CXO

40 under 40: Real difference makers in tech and business

Unsatisfied with Fortune's choices for the most influential people in business, we came up with our own '40 under 40' list of leaders affecting change and making positive impacts on the world.

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Image: dwphotos/iStock Photo

Fortune's "40 Under 40" for 2014 is filled with a lot of the usual suspects in tech and business — Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Brian Chesky, Kevin Systrom, et al. Sure, they make plenty of money and their products have changed our behavior, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are making a positive impact on the real problems in the world.

Here are a few other reasons that I was frustrated with Fortune's list:

  • 19 tech leaders made the list, but only four of them were women.
  • Only 15 of the 40 were women.
  • Evan Spiegel of Snapchat, who made it high on the list, sent emails demeaning women while he was in college in 2009. The sleazy messages were leaked by Gawker earlier this year.
  • Marissa Mayer is fantastic, but she is a prime example of a successful woman in tech that is overused.
  • Every list in tech, ever, has Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey on it. Including them is not mandatory.
  • There are only two black men on the list, no black women, and very few other minorities represented.
  • Though Fortune has specific criteria, most of the list looks as though it is only determined by net worth and fame, not exactly real impact on the world — sorry, Ivanka Trump.

We created a list of tech and business leaders who are doing some powerful good for the world. They are social entrepreneurs, clean energy leaders, tech startup founders, CEOs, and other influential characters in business. There are some who have made waves this year, and others who have flown under the radar. Either way, we think you should know about them.

1. Danae Ringelmann, Indiegogo

Ringelmann founded Indiegogo, the international crowdfunding platform, with two of her classmates from the University of Berkeley Haas School of Business. Indiegogo has launched in four languages and five currencies.

2. David Kobia, Ushahidi

Kobia founded Ushahidi with a group of technologists and activists in Kenya in 2008 following the violence after the elections. The platform is an open source mapping service, which has been used to track events such as natural disasters and violence ever since. The organization is also behind BRCK, a backup generator for the internet, and tools like Crowdmap and Ping.

3. Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code

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Image: Adrian Kinloch

Saujani is the former New York City Deputy Public Advocate, and the founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization that works to inspire, educate, and equip girls for careers in computer science.

4. Joshua Tetrick, Hampton Creek

Hampton Creek is a startup meant to turn the +$7 billion US egg industry on its head with their plant-based egg products, founded by Tetrick, the CEO, and his best friend, Josh Balk. The company also opened a giant database for future plant-based foods, and has attracted tech talent from all over Silicon Valley.

5. Ayah Bdeir, LittleBits Electronics

Bdeir didn't like the idea of art and engineering being so separate, so she founded LittleBits Electronics, which makes many shapes and sizes of modules that work together to create things like night lights and robotics. Their "Bitlab" even allows you to help choose what type of module the company should manufacture next.

6. Maya Penn, Maya's Ideas

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Image: Maya Penn

Maya Penn is an entrepreneur, TED speaker, philanthropist, animator, and coder. She's 14 years old, and she's already made quite the impression on business leaders around the world with her company Maya's Ideas.

7. Michelle Rowley, Code Scouts

Rowley founded Cultivate & Co., which is an organizational culture consultancy that helps tech companies grow sustainably, and the executive director of Code Scouts, a nonprofit that empowers women to learn software development.

8. Abe Issa, Global Efficiency Energy

Global Efficiency Energy, founded by Issa, educates homeowners on the powers and benefits of using renewable energy sources such as solar power, and has a line of energy efficient products to help homeowners best understand and utilize their appliances.

9. Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Skillshare

Skillshare, founded by Karnjanaprakorn, has changed the online learning world. The company aims to turn the global education system upside down by allowing students and teachers to teach their own courses, providing universal access to high-quality learning.

10. Anu Duggal, Female Founders Fund

Duggal recently started Female Founders Fund, a VC firm dedicated to funding women-led startups, and helping them grow sustainably.

11. Shiza Shahid, Malala Fund

We all know and respect Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old who just won the Nobel Peace Prize after her wonderful recovery and social impact after being shot by the Taliban two years ago. Shahid is the one behind her, harnessing her fame and helping draw attention to education of girls, which Yousafzai is extraordinarily passionate about. The Malala Fund Shahid started works to break the cycle of poverty by empowering girls through that education.

12. Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code

Bryant founded Black Girls Code after being inspired by the movement to get girls interested in computer science. She saw that black girls and other minorities were still being left out — so she decided to change that.

13. Sarah Kearney, Prime Coalition

Prime Coalition helps private companies invest in energy-related startups. Kearney founded it after her time serving on several energy boards at MIT and other companies. She was a fellow at Echoing Green. She has said she wants to expand the funding into clean energy storage and new technology spaces as well.

14. Parker Mitchell, Significance Labs

Mitchell founded Significance Labs with Hannah Calhoon and Bill Cromie. Prior to that, he founded Engineers Without Borders in Canada and worked with the Blue Ridge Foundation in New York. Significance Labs is an incubator for tech companies that want to solve problems for low-income Americans.

15. Rachel Botsman, Collaborative Consumption

Botsman is the author of What's Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live. She coined the term "collaborative consumption," and is a respected thought leader on the sharing economy and its economic and social impacts.

16. Erik Hersman, iHub Nairobi

Hersman is the co-founder of iHub, Nairobi's tech innovation space, CEO of BRCK, co-founder of Ushahidi, and partner of Savannah Fund. He is a key player in the African tech startup scene.

