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  • 01
    Tamer Hassan
  • 02
    Carli Lloyd
  • 03
    Alex Morgan
  • 04
    Megan Rapinoe
  • 05
    Lisa Jackson
  • 06
    Roberto Orosei
  • 07
    Seth Meyers
  • 08
    Liz O'Neill
  • 09
    Ivy Ross
  • 10
    Sara Menker
  • 11
    Kate Crawford
  • 12
    Desmond Meade
  • 13
    Isabel Garvey
  • 14
    Dev Stahlkopf
  • 15
    Tim Brooks
  • 16
    Kristine Belson
  • 17
    Khoi Vinh
  • 18
    Eva Galperin
  • 19
    Heidi O'Neill
  • 20
    Kevin Lin
  • 21
    Jean-Fran?ois Gagné
  • 22
    Shimrit Perkol-Finkel
  • 23
    Bom Kim
  • 24
    Ron Crawford
  • 25
    Nico Walker
  • 26
    Jeff Lehman
  • 27
    Diane Lipscombe
  • 28
    Christine McConnell
  • 29
    Dev Hynes
  • 30
    Leah Culver
  • 31
    Signe Preuschoft
  • 32
    Neil DiPaola
  • 33
    Mark Sullivan
  • 34
    Valerie Casey
  • 35
    Michelle Pfeiffer
  • 36
    Norman de Greve
  • 37
    Sara Clemens
  • 38
    Marti Romances
  • 39
    Emily Collins
  • 40
    Michaela Olsen
  • 41
    Jess Peterson
  • 42
    Gene Hogg
  • 43
    Emil Wilbekin
  • 44
    Earl Maize
  • 45
    Lisa Burger
  • 46
    Mate Rimac
  • 47
    Peter Lord
  • 48
    David Sproxton
  • 49
    Alexa L. Fogel
  • 50
    Alyssa Henry
  • 51
    Damian Kulash
  • 52
    Tim Nordwind
  • 53
    Andy Ross
  • 54
    Dan Konopka
  • 55
    Kerby Jean-Raymond
  • 56
    Gabriel Weinberg
  • 57
    Carsten Nygaard Br?gger
  • 58
    Mariana Vasconcelos
  • 59
    Adam Cosner
  • 60
    Aaron Garbut
  • 61
    Chris Gibson
  • 62
    Jenny Town
  • 63
    Alessandro Babini
  • 64
    Steph Hay
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    Jonathan Marvel
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    Steph Sherer
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    Chris Lyons
  • 68
    Elena Sigman
  • 69
    Andrea Thomaz
  • 70
    Tokini Peterside
  • 71
    Marsai Martin
  • 72
    Romitha Mally
  • 73
    Miranda Qu
  • 74
    Luke Saunders
  • 75
    Renee James
  • 76
    Jessica Zhang
  • 77
    Fernando Machado
  • 78
    Jimmy Chin
  • 79
    Alfonso Cobo
  • 80
    Emily Feistritzer
  • 81
    Davida Herzl
  • 82
    Federico Vega
  • 83
    Sheela S?gaard
  • 84
    Janelle Shane
  • 85
    Tony Liu
  • 86
    Lindsey Schuyler
  • 87
    Kotchakorn Voraakhom
  • 88
    Kagiso Lediga
  • 89
    Erin Craig
  • 90
    Heidi Schreck
  • 91
    Hao Yan
  • 92
    Yusuf Sherwani
  • 93
    Nick Foley
  • 94
    Menaka Guruswamy
  • 95
    Arundhati Katju
  • 96
    Karla Welch
  • 97
    Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • 98
    Mette Hay
  • 99
    Rolf Hay
  • 100
    Amanda Seales
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Most Creative People 2019Most Creative People 2019

Each of the 100 visionary leaders you’ll read about here has accomplished something over the past year that has moved an entire industry forward in an unprecedented way. Here's how we chose them.

[Photo: Kyle Dorosz]

This was no ordinary botnet.

On a February day in 2017, Tamer Hassan was going about his typical work of monitoring advertising-buying and -selling software for potential security issues when he noticed something strange. Hassan, the cofounder and then CTO of ad-fraud detection and prevention company White Ops, had been tracking a smallish botnet and realized that it had suddenly transformed into a hydra that simply wouldn’t die.

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U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team co-captains Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe play by the same rules with the same ball on the same field as their male counterparts. Yet they brought home a combined $1,725,000 for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, while the U.S. Men’s National Team earned more than twice that for losing in the men’s 2014 round of 16. “It pisses me off,” Rapinoe says of the disparity. “But it’s also energizing.” With the 2019 Women’s World Cup beginning this month, the women’s team is taking a stand by suing their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, for gender discrimination. “If we don’t do this now, we will not push barriers,” says Lloyd, who scored her first international goal in 2006. The suit addresses compensation and working conditions, and seeks to demonstrate how investments in areas like marketing and staffing affect attendance and viewership—which, in turn, affect pay.

