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These 16 Founders Can See the Future of Everything From Artificial Intelligence to Ice Cream

These entrepreneurs on Inc.’s Female Founders 100 are challenging the norms across industries.

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BY Inc. staff - 04 Oct 2018

These 16 Founders Can See the Future of Everything From Artificial Intelligence to Ice Cream

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Female Founders 100: The Visionaries There are entrepreneurs who set out to build a better version of something, and then there are those who have the foresight to dream up an entirely new reality. These women are reinventing industries, connecting dots we didn't imagine could be, and pushing us out of our comfort zone.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Carol Reiley

Drive.ai

Self-driving cars need brains, and Reiley is building them. The Johns Hopkins computer science PhD, who has started three other companies, co-founded the Mountain View, California-based startup in 2015. "I felt like my mission in life was to create robots or smart machines that save lives," she says. "I realized that I could make a huge impact with self-driving cars." The company's software--which helps vehicles do everything from obey traffic laws to avoid potholes--can be installed in traditional cars to make them autonomous, and the firm partnered with Lyft on a proof of concept that will soon roll out in San Francisco. Through deals with local governments, it's already on the ground in Frisco, Texas, and Drive.ai will soon be launching a pilot in Arlington that gets people to and from the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium--making it one of the few autonomous car companies that's already earning revenue. Eventually, Reiley hopes to expand into other verticals, like logistics. "The self-driving industry could impact so many things," she says. "There's endless potential." --Kevin J. Ryan

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Polina Raygorodskaya

Wanderu

Raygorodskaya has had a busy year since her seven-year-old travel-booking startup, Wanderu, reached profitability in August 2017. Not only is her Boston-based company on pace to close 2018 with more than $200 million in revenue--double what it did last year--but it has also expanded its service internationally, now covering 130 million routes between 11,000 cities in 60 countries across North America and Europe. Wanderu lets customers book travel itineraries from point A to point B using different modes of transportation like buses and trains. By the end of the year, Raygorodskaya says, users will be able to book bus, train, ferry, and airplane tickets with a single Wanderu search--a service not yet offered by any other business. "Reaching profitability is one major feat, but it's really tough to maintain it," says the 32-year-old Russian immigrant. "The thing that I'm most proud of is that we've been able to grow well while maintaining profitability." --Guadalupe Gonzalez

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Anne Wojcicki

23andMe

Wojcicki has outlasted skeptics, haters, and even the FDA, pushing the world's largest genealogy company into another groundbreaking year. In August, the DNA-testing company expanded its ancestry capabilities to include 12 additional African, East Asian, and Native American populations. The company also announced a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline that will give the pharma giant access to anonymized data for drug development purposes in exchange for $300 million. Even before the agreement, 23andMe was valued at $1.75 billion. But don't expect Wojcicki to start splurging. "I'm a huge believer in being thrifty," she says. "When we closed the GSK deal, we had confetti in the office. I saved it and reused it in my former mother-in-law's birthday present." --K.J.R.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Sarah Kauss

S'well

What happens when you cross a fashionista with an outdoors girl from Boulder, Colorado? Well, if that person is also a former public-company accountant, you get a startup that changes the way we think of an everyday accessory--the water bottle--and reaches $100 million in sales without any outside funding. Of course, Kauss's New York City-based company, S'well, isn't making just any water bottle. They're triple-walled steel, and many of the designs come in limited editions, thanks to partnerships with of-the-moment artists. This past year, S'well has been building partnerships--such as one with Marriott to place S'well bottles in 150 of its Element hotels--expanding internationally, and introducing new products such as its insulated tumblers and gallon-size containers. --Kimberly Weisul

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Nancy Twine

Briogeo Hair Care

As a 27-year-old vice president at Goldman Sachs, Twine didn't feel like life could get much better. That was until her mother died suddenly in 2010, and the finance career she'd built fizzled into memories of sourcing butters, salts, and waxes from her childhood home on Long Island, cooking up natural hair and skin remedies. Now the top-selling hair care brand at Sephora, Briogeo's toxin-free line of products for women of all hair types and textures is resonating with black women and the general clean-ingredient-seeking crowd. "In the beginning, I was writing the company a lot of loans from my personal account," says Twine. "I haven't done that in a year." --Jemima McEvoy

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Iya Khalil

GNS Healthcare

In 2010, Khalil had barely exited a plane when she blacked out. Fortunately, Logan Airport was just 10 minutes from Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors found embolisms in both her lungs. "They did not think I would live," says Khalil, who wondered whether--with the right data--the threat could have been predicted. The result: GNS Healthcare, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based data analytics company that uses artificial intelligence to examine two data streams: one comprising genetic and molecular data, and one comprising real-world data collected from actual patients. The 80-person company helps improve the outcomes for a dozen diseases. For example, it's creating models to identify which patients with multiple myeloma will respond to stem cell therapy, and how the position of tumors in colorectal cancer affects chances of survival. "If we start to break it down disease by disease, the savings of lives is hundreds of thousands of patients," says Khalil. --Leigh Buchanan

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Kim Malek

Salt & Straw

Just when it seemed farm to table had reached every culinary corner, Malek threw a curve ball with a new one: farm to cone. Malek and her ice cream maker cousin Tyler Malek built their Portland, Oregon-based small-batch ice cream brand with lots of, dare we say it, sweet equity. In each of Salt & Straw's locales, the Maleks source local, seasonal, organic ingredients by partnering with chefs, artisanal food producers, and farmers to create flavor collaborations like Beecher's Cheese With Peppercorn Toffee (Seattle), Zucchini Bread With Chocolate Freckles (San Francisco and L.A.), and Tokyo PB&J (Portland). Die-hard fans will very willingly wait in 45-minute-long lines. With its steady growth--the nine-year-old company has 14 shops and three on the way--Malek makes sure to provide a long-term career development path for her staff. "That people part is everything," says Malek. "It's not only your standards and how you execute them, but also carrying your culture forward." --Hannah Wallace

Caribou Biosciences co-founders Rachel Haurwitz (left) and Jennifer Doudna.

