Alexa von Tobel
After selling her financial planning company, she's backing tomorrow's entrepreneurs.
For Alexa von Tobel, safe havens are for fleeing. A decade ago, in the middle of the financial crisis, she dropped out of Harvard Business School to found LearnVest, a financial planning company. In 2015, she sold the company to Northwestern Mutual, which she also joined, eventually becoming its chief innovation officer. (The price: $375 million, according to a source close to the company.) After the sale, von Tobel found that she was spending every free hour outside of work making personal investments in other startups. One day, it just clicked. “I looked at my husband and said, ‘I should do this full-time,’” she recalls. In January, von Tobel launched Inspired Capital, a New York City-based venture firm focused on early-stage technology companies. Her longtime friend and mentor, former U.S. commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, joined as a founding partner. For the past six months, von Tobel has also hosted the Inc. Founders Project podcast, interviewing other entrepreneurs to uncover what makes them tick. For her, being back in the field with startup founders feels like home. She says: “I’m in my natural habitat.” --Graham Winfrey
One way to feed the world: edible protein made from thin air. Dyson’s other company, Kiverdi, spun off this one.
Lisa Dyson and co-founder John Reed were inspired by 40-year-old NASA research when they started looking for ways to recycle carbon dioxide. Through a process Dyson says is similar to making beer or yogurt, their company, Kiverdi, combines air with nutrients, microorganisms, and renewable energy to create an “air protein” flour and a palm oil substitute that can be used to make foods and other materials. This year, Hayward, California-based Kiverdi spun off that business into a separate company, called Air Protein, which Dyson says is following a similar path to that of alternative-meat competitor Impossible Foods. Meanwhile, Kiverdi is focusing on ways to make plastic biodegradable, nutrify soil for agriculture, and create sustainable feed for farmed fish. --Sophie Downes
Google hired her when she was 19. Other companies now hire her A.I. startup to find the best job candidates and business connections.
Falon Fatemi joined Google in 2005 when she was 19, making her the company’s youngest employee at the time. After a stint working in business development at Google-backed product accelerator Firespotter Labs, she launched Node, an A.I. platform that finds job candidates, business partners, or sales prospects for customers who have business opportunities. Analyzing data like a person's industry and location, Node then measures the likelihood that they will be interested. The startup has raised a total of $36 million, including $16 million in venture funding this year, from a group of backers that includes Mark Cuban. Fatemi predicts the company’s revenue will grow 400 percent by the end of 2019. “A.I. is going to be a wrecking ball to the enterprises that don’t adopt it in the next five to 10 years,” she says. --Emily Canal
She has made geothermal heating and cooling easy to install and pay for—rendering a moonshot technology accessible.
Geothermal should be a super-promising home heating and cooling technology, but installation makes a mess of your yard and has traditionally required a big cash outlay. In 2017, Kathy Hannun spun her company, Dandelion Energy, out of X, Alphabet’s innovation lab, to fix both of those problems. With degrees in civil engineering and computer science, Hannun has led the startup's development of re-engineered geothermal systems that are far faster and less damaging to install than conventional versions. Dandelion also offers loans to customers, letting them sign a 20-year contract starting at $135 per month for a typical system rather than paying $20,000 up front. In April, the company began a partnership with energy giant Con Edison, which gives customers $5,000 to switch to Dandelion (and help relieve some capacity problems on gas lines). Now with 59 employees, Hannun's startup has raised $23.5 million to date. --Kimberly Weisul
She uses A.I. to predict the severity of disasters and help authorities respond.
“Our mission is saving lives and livelihoods,” Nicole Hu says. With natural disasters increasing in frequency and severity, Hu and her co-founders started One Concern to make homes, properties, and even entire geographic regions safer. Using data science and A.I., its earthquake platform--now being used by the governments of Seattle and two cities in California--can tell which buildings need to be reinforced, where to evacuate, and how much damage to expect block by block. This year the startup, which has raised a total of $22.6 million, plans to implement its flood platform in its first international location, Kumamoto City, Japan. --Emily Canal