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A few months after Apple reported last year that it was operating on 100% renewable energy—a major milestone for the company—it made a more unusual announcement, especially for a tech giant: It had invested in a 27,000-acre mangrove forest in Colombia. Lisa Jackson, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has spent the past six years helping Apple find effective ways to fight climate change.

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[Illustration: James Gilleard]

Roberto Orosei knew as early as 2008 that he’d found something exciting bouncing off the surface of Mars: bright radar “reflections,” spanning about 12 miles across, roughly a mile below the planet’s southern polar cap. The most plausible explanation was an underground lake of some sort, a potential harbor for extraterrestrial life. But Orosei wanted to make sure, which took almost a decade.

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[Photo: Mackenzie Stroh; stylist: Sam Spector; groomer: Losi at Honey Artists; clothing Boglioli]

Five hours before taping on a recent Thursday, the eighth-floor offices at 30 Rockefeller Center are a hive of focused activity. In the bullpenlike space that most of the 16 writers for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers share, jokes about a woman arrested for handing out pot cookies at a St. Patrick’s Day parade (“Police became suspicious when nobody got into a fistfight”) and a “two strike” proposal for sexual harassment on New York City public transportation (“Two?!”) are tapped into iMacs without hair-rending or tears. Down the hall in his corner office, Seth Meyers reads through a segment, making minor adjustments. For followers of late-night TV mythology, accustomed to tales of brutal production schedules and hosts’ hurricanelike mood swings, this all might seem a little tame. “I think the pace of SNL and what it puts the staff through is really important for that show,” says Meyers, who arrived at Late Night after eight years as SNL’s head writer. “What we’re doing here doesn’t have to have that kind of pace. The realization was really big for us.”

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[Illustration: Hugo Fournier]

“Speed to market and sustainability are two of the biggest challenges in the [apparel] industry,” says Liz O’Neill, who has overseen the supply chain at Levi’s for the past five years. Often, companies end up sacrificing sustainability for speed by overproducing garments. But O’Neill tackled both issues last year with the launch of Project F.L.X. (aka future-led execution), which uses digital prototyping and lasers to automate the process of applying finishes to jeans (making them look worn or faded).

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As the head of Google’s hardware design team, Ivy Ross is consumed by a single question: “When you hold Google in your hands, what does it look and feel like?” In everything from the Daydream VR headset to the Google Home speaker, the former jewelry designer has pioneered the soft, round, often fabric-covered aesthetic that is now recognizable as Google’s own.

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During the government shutdown in early 2019, the USDA announced that it would delay its monthly report on supply, demand, and trade for 20 crops. The result would have caused chaos among farmers, investors, and food manufacturers, so Sara Menker, founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence, released her company’s forecasts for 35 crops (more than 90% of which matched what the government later reported).

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“AI is being fed directly into the bloodstream of society, and in many cases without sufficient checks and balances,” says Kate Crawford, a professor and cofounder of New York University’s AI Now, the world’s first academic research institute dedicated to the social impact of artificial intelligence. Last year, Crawford partnered with data-viz guru Vladan Joler to create “Anatomy of an AI System,” a map and research paper demonstrating the real-world consequences of developing and manufacturing the Amazon Echo.

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Florida voters made a landmark decision to restore voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons via a ballot initiative last November that amended the state’s constitution. Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and a “returning citizen” himself, led the effort, traversing the state for two years to help collect more than 760,000 signatures for the measure and then advocating for its passage. 

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Fats Waller, the Beatles, Queen, Adele, Kanye—they’ve all produced albums at London’s Abbey Road, the oldest recording studio in the world. But this pedigree has a downside: “Artists earlier in their careers assume we’re not that accessible,” says Isabel Garvey, who is working to attract emerging talent.

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[Photo: Ian Allen]

Four months after being promoted to general counsel last year, Dev Stahlkopf announced that Microsoft would require all its vendors to provide contract employees who do “substantial work”—from shuttle drivers to food-service workers to receptionists—with 12 weeks of parental leave at two-thirds of their wages, up to $1,000 per week. 

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For 60 years, Lego made its signature building blocks from oil-based plastic. In 2018, the company launched its first pieces made from plant-based plastic, sourced from sugarcane. As one of the leaders of Lego’s larger environmental mission, Tim Brooks, the company’s vice president of environmental responsibility, suggested focusing on finding a replacement for polyethylene, a flexible material used in certain Lego pieces, such as dragon wings, because plant-based alternatives were readily available.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wasn’t the kind of film that most new studio heads bet on. The superhero’s hold on audiences had been weakening for a decade, and the film’s proposed mix of old-school animation and CGI was a creative and technological gamble. But Kristine Belson, a DreamWorks Animation and Jim Henson Company vet who became president of Sony Pictures Animation in 2015, was drawn to the project precisely because of its “risky” elements.

