LinkedIn Next Wave: The must-know professionals transforming business

LinkedIn Editorial Staff
Christopher Gray who incited the biggest Shark Tank fight to date over his app Scholly, which connects students to millions of dollars worth of scholarships.
Source: Christopher Gray

The business landscape is rapidly evolving — and there's a set of professionals, all 35 and under, urging on this transformation using a combination of skill, guts and perseverance. These are the inventors, strategists and entrepreneurs that make up the LinkedIn Next Wave 2016, a group of 120 individuals across a dozen different industries that are doing extraordinary work and transforming their fields.

The list, which is driven by data from LinkedIn's global professional network and editorial research, features names you've seen on television (see: Daveed Diggs of "Hamilton") as well as those who work quietly behind the scenes to reimagine everyday conveniences (see: Don Burnette of self-driving startup Otto).

Check out some of these standout Next Wavers below — and see the full list here.

Zoe Barry

Zoe Barry, CEO and co-founder, ZappRx
Source: Zoe Barry

CEO and co-founder, ZappRx

The process of filling a prescription for a specialty drug can be incredibly time consuming and complex, requiring reams of paperwork from healthcare providers. Barry, a 31-year-old Wall Street veteran, became interested in tackling those inefficiencies after her younger brother was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. The ZappRx software platform is designed to automate and speed up the prescribing process by creating a secure digital platform that allows more transparency for doctors, pharmacists and patients.

Since its founding in 2012, the company has raised $14 million in funding and has grown to a team of 20. The healthcare industry can be slow to innovate and ZappRx has been scaling its offering condition to condition, expanding from pulmonary to neurology and rheumatology. "Early on, any opposition was like fuel for my fire," Barry says. Barry's used to working hard and dealing with a tough market; she worked as a raptor vet in Alaska and later interned in a neuroscience primate research lab at Harvard.

Don Burnette

Don Burnette Co-Founder, Otto
Source: LinkedIn

Co-founder, Otto

While tech giants like Google, Lyft, Tesla and others race to get to market with autonomous cars, Burnette is thinking bigger — about 14 wheels bigger. A former Google engineer, 31-year-old Burnette is the co-founder of Otto, a self-driving trucking company recently acquired by Uber. Some 3.5 million Americans drive trucks professionally and Otto's technology has the potential to upend that industry. Otto execs see it a different way: drivers would be able to double their output from a typical 9-hour driving day by taking naps periodically while on the truck and then getting back to driving.

The driverless tech is not complete yet, but Otto already has a fleet of trucks driving around streets and highways testing out new technology. "There's an oversupply of goods that need to be moved and an undersupply of people to move them," he says. "We're going to be able to assist the industry as a whole."

Connie Chan

Connie Chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz
Nick Otto | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Partner, Andreessen Horowitz

While hordes of venture capitalists find themselves heads down focused on all the startup activity in Silicon Valley, Chan is thinking globally. A partner at Andreessen Horowitz, 32-year-old Chan sees herself as a "matchmaker between U.S. and Chinese companies" by helping Andreessen's portfolio forge cross-border partnerships.

Most recently, Chan's matchmaking was credited with introducing Lyft's leadership to China's largest ride-hailing company, Didi Kuaidi. Chan's introduction led to a $100 million investment and partnership between the two companies right when Lyft was aggressively trying to step up its international exposure to compete against Uber. "I hope to transform how my industry works by providing a global perspective, reminding us all that Silicon Valley is not the only source of innovation and funding," she said.

Jonas Cleveland

Jonas Cleveland CEO and CTO, COSY
Source: LinkedIn


One of the critical tasks in retail is to optimally manage the use of floor space within every store. In a huge chain like Walgreens, for instance, with more than 8,000 stores, this knowledge is difficult and expensive to obtain. With the help of Cleveland, 29, Walgreens is testing using artificial intelligence to reduce the kind of out-of-stocks that cost retailers almost $400 billion annually, creating a fully automated robot inventory system.

In 2012, Cleveland co-founded COSY, a firm that uses advanced computer vision to allow mobile devices to accurately position themselves indoors. Think of how GPS and Google Maps have transformed so much of our world. Cleveland's app wants to solve the same navigation challenges for places like supermarkets, houses, movie theater or even your doctor's office. "We are giving power through data that's never existed before," says Cleveland.

Cassie DeWitt

Cassie DeWitt, lead data scientist, Detroit Fire Department
Source: LinkedIn

Lead data scientist, Detroit Fire Department

Local governments collect troves of data, but it's only recently that they've begun to employ sophisticated analytics to improve performance of the services they provide to residents. DeWitt, 35, serves as the Detroit Fire Department's first-ever data scientist. She's trying to find what triggers "bad incidents" — things like arsons, ambulance runs, and fires. As she parses the data, she's looking for unique insights that could help the Detroit Fire Department keep residents safer.

For example, she's exploring whether neighborhoods with fewer trash pickups, and therefore more debris laying around, have more cases of arson. If that's true, then local authorities could intervene earlier to prevent such scenarios using DeWitt's unique data analyses. She's now developing a live database that will be able to track correlations (like arson and trash) and how they change over time neighborhood by neighborhood, which can then be communicated directly to both firefighters and police in real time.

