20 Disruptive Professionals Who Are Entrepreneurs in Their Industry

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Who are the entrepreneurs you should be following?

As the business industry consistently becomes more and more saturated, professional paths can seem daunting.

Luckily, there are a number of entrepreneurs who have laid innovative groundwork through new technology and inspirational stories.

Today we’re going to explore 20 of those people—professionals, like you, who are entrepreneurs and who have made their mark.

1. Vint Cerf

“Father of the Internet”

Credited with co-creating the framework for the Internet, Vint Cerf is a highly influential entrepreneur without whom, we might not have the web.

In addition to his many accolades, he is also Google’s chief Internet evangelist and served as the founding president of the Internet Society for several years.

Why you should know him:

Not only is he one of the Internet’s founders; Cerf has also served politicians and other global figures as an advisor and promoter of science. Cerf earned his PhD and taught at Stanford, and his dedication to knowledge and innovation makes him a great source for inspiration.

2. Jeff Bezos

Founder of Amazon

Most people are familiar with the Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. While the Amazon we know today is a miniature world that offers server usage, movie-streaming, and free, two-day shipping, many remember its simpler days, as an online book retailer. Both Bezos and Amazon are now worth billions.

Why you should know him:

Bezos saw that technology was growing at a virtually unprecedented rate, and he saw an opportunity. He also recognized the universal need for books, which led him to create a company with universal appeal.

Bezos teaches us to open ourselves to new changes, and he also reminds us to consider the #1 aspect of economy: supply-and-demand.

3. David L. Steward

Founder/Chairman of World Wide Technology, Inc.

As both the founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, Inc., David L. Steward has been making a splash throughout his life (sometimes even literally—according to the NY Times, he helped integrate the local swimming pool at only 16).

He’s now comfortably at the top of a multi-billion dollar company that offers technical services and communications. World Wide Technology is also one of the nation’s largest African-American-owned businesses.

Why you should know him:

Unlike many founders of high-revenue companies, Steward was not born wealthy. He experienced hardships and cites those experiences as the foundation for his success.

He also attributes his accomplishments to an unwavering vision and sense of positivity, some of which was instilled in him by his mother.

4. Elon Musk

SpaceX Founder, Tesla & PayPal Cofounder

Elon Musk is the techie-meets-environmentalism darling who is reimagining life on Earth and elsewhere. Tesla was a cofounder of PayPal, which ultimately gave him the opportunity and money to pursue other ventures, like Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity.

While SpaceX is exploring opportunities for humans to live on planets other than Earth, Tesla and SolarCity are working to make our planet a cleaner place.

Why you should know him:

Through both the technology he’s developed and his quest to make energy-efficient services available, Musk has garnered a huge following.

However, he isn’t doing it for the money. Instead, he’s pursuing his interests, and it’s working out pretty well for him.

5. Ramona Pierson

Founder of SynapticMash

Ramona Pierson is a leader in educational technology, working to digitize education and learning. Not only is her work inspiring, but her story is incredible. (Seriously, get your tissues ready.)

As a young woman, Pierson was hit by a drunk driver while walking her dog. Her body and sight were destroyed, and she (along with her sight) were rebuilt through years of surgery.

Looking at her now, Pierson seems like an ordinary person. As you learn about her mission and her story, however, you’ll realize she’s anything but.

Why you should know her:

Pierson not only survived a tragic accident, but she also healed and pursued service and knowledge. She is making a difference every day in the education field.

6. Anthony Casalena

Squarespace Founder/CEO

Anthony Casalena was an undergrad at the University of Maryland when he began Squarespace in his dorm room.

In fact, Casalena juggled multiple positions within the company during its first few years. The company now brings in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Why you should know him:

Anthony has a BS in computer science from a state university. His business didn’t come from a charmed life or an Ivy League school. Casalena was an everyday person who did something he had a passion for. And that passion paid off in a big way.

7. Janus Friis

Cofounder of Skype

After their Napster-style idea proved unstable, Janus Friis and his partner took to another project: Skype. Originally created as a way to make international calls online, Skype has now become a household name for travelers and long-distance families.

Why you should know him:

Friis’ tale begins like many others. After dropping out of high school, he found a job in customer service.

However, there is something that sets Friis apart; he spent that time learning technological skills and generating ideas.

Eventually, he partnered up with a colleague to create Skype, a business that sold to Microsoft for $8.5 billion.

8. Niklas Zennstrom

Cofounder of Skype

Not only did Niklas Zennström cofound Skype, but he also runs Atomico, an international investment firm. He has made a concentrated effort to succeed in business and inspire others to do the same.

Why you should know him:

In an interview with Wired, Zennström explained his constant desire to drive change. As a child of teachers, he knew early on he wanted to do something big and make money doing it.

He also participates in philanthropic efforts to support human rights and promote environmental awareness.

9. Janice Bryant Howroyd

Founder/CEO of ACT-1

Janice Bryant Howroyd is the founder and CEO of ACT-1, a staffing and human resources firm that focuses on growth and empowerment, rather than just revenue.

For almost three decades, Howroyd has managed the company through its consistent expansion.

Why you should know her:

Not only does Howroyd run one of the biggest woman-owned and minority-owned companies in the United States, but she also began her business small.

According to Howroyd, she began with nothing more than a brain, a phone, and a phonebook. ACT-1 is now a billion dollar company.

10. Danielle Fong

LightSail Cofounder and Chief Scientist

Danielle Fong is not your ordinary 30 year old. After beginning college at 12 and pursuing a PhD at 17, Fong decided she could make a difference for her current and future world.

She cofounded LightSail, a company concentrating on the storage of renewable energy. Storing eco-friendly energy is one of the biggest challenges of preventing further climate change.