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Apps are getting easier to use largely because they’re getting easier to build: Better software enables designers to experiment with user interfaces without having to enlist coders. But so far, these prototyping tools have focused on visual interfaces. What happens if you want to let users talk to your app? “It’s important for [designers] to be as creative as possible with voice from the beginning,” says Khoi Vinh.

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[Photo: Winni Wintermeyer]

As director of cybersecurity at Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has defended civil liberties on the internet since 1990, Eva Galperin identifies and exposes threats to the privacy of journalists, activists, and others online. That includes hundreds of victims of domestic abuse, who are often targeted with surveillance software (aka stalkerware) that lets abusers spy on their victims through digital devices.

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When Heidi O’Neill, who leads Nike’s retail initiatives across the globe, was planning the company’s next wave of flagship stores, she gave her team a challenge: Could they be as “consumer-centric, bold, and innovative” in creating new shopping experiences as the athletic-wear giant has been in developing sneakers and apparel? The result is Nike’s House of Innovation stores, which opened last year in New York City and Shanghai.

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There are over 6 million mom-and-pop stores in China, and despite the growth of e-commerce, they still represent 50% of retail sales of consumer packaged goods in the country. But it’s an analog business. Sub-distributors mark up prices. Major CPG brands, meanwhile, struggle to connect with these stores, and middlemen often make their products too expensive for sellers. As a 21-year veteran of Procter & Gamble China, Kevin Lin experienced this firsthand. After joining Alibaba in 2016, he created a solution.

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The AI revolution has been led by a handful of tech giants—think Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft—but Jean-Fran?ois Gagné’s Element AI is forging an intrepid path to subvert their dominance. Unlike an Amazon or a Microsoft, startups don’t have ready access to the vast quantities of big data required to train machine-learning algorithms. So Element AI created a clever system for developing algorithms using data the company generates itself through a simulator.

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[Images: IkonStudio/iStock; IhorDan/iStock; Magda Ehlers/Pexels]

Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, an Israeli marine biologist, created Econcrete to protect and rejuvenate coastlines and marine life. The low-carbon, bio-enhanced concrete is custom-made for urban waterfronts, port redevelopment projects, and offshore energy platforms. Its chemical composition provides a more favorable environment for rich and diverse marine life.

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“Koreans work the longest hours in Asia,” says Bom Kim, who lives in Seoul. “The average commute is 58 minutes. The average middle school student comes home at 10 p.m.” Kim is working to alleviate their stress via the convenience he can offer through his e-commerce company, which allows customers to order from 2 million products (from karaoke microphones to oranges) as late as midnight and receive them by 7 a.m. the next day.

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In 2017, Starbucks began offering birth mothers in its corporate offices 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and non-birth parents 12 weeks. In January 2018, the company announced it would give all retail workers six weeks of paid leave for a new child, whether they are the birth parent or not. Still, many employees felt overlooked. “Maybe you weren’t about to have a baby, but you have elderly parents. We wanted to provide care in the context of a full family,” says Ron Crawford, the company’s VP of global benefits.

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Nico Walker served as an army medic for a year during the Iraq War. After he returned to Cleveland, he became an opioid user and eventually robbed 11 banks in four months to pay for his heroin habit. While serving an 11-year federal prison sentence, he wrote a novel on a typewriter in the prison’s legal library. Upon its release last August, it became a New York Times best seller and drew rave reviews for its depiction of the opioid crisis ravaging American neighborhoods.

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Barrie, a city of 150,000, north of Toronto, was facing the same issues as Rust Belt cities south of its border when Jeff Lehman was first elected mayor nine years ago: declining manufacturing, little affordable housing, and a coming opioid crisis. But the former urban planner, now in his third term, has grown Barrie’s economy while boosting social services.

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After receiving a $100 million gift last year, Brown University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science did something rare in science and academia: It formalized collaboration. In February 2019, under the guidance of director and neuroscience professor Diane Lipscombe, the institute opened a 10,000-square-foot space that brings together a Justice League of engineers, neuroscientists, data scientists, and others to hasten discoveries around conditions such as autism, epilepsy, and movement disorders.

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Christine McConnell began baking her unsettling desserts—cookies dotted with realistic eyeballs, a Gremlins cake, a pie replica of the chest-bursting scene from Alien, and more—as a hobby. The painstakingly crafted creations (as well as morbid craft projects like a human-skull-shaped powder-puff holder) attracted nearly 500,000 Instagram followers and led to a 2016 cookbook and a gig creating viral marketing cakes for 20th Century Fox.

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[Photo: Oliver Hadlee Perch/Art Partner]

Dev Hynes, who performs as Blood Orange, pushes with his words, music, and indeterminate identity against rigid definitions of race, sexuality, and culture. His unstructured aesthetic is his one consistency, whether he’s producing tracks for Solange Knowles, FKA Twigs, ASAP Rocky, or himself. His acclaimed 2018 album, Negro Swan, which has been streamed 40 million times, could be the soundtrack for today’s anxious, fractured, gender-fluid times—insider music for every outsider.

