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 several top names in tech who are shaping the future of the industry.
CTO & Co-Founder, Sphero
When Star Wars fans first saw that a new toy maker was on the market with a robot shaped like BB-8, the response was overwhelming. In just 12 hours, Sphero, the then hardly known robotics company based in Boulder, Colo., sold 22,000 units for $250 a pop. It's been a year since little BB-8 started rolling around over 1 million homes and offices around the country, and it's clear that Sphero is not your average toy company. Led by co-founders Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, 33 and 32, Sphero seeks to develop products that bring virtual reality alive in the physical world.
The company — which has secured some $90 million in funding from lauded investors like Brad Feld of Foundry Group and The Walt Disney Company — now has a full suite of mobile-controlled products on the market like SPRK+, an app-enabled robot ball that teaches foundational programming through STEM activities in K12 education. And for Star Wars devotees, don't worry. A new and improved BB-8 robot is already on the market. Turns out, Bernstein and Wilson designed the first BB-8 without even seeing StarWars: The Force Awakens. Given its popularity, the new edition looks much more like what fans see on screen.
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 six trucks driving around the streets and highways of California testing out new technology.
Director of Product, Oculus
Virtual reality stands to upend the tech industry as we know it, and Deng finds himself at the center of it all. The head of product management at Facebook's Oculus, Deng is working to ensure the Oculus Rift headset experience stays superior among a slew of other competitors just now getting into the VR game.
While the device is currently known for its ultra-real gaming and entertainment experiences, the potential of the platform is powerful: A recent study found that physical therapy treatment using Oculus Rift allowed paraplegics to learn to walk again. Prior to coming over to lead Facebook VR division, Deng was the director of product at Instagram, where he saw the photo-sharing platform through its $1 billion acquisition to Facebook.
Head of Research & Development, Jigsaw at Alphabet
Green doesn't shy away from a challenge. As Head of Research and Development for Alphabet's Jigsaw incubator (formerly Google Ideas), the 35-year-old is tackling some of the world's greatest challenges — from censorship and online harassment to digital attacks and violent extremism. "We first try to understand how global security challenges intersect with the Internet," Green told LinkedIn, "and then design innovative technologies to respond." One of the highest profile: trying to not just block but reverse ISIS' online recruitment efforts. Green's team combined the power of Google's search advertising algorithms with YouTube's video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits with messaging — based on insights from interviews with ISIS defectors — that could reverse the organization's brainwashing.
The project, called the "Redirect Method," reached over 320,000 individuals and drove over half a million minutes of online video watch time. That's not all she's up to. She's also tackling the seemingly impossible task of combatting Internet trolling using open-source AI. Green's ultimate goal: "To use the best technology we have a tour disposal to tackle the world's toughest problems."
Senior Lead, IBM Digital
You likely know what IBM Watson is, but who you also need to know is Komisar. The senior lead and founding member of IBM's Digital Innovation Lab, Komisar is responsible for ensuring that the 105-year-old tech giant stays on top of emerging technologies and trends with startups. The lab recently launch edits first product, the IBM Learning Lab, which helps developers leverage IBM tech like artificial intelligence agent Watson.
Before joining IBM, Komisar worked at the Clinton Foundation where she built the first program focused on tech and innovation, partnering with Fortune 500 companies like Facebook, government organizations like the New York Department of Health and startups like Jawbone. When 29-year-old Komisar isn't working away in IBM's Lab, she's running LadyBoss Collective, an organization she co-founded that's aimed at bringing emerging female leaders across industries together to share common goals and support each other.
CEO and president, Kymeta
When Kundtz, gets in front of crowds to talk about his company's technology — satellite antennas — even he can't help but joke. "Did I just say antennas? Really?" he asks. "Is it 1920?" Except, there's a very modern need for his company's creation.Today's antennas are the choke point to the wireless airwaves available at higher altitudes from satellites, Kundtz says. Kymeta's thin antennas use "holographic metamaterials" to reach those connections, opening up "5000 times more capacity than we have today to cellphones," he said at a presentation in August.
The company, backed by Bill Gates and others, raised another $62 million earlier this year and is already partnering with companies like Toyota to bring its antennas to moving vehicles. Kundtz has a Ph.D. in physics from Duke University and told a campus publication that he was drawn to the company because he "wanted to work on something that had a real-world applicability. "
Senior product manager, Amazon Alexa
Alexa, the voice service behind Amazon's Echo device, hasbeen hailed as "the first winning product of the conversational era." Inside Amazon, Liang, 30, is credited as the critical, behind-the-scenes contributor to the project. What exactly she's doing is subject to some secrecy. A senior product manager, Liang tells LinkedIn that her current focus is "voice-enabled products, 3D printing (and) creating the future of manufacturing."
That fits with her background: She launched some of the first consumer 3D-printed products at Shapeways, creating food-safe ceramics, and then co-founded a custom 3D printing company called Mixee Labs, whose team later joined Amazon. (Liang herself memorably created a "Sad Keanu" figurine, based on the actor, that got massive attention.) She cites Amazon's Jeff Bezos among the execs she admires, and says her metric for success is simple: "It's all about how customer's lives are changed by my products."
Founder & CEO, Uncharted Play
Who says work and play need to be kept separate? Matthews created a soccer ball that doubles as a power generator to help families in developing countries stay out of the dark. Once praised by President Barack Obama, the soccer ball looks like a toy. It's anything but: Customizable micro-generators within the ball harness power from three different types of motion that is 7x more efficient that solar power.
The 28-year-old founder has big plans to expand the tech behind Uncharted Play's soccer ball and place it in other objects like strollers, luggage, grocery carts and more. Matthews' leadership in the growing startup category dubbed the Internet of Things is impressive in its own right,but there is something else that makes her a standout as well: Last month she raised the largest Series A funding round for a black female CEO — ever.
Director, Self-Assembly Lab, MIT
Tibbits, 31, is out to show that any material can achieve what he calls "robot-like functionality." At MIT's Self Assembly Lab, which he co-directs, he and his colleagues are programming physical materials that essentially build themselves. It sounds like some hazy, sci-fi dream: an object that changes shape on its own, without help from humans or machines. ButTibbits says this type of manufacturing could apply to any industry: a shoe that grows itself; a pipe that expands or contracts based on the flow of water.
The objects store information in their geometry and respond to energy, like heat. "These programmable materials don't require any batteries, motors, sensors, computers, power," Tibbits tells LinkedIn. He got his start in architecture, working with famous firms like Zaha Hadid Architects, before moving to MIT. As for success, Tibbits says he looks for opportunities to surprise himself. "What is just fucking radical and awesome that we could be working on?" he tells LinkedIn. "How do we make it real and applicable to any industry and any challenge?"
Co-Founder and CEO, eero
Weaver built his startup based on a problem that his parents complained about on a daily basis. Now he has $90 million in funding to solve that problem for them — and for millions of paying customers, he hopes. His startup, eero, is the maker of a smart wireless routing system that aims to put an end to weak internet connections.
By placing several devices in separate corners of the home, eero creates a Wi-Fi signal that he says — and many tech writers back up — is stronger than any single router. The 28-year-old founder has some stiff competition with tech giants like Apple and other startups going after the same problem, but Weaver is convinced the tech behind his device will make him the standout winner going into the startup's first holiday season.