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10 Innovators Leading the Charge for Change

Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
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10 Innovators Leading the Charge for Change

Deborah Harrison | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

Companies don't innovate. People do.

But in today's business world, the people behind the innovation and groundbreaking ideas and inventions can be overshadowed by their creations.

Sometimes that anonymity is by design. (USB co-creator Ajay Bhatt, for example, prefers to pass the credit on to his team. Even when Intel made his name famous in a 2009 commercial, he declined to appear. An actor played him instead). More often, though, it's one of the side effects of the business world.

With that in mind, we've turned the spotlight on some people who are pushing their industries forward. Some of the names are familiar. Some you've probably never heard before (and may not hear again), but all of them are working to improve fields that have an impact on the majority of the population.

By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 20 March 2013

Nancy Tellem

Source: Microsoft

Tellem made her bones as president of CBS Television Studios, but it's the work she's doing with Microsoft that's really innovative. Lured to Redmond, Wash., to launch an Xbox Studio, she and her team are creating programs that will be available exclusively through the Xbox platform. (The programming will reportedly be a mix of short- and long-form, with many shows having an interactive layer built on them.) That's bound to put additional pressure on her former employer and other networks.

"We now have a tremendous opportunity to transform [the Xbox] into the center of all things entertainment—from games, music and fitness to news, sports, live events, television series and movies—so consumers have one destination for all their entertainment needs," she said.


V. Michael Bove Jr.

Source: MIT

Bove is an academic, but as principal research scientist and director of the Consumer Electronics Laboratory at MIT, he's leading the charge in exploring the possible future of TV. And that future, he believes, will be holographic sets.

Bove said he expects desktop holographic TV (in the 20-inch range) to hit within five to seven years and "will improve realism, immersiveness, and comfort for the viewer." (Larger sets are still further out, he added.) One major consumer electronics manufacturer (an unnamed corporate member of MIT Media Labs) has already started internal development on a display device.


Reed Hastings

Source: Netflix

Netflix's founder might have taken a few lumps in 2012 from investors and subscribers, but he's responsible for the push in streaming entertainment—and could now be redefining people's relation with television.

The resurrection of "Arrested Development" (due to be available to streaming customers this year) shows that life can continue for critically acclaimed shows that fail to immediately find an audience. Meanwhile, Hastings' decision to outbid Starz for the rights to Disney movies and to present the Kevin Spacey series "House of Cards" showed he is anything but satisfied with Netflix's current place in the broadcast world.

Michael Jones

Source: National Marrow Donor Program

Founded in 1987, the National Marrow Donor Program has grown to a list of more than 20.5 million bone marrow donors and nearly 185,000 umbilical cord blood units. As CIO, Jones has overseen the building of a patient/donor matching process that has become the standard.

Thanks to the company's algorithms for finding the best matches, wait time for transplants has been cut by 15 percent, increasing patients' odds of survival. And Jones and Co. have harnessed social media to increase the number of donors and financial benefactors. Ultimately, he hopes to boost the number of successful matches to 10,000 a year by 2015.


Cyrus Massoumi, Dr. Oliver Kharraz and Nick Ganju

Source: ZocDoc

After Cyrus Massoumi ruptured his eardrum on a flight, he couldn't find a doctor for four days. Teaming with Kharraz (right) and Ganju (left), the trio put together a service that lets people book last-minute appointments in their neighborhood with doctors, dentists, specialists and more.

That company—ZocDoc—already covers nearly 20 metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Users can search using their PCs, phones or tablets, and the company recently introduced a new feature letting patients fill out their paperwork online in advance of the visit to further speed the process.

(At the bottom of the photo is CFO Netta Samroengraja.)

Ashifi Gogo

Source: IBMSocialMedia | YouTube

Gogo originally targeted Sproxil, which is a check and balance system to protect against counterfeit products, at the organic food market. Demand was soft, though, so he pivoted the company to work with the pharmaceutical industry—and not only found his niche, but gave that business a new layer of protection.

Consumers pick up their prescription and scratch the label to reveal a unique, random code. By texting that code to Sproxil, they can find out instantly whether they've received the real drug or a fake. The focus is in emerging markets, where drug counterfeiting is a big problem with lethal consequences. Gogo has earned not only the praise of the pharmaceutical industry, but also that of former President Bill Clinton.


Alan Bignall

Source: universityofstthomas | YouTube

Not too long ago, police and military reconnaissance required putting an officer or soldier at risk to ascertain the whereabouts of a hostile. ReconRobtics, founded by Bignall, has reduced that danger, creating a small 1.2-pound throwable robot that can explore an area and send video images back.

The company now counts the U.S. Army and several domestic and international police departments among its customers. And last year, the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business named Bignall entrepreneur of the year.


Elon Musk

Source: elonmusk.com

Musk is certainly one of the best-known innovators around these days, having disrupted three different industries. In 1999, he founded an online financial services company called X.com. A few years and one key acquisition later, the company changed its name to PayPal. (You probably know the rest of that story.)

He's also CEO of SpaceX, which is working to privatize and advance the state of rocket technology and now serves as a cargo contractor for the International Space Station. And he's co-founder and head of product design at Tesla Motors, where he's attempting to show the auto industry that electric vehicles are a viable alternative to gas powered cars and trucks.


Manuk Colakyan

Source: perduebr | YouTube

As chief science officer at Renmatix, Colakyan leads the company in its mission to convert nonfood-based garbage into cost-efficient biofuels. With over 25 years of experience as a chemical engineer, he has helped Renmatix improve its technology and led its research and development.

"We have almost 7 billion people on this planet to feed," he said. "I don't think we can afford to divert our precious food sources to make chemicals or fuels.


Danielle Fong

Source: daniellefong.com

Despite dropping out of middle school and Princeton, Fong is revolutionizing the energy storage business. The founder of LightSail Energy has managed to convert compressed air into a renewable energy source for both individuals and power plants. Ultimately, the company hopes to reduce the need for transmission line investment and take renewable energy to the mainstream world.

The technology is still new, but it has attracted the likes of Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel as investors, collecting $37.5 million in a Series D round last year.