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When Leah Culver started listening to the true-crime drama Serial, it was because everyone was telling her to. (That, and she was training for a marathon.) But when she finished and began sifting through the glut of nearly 660,000 podcasts to find something else, it quickly devolved into “a chore,” says the Dropbox alum. “I wanted to make it more fun.” So she built Breaker, a free, two-year-old podcast app that combines elements from other content-discovery platforms to surface ear-gems tailored to a specific user.

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On the island of Borneo, eight young orangutans are the first students in a 247-acre forest school, where orphaned apes learn the skills they need to live independently in the wild. Primatologist Signe Preuschoft, working with the international nonprofit Four Paws and local organization Jejak Pulang, designed the school to replicate the lives that the animals would have led if their mothers had survived to raise them. “We ‘orangutanize’ the human caregiver,” says Preuschoft.

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[Illustration: Matt Carlson]

“Not much has changed in the camping industry since, well, the beginning of time,” says AutoCamp CEO Neil Dipaola, whose pioneering hotel company, which hosts travelers in chic, aluminum Airstream travel trailers in locations such as Santa Barbara, California, is now enticing both novice and experienced campers to enjoy the great outdoors.

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Numerous diseases afflict billions but lack good treatments because they are not profitable enough for drugmakers. Cholera, malaria, dengue, and Zika all fall under the “neglected disease” heading, as does river blindness, a parasitic infection. Mark Sullivan, a veteran of GSK and Gilead, knew there were promising leads languishing in academic labs. He decided to “adopt” some of them, convening a virtual team to design and manage every part of the development and approval process—and paying for it in a revolutionary way.

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Valerie Casey joined Walmart in mid-2018 and oversees 160 designers responsible for developing in-store experiences and challenging Amazon’s nearly 50% online-sales market share. A veteran of design firms, nonprofits, and a consumer-tech company, Casey has grown the department by more than 75% and eliminated silos that had led to inconsistent products from one department to the next.

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[Photo: Olivia Malone/The New York Times/Redux Pictures]

Michelle Pfeiffer’s new direct-to-consumer perfume company, Henry Rose—which launched in April—is bringing groundbreaking transparency to a stubbornly opaque industry. Henry Rose offers customers the full ingredient list for each of its inaugural five scents, all certified as safe and environmentally sound by nonprofit watchdogs Cradle to Cradle and the Environmental Working Group, where Pfeiffer is a board member.

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[Photo: Jesse Burke]

In an age when beauty standards have become wildly unrealistic, CVS Health—the country’s second-largest beauty retailer, with nearly 10,000 stores—is fighting back. Under CMO Norman de Greve, the company began assessing a year ago all the images in its stores, social media feeds, advertising materials, and on its website, and applying a “Beauty Unaltered” watermark to those that had not been substantially retouched—and a “digitally altered” label to those that had.

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Since joining Twitch, Amazon’s interactive streaming-video service, in January 2018, Sara Clemens has developed new audiences and revenue sources. Average concurrent viewers are up 35%, and minutes watched are up 42%, to more than 500 billion, thanks to what she calls “headline content” that demonstrates the platform’s potential beyond gaming.

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Marti Romances heads up Territory Studio San Francisco, part of the London-based design firm best known for dreaming up the dazzling computer interfaces that have appeared in sci-fi films including Blade Runner 2049 (remember the floating dashboard of Ryan Gosling’s car?) and six recent Marvel movies, including Avengers: Endgame.

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Mighty Oak uses cut paper, custom puppets, and elaborate miniature sets to make stop-motion and 2-D-animated commercials that engage audiences jaded by run-of-the-mill computer graphics. “Our approach connects back to childhood,” says CEO Jess Peterson, who has a background in branding and communications; her cofounders studied animation at Rhode Island School of Design. Last year, the four-year-old company booked more than $1 million in client work, including spots for Delta Dental (featuring tooth puppets demonstrating the importance of regular checkups), a stop-motion segment about gender-fluid dating for the pilot of HBO’s comedy Random Acts of Flyness, and a series of playful host-education videos for Airbnb Plus.

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The Problem: A 2018 Johns Hopkins study found that nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s residents live in “food deserts,” where poverty and lack of retailers make healthy food inaccessible.

The Epiphany: When riots over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man fatally injured in police custody, shut down the city, Salvation Army area leader Gene Hogg helped deploy mobile kitchens. He noticed the lack of food suppliers in northeast Baltimore, and prayed. “God woke me up and said, ‘I want you to open a grocery store,’” Hogg says.

