Her smartphone app has brought microlending to millions in emerging economies.
When Shivani Siroya discovered how hard it was for billions of people in emerging markets to access even basic financial services, she was determined to do something about it. “People used to do group lending,” says Siroya. “But as we’ve moved them into the formal economy, we’ve broken things,” among them the informal networks through which communities make loans to their members. Her vision was for a tech platform that could generate a credit score, offer a loan, and administer it—all via a smartphone. Siroya taught herself to code and accompanied people to banks in India to learn why they weren’t getting loans. She appeared in dozens of business plan competitions, winning multiple fellowships and raising her first $200,000. By the time of her seed round in 2013, she had launched her app in Kenya and had about 50,000 customers. Now Tala, which has raised a total of $225 million in equity, has about 540 employees in four countries—Kenya, India, Mexico, and the Philippines—and has more than three million customers.—Kimberly Weisul
With her platform, consumer privacy and data sharing can coexist.
While working on a project for Uber, Dawn Song, a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, grappled with the conflicting imperatives that many companies face these days: to protect the privacy of their customers and to use customer data to make better business decisions. Last year, she launched Oasis Labs, which is developing a cloud-computing network employing blockchain and encryption technologies to give consumers and patients control over their information while letting analysts run computations with higher-quality data. “The analysts can still do their jobs,” says Song. “But we can prevent them from doing things they are not supposed to do--like, in the case of Uber, giving out individual riders’ information.” At a time when organizations ranging from tech giants to local police departments face criticism for misuse of personal data and threats of new regulation, interest from industry is high. Within four months of launch, the company raised $45 million in venture capital. Its technology also has the potential to speed up and improve medical research: Oasis is starting trials at Stanford University Medical Center that will let researchers work on patients’ data without endangering their privacy and possibly pay them in cryptocurrency to make their data available for clinical studies. --Leigh Buchanan
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