Elias Friedman

Elias Friedman Photographer, The Dogist
Source: LinkedIn

Photographer, The Dogist

Three years ago, opportunity came knocking for Friedman — it just didn't look like what he expected. After being laid off from a brand strategy firm, he decided to pull out his camera and take to the streets to photograph some of New York's most pampered residents: dogs. "I knew if I was consistent with it and didn't miss days of posting, what's not to love about the story of dogs and posing them like people?" says Friedman.

Since then, The Dogist has grown to include some 2.2 million Instagram followers and a New York Times bestselling book by 28-year-old Friedman. He's helped inaugurate a new genre of lucrative dog marketing, attracting big-name sponsors like Google, Uber and Purina. The future is looking even cuter. Next up on Friedman's plate is a book about puppies.

Sal Gentile

Sal Gentile, Writer, Late Night with Seth Meyers
Source: LinkedIn

Writer, Late Night with Seth Meyers

Gentile found an unexpected sweet spot. The writer for "Late Night with Seth Meyers" is a political junkie who always wanted to be a comedy writer. "So, I basically did everything at once, which was my strategy," joked Gentile, 30. With a background as a producer at MSNBC and comedic chops honed as a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, his background made him a perfect fit for his current role: creating hilarious narratives from the political news of the day.

More and more shows are looking for ways to reach an audience with a voracious appetite for election news in a post-Jon Stewart world, and Gentile represents the new mixed-breed taking over late-night writers' rooms. It's been a boon for Gentile, but he has one warning for viewers: "Don't rely on just us for your news about the election."

Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray who incited the biggest Shark Tank fight to date over his app Scholly, which connects students to millions of dollars worth of scholarships.
Source: Christopher Gray

Founder and CEO, Scholly

Many students have been crippled by student debt, but Gray avoided that headache by earning $1.3 million in scholarships for college. But finding all that cash wasn't easy; it was tedious and took months. To fix this, Gray launched Scholly, an app that makes searching and securing scholarships much easier and faster. While still in school at Drexel University, Gray took the idea to Shark Tank and sparked the biggest fight in the show's history, leaving with deals from Sharks Daymond John and Lori Greiner.

Following his appearance, his app shot to No. 1 in app stores, and cities across the country began purchasing Scholly for their students. The 24-year-old later won a $100,000 investment from Steve Case and was named on Oprah's SuperSoul 100 list. Some 850,000 students have gotten more than $50 million in scholarships for college.

Nick Halla

the director of strategy and one of the first hires at Impossible Foods, the company that managed to make a plant-based burger that "bleeds" 
Source: Nick Halla

Chief Strategy Officer, Impossible Foods

Founded in 2011 and backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Impossible Foods is focused on making plant-based food ingredients look and taste like meat. (When cooked, the meatless ImpossibleBurger patty appears to bleed when you bite into it.) This level of innovation took some serious molecular science, starting with replicating heme — part of the protein found in blood — at scale and adding coconut oil flecks to mimic beef fat.

Chief Strategy Officer (and Employee No. 1) Halla, 34, says plant-based versions of pork, chicken, fish and dairy could be next. "My upbringing on a dairy farm makes me super passionate about the work we're doing at Impossible Foods," Halla told LinkedIn. "Whether I'm a farmer, an engineer or a business leader, making the world more sustainable has been a longtime aspiration." Industry watchers are keeping tabs: Google reportedly tried to acquire the 130-person company for $200 million.

Daniel Lippman

Daniel Lippman, the co-author of Politico Playbook, who catapulted his career from his dorm room by copy editing top journalists and who is now charged with reinventing the site’s flagship newsletter for a younger audience.
Source: Daniel Lippman

Co-author, POLITICO Playbook

In college, Lippman used email to get the attention of the Washington press corps: His constant notes to reporters, alerting them to typos or errors in their stories, earned him the title of "Washington's independent copy editor." Today, Beltway journos and readers around the world still obsess over his emails — now part of his job. Lippman, 26, is one of the writers of POLITICO Playbook, the must-open morning newsletter that has more than 100,000 subscribers. With co-authors Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, Lippman's helping to refresh Playbook following the summer departure of its founder, Mike Allen (whom Lippman also worked alongside).

Playbook 2.0 includes photos and graphics, while the news and gossipy tidbits remain. Lippman, who's also worked as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, wakes at 4 to start putting it together. One scoop he's proud of? In April, he learned that a WashingtonPost reporter had won a Pulitzer before the awards were announced. The item landed at the top of the morning newsletter. And, true to Playbook form, it quickly got D.C. talking.

Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett Vice President, National Community Alliances, Teach for America
Source: LinkedIn

Vice President, National Community Alliances, Teach for America

Packnett is defining a new generation of educators — ones that aren't just teaching math and English but an awareness of the world. Racism, oppression, poverty, mediocre housing — these issues cause too many children to fall short of their potential. Packnett, 31, wants to change that. She's establishing Teach for America's first-ever civil rights agenda and is now traveling the country listening to community input from wide-ranging locals like the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the Rio Grande valley and Ferguson, Mo.

Packnett is wrestling with what it means to uphold various cultural values while bringing innovative teaching methods into the classroom. "When we think about equity, when we think about justice a good education is what everyone needs to achieve that level of choice and access," says Packnett. "Yet, diplomas aren't bulletproof." That realization pushed her to help launch Campaign Zero, an organization that advocates for policies to end police violence. Her work also earned her a spot on President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing last year.

See the full LinkedIn Next Wave list of top professionals 35 and under.

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