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Media executive Emil Wilbekin founded Native Son, an advocacy and networking group for professional black gay men, to create “not just a safe space, but a beautiful space,” he says, where members of the community can celebrate their influence. Wilbekin’s three-year-old organization hosts panels and events at companies including Google and has signed on high-profile partners, such as Bloomingdale’s, with whom it has created Pride-themed hats and tees.

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There were many moments during NASA’s two-decade-long mission to study Saturn and its moons, carried out by the Cassini spacecraft, when cosmic rays, design flaws, and other unexpected hurdles called for on-the-fly problem-solving from program manager Earl Maize. But none required more ingenuity than the live, interactive broadcast of the spacecraft’s “Grand Finale.”

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[Illustration: Klawe Rzeczy]

Live theater has historically been less accessible to people with hearing impairments, because performances usually change from night to night and actors frequently skip or improvise lines, rendering traditional subtitles—prepared in advance at many theaters and broadcast on screens in the back of certain seats—unhelpful. “Theatergoers who are hard of hearing could only choose from certain performances and had to sit in specially designated seats, often away from their friends and family,” says Lisa Burger.

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Last summer, while Tesla faced scrutiny over delayed Model 3 deliveries and missteps by its CEO, luxury auto giant Porsche partnered with—and acquired a 10% stake in—Rimac Automobili, a 500-person electric-car maker based in Croatia. The company, founded in 2009 by then 21-year-old Mate Rimac, gained prominence for building two of the world’s fastest electric hypercars, but it also designs, manufactures, and sells batteries and other electric components to companies.

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Peter Lord and David Sproxton have spent 40 years fashioning quirky and indelible Claymation characters such as Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, reaping more than $1 billion in box-office revenues along the way. They’ve also nurtured a creative workshop culture at their animation studio in Bristol, England, and, nearing retirement age, the duo focused on how best to preserve it. Instead of selling to a conglomerate, Lord and Sproxton enabled their 140 employees to acquire 75% of the company last year and have input into running it via a council. “If people are more involved, they’ll work harder and be more committed,” says Sproxton.

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When Dominique Jackson—aka Elektra Abundance on the Ryan Murphy–produced FX hit, Pose—tried out for the role of a transgender matriarch of New York’s underground ball culture scene, she’d never played a major role on TV before. Still, having lived some of the same experiences as Elektra, she nailed it. “Jaws were on the floor,” says veteran casting director Alexa L. Fogel.

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Being able to order dinner, buy a shirt, and book a haircut in the span of a train ride home is nirvana for consumers. But for the merchants fielding those digital requests while also trying to run a brick-and-mortar business, it’s a nightmare. Alyssa Henry, who oversees the engineering and product teams for payments company Square, has spent the past year creating solutions for them.

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[Photo: Art Streiber/August Image]

“Most rock music is used for catharsis,” says OK Go bandleader and video director Damian Kulash. “That’s true for us, too, but our songs’ videos were also being used as teacher’s aids.” They figured, Why not make it official? Last year, the musicians partnered with AnnMarie Thomas, director of the University of St. Thomas’s Playful Learning Lab, to launch the nonprofit OK Go Sandbox. This online resource for teachers, sponsored by Google, Morton Salt, and Cognizant Technology Solutions, offers STEAM-related activities and challenges based on the band’s videos. One example, which has been viewed 340,000 times, reveals the math (and spreadsheets) behind their viral music video for “The One Moment,” which slowed a 4.2-second-long chain reaction to sync with the song. Their latest initiative is a contest in conjunction with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Cognizant that will place a student’s art experiment (to be announced in May) aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle, a reusable craft designed to take payloads—and eventually, people—into suborbital space.

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[Photo: Heather Sten/The New York Times/Redux Pictures]

T-shirts that read “stop calling 911 on the culture.” A beaded gown depicting a black father holding his newborn. Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond’s men’s and women’s fashion label, Pyer Moss, has something to say. “My design philosophy focuses on rewriting us back into the story and normalizing blackness,” says the Haitian American Brooklyn native.

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Gabriel Weinberg’s privacy-focused search engine doesn’t track users or log their search histories. What it does is offer peace of mind. Weinberg created it 11 years ago after hearing, as an angel investor, pitch after pitch from ad-tech startups about how they could slice, dice, and target groups of users using deeply personal data. “I thought, This is shady, and it’s only going to get crazier,” he says.

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After a camping trip left Carsten Nygaard Br?gger frustrated with the poor design of ubiquitous disposable aluminum grills—which not only burn food (and people) easily but can take 200 years to biodegrade—he and his wife, Susanne Nygaard Br?gger, set out to engineer a single-use grill from cardboard and other sustainable materials. “Everyone we talked to said, ‘You’re crazy, that’s not possible,’?” says Br?gger.

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Mariana Vasconcelos, the daughter of farmers in Brazil—the world’s third-largest food producer—saw firsthand how hard it is for growers to make decisions regarding irrigation, harvesting, and pest control. “They would rely on intuition and their neighbors,” she says. But as climate change led to droughts and irrigation limitations, “that made me want to bring technology to farmers so they could be more resilient.”