Why you should know her:

Fong has had difficulty fitting in throughout her life, both in public school and during university. According to Fong, she “thought [she] could make a difference.” That belief has led her down a path of innovation and achievement.

11. Reed Hastings

Cofounder/CEO of Netflix

As the CEO and cofounder of Netflix, Reed Hastings has experienced a great deal of success in the last decade. Prior to Netflix, Hastings studied math and artificial intelligence.

He co-funded and sold a software company, then began work on a DVD subscription service that changed the way people watch movies.

Why you should know him:

Hastings not only transformed the way audiences consume entertainment, but he has also used his success to support educational programs. Early in his life, he also served in the Peace Corps, where he taught math in Swaziland.

12. Lauren Bush

Founder of FEED

What started as an interest in fashion and the UN’s World Food Program became Lauren Bush Lauren’s quest to curb world hunger. With every FEED product, meals are provided for a child somewhere in the world.

Why you should know her:

Lauren saw something that didn’t add up—extreme poverty amidst a world where food is plentiful. So, she pursued her passion for product as well as her desire to do humanitarian work.

Because of her work, she is not only successful, but children worldwide are eating meals they would not otherwise have.

13. Joe Gebbia

Cofounder/CPO of Airbnb

Joe Gebbia is a designer, artist, and perhaps most impressively, a cofounder of Airbnb, as well as the Chief Product Officer.

When their rent increased 25% in one month, Joe and his roommates realized they could pay rent by hosting strangers for money. They used an air mattress and good people skills to survive the exorbitant costs of San Francisco.

It was through the collaboration of Gebbia, Brian Chesky, and Nathan Blecharczyk that Airbnb was born.

Why you should know him:

In order to make Airbnb a success, Gebbia and his team worked to get press by offering places to stay during the 2008 DNC. When they didn’t get investors, Gebbia and his team self-funded through credit cards.

Despite their failures, the team continued to believe in what they were doing.

14. Leilah Janah

Founder/CEO of Samasource

Lama Janah founded Samasource, a nonprofit with a vision. Samasource seeks to rescue people from poverty by providing them with tech work and living wages.

This has allowed people from historically poor countries to attain better quality of life through companies like Google and Microsoft.

Why you should know her:

After visiting Mumbai, Janah realized impoverished people did not have access to jobs that could greatly benefit their quality of life.

She attempted to resolve this issue by connecting with big-name companies—companies that eventually began outsourcing jobs to poor communities.

Janah notes that her parents were immigrants without connections, but she and her brother succeeded with public schooling and a fierce belief in The American Dream.

15. Rich Barton

Founder of Expedia, Zillow, & Glassdoor

Rich Barton has been busy the last several years, founding Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor—all companies that simplify basic aspects of life: travel, finding a home, and pursuing a career.

Barton believes empowering people is positive, saying, “Giving people voice who didn’t have voice is good. Giving people information who didn’t have information is good.”

Why you should know him:

Barton has made many successful businesses by asking how he can simplify life for the everyday person.

The New York Times quoted him as saying,”If we’re doing things for regular folks that make their lives better and save them money and give them transparency, we’re on the side of the angels.”

16. Angela Lee

Founder of 37 Angels

Angela Lee is the founder of 37 Angels, an angel investor group made up of women. Additionally, Angela is an associate dean and Chief Innovation Officer at Columbia Business School.

Why you should know her:

Lee correlates much of her success with her ability and willingness to fail.

According to her, she often refused to try in the past, but now realizes she was wasting potential. By constantly trying new things, she continues learning new lessons.

17. Drew Houston

Cofounder/CEO of Dropbox

At only 24, Drew Houston cofounded Dropbox with his MIT classmate, Arash Ferdowsi.

What started as a personal resource for Houston easily became one of the biggest file-sharing platforms in the U.S.

Why you should know him:

Not only did Houston create an incredible product at 24, but he also does his research. Houston invited successful tech founders to the Dropbox office, so they could tell the team stories of success and failure.

According to Houston, this has helped the team become resilient to challenges.

18. Caterina Fake

Cofounder of Flickr

Caterina Fake is the cofounder of Flickr, one of the world’s largest photo-management and image-sharing platforms.

She is also the founder of Findery and the cofounder of Hunch, sites that focus on experiences.

Why you should know her:

As just a forty-something, Fake has already spearheaded several successful businesses. Flickr is a globally-utilized application, and Fake’s work on Hunch helped land an $80 million dollar sale to eBay in 2011.

19. Gagan Biyani

Cofounder of Udemy

Gagan Biyani is the cofounder of Udemy, the online education platform that has swept the Internet. He is also a cofounder of the fresh-food delivery service, Sprig.

Why should you know him:

Biyani isn’t necessarily a tech guy, but he has managed to prove to the world he understands how to succeed in the industry. Biyani has also been featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30.

20. Scott Belsky

Cofounder/Former CEO of Behance

After four years of saving, Scott Belsky created Behance, a portfolio platform for creatives. Behance sold to Adobe for $150 million in 2012.

Why you should know him:

Although Belsky knew finance wasn’t for him, he stayed at Goldman-Sachs long enough to learn the ropes of running a successful business.

Additionally, instead of raising money from investors, Belsky decided to bootstrap his own startup. After taking a unique approach on his dream, his chances paid off.


While many of us know people who are entrepreneurs or have an idea of the typical business founder—there is no classic build, age, or background. Each entrepreneur in this list varies in their qualities and goals, but they each have one thing in common; each decided to take a risk or two.

Some of those risks were failures, but many of them paid off. Innovators take chances every day, simply because of their passion and desire for success. Now that you’ve read this list, what risk will you take today?