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Rachel Haurwitz and Jennifer Doudna

Caribou Biosciences

In the future, deadly diseases will be snipped from your DNA like lines of bad code. At least, that's how the University of California at Berkeley biochemistry professor (Doudna) and her former-student-turned-CEO (Haurwitz) envision it. Doudna's research team at Berkeley published the first paper illustrating Crispr's gene-editing abilities back in 2012, and then spun it out into the Berkeley-based company, which now has 50 employees--half of whom are female--and more than $40 million in funding. The controversial goal, which the founders hope to accomplish within five to 10 years, is to release FDA-approved therapies that could attack everything from cancer to cystic fibrosis, as well as to engineer malaria-resistant mosquitoes. Meanwhile, though, they have to navigate an ongoing patent dispute with MIT. --K.J.R.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Koel Thomae

Noosa Yoghurt

On a trip back home to Australia, Thomae discovered a velvety, tart, honey-infused yogurt. A series of events--a three-hour lunch with the family who owned the yogurt recipe, a modest windfall from working at beverage startup Izze (which sold to Pepsi), finding a dairy farmer in her adopted town of Boulder, Colorado--led to the launch of Noosa in 2010. Now, with $220 million in revenue and private equity backing, Noosa's a contender in the high-stakes yogurt wars. --K.W.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Christina Tosi

Milk Bar

The trained pastry chef turned entrepreneur and reality-TV star has used grit, ingenuity, and some Momofuku juju to turn her Crack Pie and Cereal Milk ice cream creations into a profitable bakery chain with a cult following. Tosi launched Milk Bar in 2008, while working at David Chang's empire, and last year lined up funding to help juice expansion of products, operations, and locations, of which there will soon be 16. "I just try to appreciate the pure joy of crazy stuff that people are dreaming up," says Tosi of tech innovations, "and then figure out how to make it into reality." --Maria Aspan

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Jessica Banks

RockPaperRobot

If you think your furniture should adapt to you, rather than the other way around, meet Banks, a roboticist-turned-designer working in the emergent field of kinetic furniture. Banks's signature product, the Float Table, is made of magnetized blocks that appear to be suspended in an airy grid formation. It's part coffee table, part art installation, and fits perfectly with her Ollie Chair and, soon, the Ollie Table, both of which bring high design and whimsy to folding furniture. Banks started New York City-based RockPaperRobot in 2014, after studying at Rodney Brooks's robotics lab at MIT and a stint working for architect Frank Gehry. Next from investor-backed RockPaperRobot: a bar stool and a bar cart that morphs into a full bar. Happy hour, anyone? --K.W.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Jennifer Fitzgerald

Policygenius

An Air Force brat whose parents met when her dad was posted in her mom's native Philippines, Fitzgerald was the first in her family to go to college--followed by the Peace Corps, the World Bank, law school, and McKinsey, where she found herself consulting for struggling insurance giants during the financial crisis. After a few years, she and a colleague took a leave of absence to build a platform that could replace aging insurance brokers with a mix of automation and real, digitally savvy humans. The New York City startup acts as a broker and customer-service rep for big life-insurance partners, has expanded to car and home insurance, and is now looking into financial planning, armed with $52 million in funding from investors including Steve Case's Revolution. --M.A.

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Natalya Bailey

Accion Systems

Four years in, Bailey's company is finally ready to take off. Literally: Accion Systems, which makes tiny ion propulsion engines for satellites, is awaiting the first launches of its technology. Starting next month, customers including the Irvine, California, public high school STEM program and an undisclosed commercial partner are scheduled to hurtle Accion-powered satellites into space. It's a huge milestone for the MIT-trained aerospace engineer who co-founded the company with classmate Louis Perna and has raised at least $10.5 million in venture capital so far, along with booking $7 million in Department of Defense contracts. --M.A.

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Caryn Seidman-Becker

Clear

Seidman-Becker doesn't lack for ambition: At 29, the investor left behind a job managing a billion-dollar fund to start her own hedge fund. By 37, she'd bought an airport security-screening startup out of bankruptcy for $5.87 million. Now Seidman-Becker plans to take the underlying technology--an ability to identify people using scans of their faces, irises, and fingerprints--and use it to make her biometrics company the global ID standard of the future. Clear's subscribers can now move through flight security with the touch of a finger at more than 20 U.S. airports, or scan their fingerprint at Seattle Seahawks or Sounders games to buy beer or food. If Seidman-Becker has her way, your face--or your finger, or your eyeball--will eventually be the only ID you need. --Burt Helm

CREDIT: Courtesy company

Lynn Jurich

Sunrun

In 2015, after raising $250 million in venture capital, co-founder and CEO Jurich took Sunrun public--less than two months after her first child was born. Sunrun is now the country's largest provider of residential solar power, with a market valuation of about $1.4 billion. Jurich is also an active angel investor, with investments in skincare company Tatcha (co-founded by her husband), and more recently Safi Analytics, a woman-run company helping factories in the developing world become more efficient. After hurricanes Maria and Irma, Sunrun undertook a philanthropic effort to install solar panels with back-up batteries on firehouses in Puerto Rico. "Half the fire stations didn't have electricity," says Jurich. "Even 911 wasn't working." --K.W.

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