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Fast internet service is about more than just streaming Netflix shows. Firefighters need it to track rapidly changing conditions and communicate across rugged terrain. During last year’s Mendocino Complex Fire—the biggest wildfire in California history—a Verizon billing glitch caused the wireless giant to throttle the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s “unlimited” 4G access, putting lives on the line. Adam Cosner, a county firefighter, spoke out immediately, using a Reddit AMA to shame Verizon into establishing new wireless plans for first responders, featuring truly unlimited data, no usage caps, and priority access.

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When Rockstar Games released its Western epic video game Red Dead Redemption 2, in October 2018, it was the biggest entertainment launch in history, generating $725 million in revenue in its first three days. Behind the game’s debut was a team of 2,000 developers and artists, who worked for more than seven years to create its hyperimmersive American Southwest landscape. “My goal is to create a real place—or as close as we can get to one,” says art director Aaron Garbut, who led the world-building team.

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Most AI-driven biopharma companies parse available data to find drug molecules that target single proteins believed to underlie a disease. This yields a lot of leads, but few pan out. Recursion Pharmaceuticals generates its own data by running 100,000 mini-experiments weekly, robotically dosing samples of “sick” cells with an array of treatments. Recursion then takes a microscopic snapshot of the reaction and uses machine-learning software trained to spot the sick and healthy cells to sort out what works.

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[Photo: Greg Kahn]

When President Trump emerged from his Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un last June and announced that North Korea had offered to dismantle one of its nuclear sites, the website 38 North used satellite imagery to confirm that deconstruction was underway at key facilities at the Sohae launching station. After Trump’s summit with the dictator in Hanoi, Vietnam, seven months later, 38 North was able to document that Kim had begun rebuilding the Sohae site.

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[Illustration: Raymond Biesinger]

Most athletic wearables focus on heart rate, which can be helpful but conveys nothing about how your muscles are performing or how to adapt your workout. “You have more information about your phone, your computer, and your car than you do about your body, which is a billion times more important,” says Alessandro Babini, the cofounder and CEO of Humon, which makes the Hex, a wearable muscle-oxygen sensor that’s helping elite athletes achieve performance breakthroughs and work out more safely and effectively.

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After transitioning from journalism to user experience design, Steph Hay found herself at Capital One helping to create an AI assistant that customers would end up loving so much, one invited it to Thanksgiving dinner. “Eno” is the first gender-neutral AI assistant in banking, bucking the trend among companies to render smart assistants female. “We want our customers to relate with and trust Eno,” Hay says.

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When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, in 2017, architect Jonathan Marvel, who was born on the island and now works in New York, saw an opportunity to rethink the island’s infrastructure. He cofounded Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR), a nonprofit that has restored electricity to some of the poorest communities by taking advantage of the island’s abundant sun.

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As marijuana becomes increasingly legal worldwide—it’s now medically approved in 35 countries—the Prague-based International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI), which Steph Sherer cofounded in 2015, is ensuring that medical cannabis products are effective, safe, and consistent. “People are making claims without going through a scientific process,” Sherer says.

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Tech investment firm Andreessen Horowitz announced a $16.5 million Cultural Leadership Fund last fall that’s spearheaded by partner Chris Lyons and features limited partners with unusually high profiles, including Shonda Rhimes, Chance the Rapper, Quincy Jones, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. “If you think about who moves culture right now—from sports to music to art and fashion—it’s African Americans,” says Lyons. But often, these cultural power brokers have been on the sidelines when it comes to tech investing.

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If you think mastering a new system update is hard, imagine sitting down to a computer for the first time after 20 years in prison. A career in the criminal-justice nonprofit sector inspired Elena Sigman to launch Tech 101, a free course to educate returning citizens in digital basics. Last year, a cohort of 13 students (average sentence length: 16 years) gathered at John Jay College in New York over the course of 10 sessions to learn how to log on to a computer, create email and social media accounts, and use basic programs like Microsoft Word.

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Almost a third of a nurse’s average day “is spent on non-patient care: fetching, gathering, even taking out the trash,” says Andrea Thomaz, who, after a career spent running robotics labs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas, cofounded Diligent Robotics to bring her human-robot interaction research to market. In September 2018, her company launched a five-hospital beta trial of Moxi, a hospital robot assistant that completes non-patient-facing tasks such as gathering and delivering supplies and lab samples.

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[Photo: Lakin Ogunbanwo]

On the day Art X Lagos, West Africa’s first international art fair, opens to the public, Tokini Peterside likes to hang out by herself and watch visitors explore the art. The entrepreneur launched the three-day event in 2016 to support Nigerian and pan-African artists and give curators, collectors, and the public better access to them. Last November, 8,000 people visited from 30 countries. The event also featured a music festival and a new prize for emerging artists.

