAid). Check out all of the cool products on our list here.
What's most astounding about the companies on our list is that it's tough to imagine many of them existing just a few years ago. A GPS system for drones and self-driving cars (Swift Navigation) would have seemed as unlikely as a legal wholesale marketplace for cannabis (Tradiv). But our honorees are not only capitalizing on the trends that will inform how we live, play, and work in the future. They're also helping shape that future. We welcome them to our 30 Under 30 community. We invite you to get a glimpse of that future.