A hip-hop musical about a founding father of the U.S. changed musical theater forever. A chat technology made it possible to envision a day when email would become obsolete. And a team led by a diminutive shoot-first guard defeated NBA legend LeBron James's team to win the title. All told, 2015 was a year that showed you didn't have to follow conventional wisdom to find success. Here (in no particular order) are the people who led the way this year.

 

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1. Nigel Eccles and Jason Robins

The CEOs of the hugely popular daily fantasy sports sites FanDuel (Eccles, left) and DraftKings (Robins) have been unafraid to tussle with the government over charges that they're in the gambling business. Both have made millions in entry fees and staked out partnerships with major TV networks and pro sports leagues. 

 

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2. Lin-Manuel Miranda

The recipient of a 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant in 2015, Miranda wrote the music for the acclaimed play Hamilton, in which he also starred as the title character, Alexander Hamilton. With his innovative hip-hop and rap-styled compositions, Miranda tells the tale of Hamilton's rise from orphaned West Indian immigrant to first Treasury Secretary of the United States.

 

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3. Alex Truesdell

Truesdell creates innovative furniture for special-needs children using materials like corrugated cardboard and glue so her designers can prototype and fit equipment on-site quickly and inexpensively. Her products include steps that allow a young person to climb in and out of a wheelchair without help; a seat insert making a classroom desk accessible for a little person; and a rocking chair that a non-walking child can propel.

 

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4. Stephen Curry

It's not just that Curry was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2015, or that his Golden State Warriors won the title. It was that he challenged the conventional view of what the best player on a championship team ought to be--he's a shoot-first point guard who can score at will with a never-before-seen mixture of drives and perimeter shots. 

 

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5. Missy Elliott

The rapper had a resounding comeback this year with her song "WTF (Where They From)" and an accompanying video that amassed nearly 19 million views on YouTube in less than three weeks. "The video looks just like Ms. Elliott has always sounded: quirky, playful, and futuristic," noted The New York Times.

 

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6. Ann Marie Sastry

Dyson, the appliance manufacturer, acquired Sastry's battery startup Sakti3 for $90 million earlier this year. While many of her competitors went bankrupt, Sastry kept Sakti3 alive for seven years, hoping to commercialize a solid-state battery technology. The deal was a triumphant exit for a startup that MIT Technology Review lauded as one of the 50 smartest companies in the world. 

 

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7. Stewart Butterfield

As Inc.'s Jeff Bercovici has noted, Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, has taken the company from concept to game-changing juggernaut in just over three years--with no sales force. One of his secrets? Attention to detail. "All the bathrooms in Slack's three offices play French radio because he believes no one should have to hear their co-workers' bathroom noises," Bercovici writes.