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Like every executive producer, Marsai Martin understands how long it takes to bring a feature film to the screen. She spent nearly one-third of her life doing it. The 14-year-old originator of Universal Pictures’ Little first pitched the idea, with her father, way back when she was 10. “We had zero clue what we were doing, to be honest,” Martin says of their meeting with Kenya Barris, who’d created Martin’s breakout vehicle, ABC’s Black-ish.

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Investment banker Romitha Mally has helped orchestrate some of the highest-profile mergers between beloved indie brands and huge conglomerates. In recent years, she brokered Unilever’s acquisitions of Dollar Shave Club (reportedly a $1 billion deal), Sundial Brands (parent of SheaMoisture), and the Laundress, which makes eco-friendly cleaning products. “I try to tell a story,” she says.

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China’s “post-’95 generation”—as Miranda Qu, cofounder of the social commerce app Xiaohongshu, calls the country’s young consumers—are digitally native, educated, and open-minded. They’re also “a consumption force,” she says, and “they don’t want anything mass market.”

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[Illustration: Ohni Lisle]

The Problem: The three most convenient food options for travelers in the United States, according to restaurant-trade publication QSR, are Starbucks, Subway, and McDonald’s, presenting many travelers with no choice other than fast food or a bag of Doritos from a vending machine.

The Epiphany: Seven years ago, while driving nearly 1,000 miles per week as a Michigan-based salesman, Luke Saunders found himself craving something fresh, like a salad. “I knew I was going to try and fix this problem,” he says.

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“When I tell people I’m CEO of a semiconductor company, they go, ‘Seriously?’ People think this business is boring,” says Renee James. But “semiconductors are the foundation. Without them, there’s no Google. What we’re doing for future innovation is a big deal.”

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Jessica Zhang’s role at Lyft is to delight the ride-sharing company’s 30.7 million users—and attract new ones. She does that through collaborations and glitzy events with celebrities like Cardi B and Demi Lovato, while “being careful to make sure we’re developing content that would occur in a car naturally,” she says.

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Last December, Fernando Machado made sure that the best place to buy a Whopper...was at McDonald’s. To launch Burger King’s app-based ordering and payment, Machado and his team created “Whopper Detour,” which geofenced a 600-foot perimeter around 14,000 McDonald’s locations nationwide and triggered a coupon notification on app users’ phones for a 1¢ Whopper and directions to the nearest Burger King.

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[Photo: Trunk Archive]

Jimmy Chin didn’t set out to make movie history. When he was dangling off Yosemite’s 3,200-foot El Capitan rock face, filming climber Alex Honnold’s attempt at the site’s first ropeless ascent for a documentary called Free Solo, he was just hoping Honnold made it up alive. But when the film debuted, in September 2018, it earned the highest opening per-screen box office of any documentary ever.

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Kim Kardashian West, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and other megawatt stars posted Instagram Stories over the past year that looked like high-end scrapbooks, with photo collages curated against minimalist backgrounds. They were created using templates by Alfonso Cobo, the cofounder of the app Unfold. Cobo launched the app in 2018 with templates—inspired by paper products, indie magazines, and analog photography—designed specifically for Instagram Stories.

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Veterans have skills that can translate well to leading a classroom. Having conducted multiple studies of a Defense Department–funded program called Troops to Teachers that was congressionally enacted in 1993, longtime education researcher Emily Feistritzer says she “knew a good bit about the potential of that market.” Teach-Now, her six-year-old online teacher-education platform, partnered with the Veterans Administration two years ago, and today the Department of Veteran Affairs is covering the $6,000 tuition cost for the 60 veterans enrolled in Teach-Now’s nine-month teaching certification program.

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“Once you have this information, it becomes difficult to understand how we lived without it,” says Davida Herzl, whose 10-year-old company, Aclima, delivers block-by-block air-quality measurements and analysis. Its technology shrinks the work of a trailer-size EPA station down to sensors no bigger than a shoebox, which are installed as networks on buildings or in fleets of cars.

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[Photo: Gabo Morales]

Federico Vega’s three-year-old startup matches independent truck drivers in Brazil with loads of cargo that need to be moved, lowering transportation costs for shippers while boosting income for truck drivers, who rarely travel empty—and processing more than $10 million monthly in payments along the way.

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Sheela S?gaard has transformed the Bjarke Ingels Group over the past 11 years from a 45-person shop in Copenhagen, Denmark, that was short on cash to a 550-person international megafirm by implementing a rigorous vetting system for each effort, no matter how small. “It comes down to: What does it cost to deliver projects?” she says. Her vigilance has enabled BIG’s architects to take on these recent bold, experimental projects.

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Janelle Shane is an optics research scientist by day and a humorist by night, documenting her experiments with machine learning on a blog called AI Weirdness. In a typical project, she’ll train a neural network (a type of algorithm inspired by human brains) on a particular kind of data (craft beer names, say, or knitting patterns) then let the AI generate suggestions.