17. Juliana Rotich, Senior TED Fellow

In 2011, Rotich was named the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in Africa by the World Economic Forum. She is the co-founder of Ushahidi and well-known for her intelligent commentary on tech in Africa.

18. Laura Weidman Powers, CODE2040

Laura Weidman Powers started CODE2040, an organization that aims to close the achievement, wealth, and skills gap for blacks and Latinos in the US by creating programs to encourage and assist them to find STEM jobs.

19. Gina Trapani, ThinkUp

Trapani is a respected tech blogger, developer, and entrepreneur. She founded Lifehacker, a well-known weblog about life hacks and software, in 2005 and ThinkUp, a social analytics website used by the White House. Her writing on developing, women in tech, and other issues has been published in many well-known publications.

20. Topher White, Rainforest Connection

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Image: Rainforest Connection

White is the CEO and co-founder of Rainforest Connection, a crowdfunded project that turns old smartphones into solar-powered warning systems for illegal logging.

21. Premal Shah, Kiva

Shah is the president of Kiva, the most well-known and successful microfinancing site. He is a well-known social entrepreneur who has worked for many years to help people in developing countries create sustainable businesses.

22. Kathryn Minshew, The Muse

Minshew is a co-founder of The Muse, a platform that is aiming to match people up with jobs they really want (and are really qualified for) by using job listings, skill-building workshops, and advice columns.

23. Billy Parish, Mosaic

Parish is the CEO and founder of Mosaic, a crowdfunding platform for solar energy. People can invest in their own PV system or fund someone else's project and earn money off their investment.

24. Rachel Haot, CDO of NYC

Haot is the first Chief Digital Officer for New York City and deputy security of technology for the state. One of her first projects was creating a digital roadmap of the city.

25. Chase Adam, Watsi

Watsi is a global crowdfunding platform for medical treatments, founded by Adam. Users can donate as little as $5 and receive updates on the status of the patient. Adam is aiming to reinvent the NGO model.

26. Sangeeta Bhatia, Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies at MIT

Bhatia, who made Fast Company's "Most Creative People in Business" list, developed a system that works like a pregnancy test to detect cancer, and her lab received funding from MIT to go forward with the research. She is the director of the Lab for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies.

27. Iolanthe Chronis, Swish

Chronis also made the Fast Company list this year. She founded Swish, which aggregates the best pre-orders from crowdfunded products whose companies may not be set up to handle the sudden increase in volume that can come after a successful crowdfunding campaign.

28. Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org

Best created DonorsChoose.org, which is an online charity to help K-12 students in need. When the projects reach their funding goal, the classroom materials are shipped to the school. The idea stemmed from his work with schools in the Bronx, but the organization has taken off in the last couple of years.

29. Lance Pickens, MadeSolid

MadeSolid, founded by Pickens, aims to advance the capabilities of 3D printers through better materials, which is the major problem with the industry right now. The startup has made big waves in the industry already.

30. Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox

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Image: GoldieBlox

Sterling wants to "disrupt the pink aisle" in toy stores by creating girls' toys that get them interested in engineering at a young age. She created GoldieBlox to get them building.

31. Leah Busque, TaskRabbit

Busque is the founder of TaskRabbit , a darling of the sharing economy that allows people to exchange their skills and pick up odd jobs to make extra income.

32. Clark Freifeld, HealthMap

HealthMap is a data mapping tool that detects and tracks diseases across the world. The system discovered the Ebola virus outbreak more than a week before it was officially reported. Freifeld and his co-founder, John Brownstein, are doctors at Boston Children's Hospital.

33. Isabelle Olsson, Google Glass designer

Olsson is Google's lead industrial designer for Glass, helping reinvent the idea of wearing wearables. Glass hasn't fully caught on yet, but her designs make it all the more intriguing.

34. Natalie Foster, Peers.org

Foster founded Peers.org, a member-driven organization that supports the sharing economy movement. Previously, she founded Rebuild the Dream, which empowers people to innovate to fix the US economy.

35. Nina Nashif, Healthbox

Healthbox is a startup accelerator aimed to get entrepreneurs and the healthcare industry to work more effectively together and innovate more quickly.

36. Leila Janah, Samasource

Janah is the founder of Samasource, which creates digital jobs for women and youths in emerging markets, where they can't find living-wage work or any work at all. It employs more than 4,000 people around the world.

37. Ajaita Shah, Frontier Markets

Frontier Markets brings clean energy to low-income families in India by replacing kerosene lamps with solar solutions. Shah was a 2012 Echoing Green fellow and was listed in Forbes' 30 Under 30 earlier this year.

38. Miles Barr, Ubiquitous Energy

Barr recently won awards at MIT for his innovation in creating see-through solar panels that aren't yet on the market. In 2011, he started Ubiquitous Energy, which developed the ClearView Power technology, allowing surfaces like electronic devices or windows to transform into solar panels.

39. Severin Hacker, Duolingo

Hacker and Luis Von Ahn created Duolingo, which turns language-learning into a gamified experience by offering consistent interaction instead of the traditional memorization model. It's made for tablets and smartphones so you can learn anywhere, any time. And it's completely free.

40. Limor Fried, Adafruit

Fried founded Adafruit, a website to help users better understand electronics and helps them select the best ones to use. She was the first female engineer to be on the cover of Wired magazine, and Adafruit has been selected by several magazines as one of the top fastest-growing companies.

About Lyndsey Gilpin

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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