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One of the most influential voices in the fashion industry belongs to Diet Prada, an Instagram account with 1.3 million followers. Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler started it in 2014 as a lighthearted way to call out knock-off designs. In the past year, though, it has become a champion for design integrity and accountability. Liu and Schuyler, who fund the project through branded merchandise and partnerships with select fashion brands, have exposed imitations by designers including Virgil Abloh and Jason Wu, along with Christian Siriano, who apologized and pulled a pair of Valentino-looking dresses in February.

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As sea levels rise, Bangkok is simultaneously sinking, making the flat, paved-over megacity vulnerable to flooding when it rains. Instead of building infrastructure to keep stormwater out, local architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom designs parks to capture it. “Getting rid of water is an impossible approach, because we’re a city of water,” she says.

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A small film about two friends in Pretoria, South Africa, who use their expertise in botany to create a special strain of weed, became one of the top-performing films at the South African box office in January. Written, directed, and produced by comedian Kagiso Lediga, Matwetwe was made for just $150,000 and shot in eight days with a cast of mostly drama students.

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Erin Craig, of the environmental consultancy 3Degrees, is getting businesses to work together to reduce the effects of climate change. Last year, Craig secured the funding to develop a solar array in Virginia and a wind project in Illinois by wrangling a joint agreement from four corporations—Apple, cloud-services provider Akamai, Etsy, and insurance giant Swiss Re—to finance and purchase energy from these sites. The deal established a model that makes renewable-energy procurement cost-effective for companies both large and small.

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Theater vet Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me was inspired by her experience as a 15-year-old giving speeches for scholarship money at American Legion halls across the country about the importance of the U.S. Constitution. She portrays both her current and teenage self on stage, reflecting on how her family’s history intersects with American history—and focusing specifically on the Constitution’s lack of protection for women and minorities.

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[Illustration: Oscar Llorens]

Can a robot fight cancer? Yes, but it needs to be really, really tiny, which is why Hao Yan and researchers at ASU and China’s National Center for Nanoscience and Technology are building nanobots that are one-thousandth the width of a strand of hair. Constructed from DNA folded into 3D shapes—a process nicknamed “DNA origami”—these autonomous, molecular-level machines “go into the blood to find the tumor and kill it,” explains Yan.

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[Illustration: The Project Twins]

The Problem: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and U.K. Though many smokers want to quit, DigiThera CEO Yusuf Sherwani says doctors are “terrible” at addressing the root causes of addiction.

The Epiphany: After a family member died from smoking-related issues at a young age, Sherwani, a med school grad, realized that by helping smokers understand the circumstances that trigger their impulse to light up, they could be encouraged to make healthier decisions. 

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When Uber acquired nine-year-old dockless electric-bike-share startup Jump Bikes last year, Jump hardware director Nick Foley had been working to make the vehicles sleeker and more approachable for novice riders, and developing features that would keep existing users in 17 U.S. cities coming back. After years of iterating on the design, his team debuted a new bike in December.

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Five people petitioned India’s Supreme Court in 2016 to overturn a law criminalizing gay sex, on the grounds that it violated their rights to equality, dignity, expression, and nondiscrimination. In September 2018, the court unanimously struck down the law and extended equal-rights protections to LGBTQ citizens in the world’s largest democracy. Having various productive LGBTQ Indian citizens represent the community was the idea of lawyers Menaka Guru-swamy and Arundhati Katju.

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With a client list that includes Olivia Wilde, Karlie Kloss, Justin Bieber, and Elisabeth Moss, Karla Welch is one of the most powerful—and prolific—stylists in Hollywood. (She dressed 20 people for the 2019 Academy Awards.) But Welch sees her role as transcending clothes. “I am a creative director for my clients,” she says, “helping to craft their image and project it into the world.” She’s now bringing that image-building perspective directly to brands.

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Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first task upon arriving at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in September 2018 was figuring out how to make the 135-year-old institution culturally relevant—and thereby stabilize ticket sales—without isolating its most loyal fans. “We have to undo decades of thinking that this is an art form only for the initiated,” the conductor says.

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Danish design brand Hay has developed a global cult following for its high-quality, affordable furniture and houseware collaborations with designers from all over the world. Hay views manufacturing as crucial to innovation. “We wanted to work with designers from our generation, taking advantage of the production possibilities,” says Rolf Hay, who has run the company with Mette Hay, now his wife, since 2002.

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[Photo: Maggie Shannon; hair: Suzette Boozer; makeup: Melanesia Hunter/@makeupactivist]

A former MTV VJ with a master’s degree in African American studies, Amanda Seales uses her platforms to explore the black experience in ways that range from hilarious to humbling. Over the past year she has embarked on a sold-out, 23-city tour for Smart Funny & Black, her live-comedy game show that’s something between Black Jeopardy and a black barbecue (the tour continues through the summer).

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