What does it take to create change? For our annual Young Millionaires cover story, we spoke to the folks who know the answer to that question — because they’re doing it every single day. Meet 12 young founders who are creating a better tomorrow.
Katherine Allen, 24, and Atreya Misra, 24
Cofounders, Flo Recruit
Flo Recruit was designed to help companies secure top talent at recruiting events. “We had a road map of where we would be at the end of 2020,” says cofounder Atreya Misra. But of course, COVID-19 put a halt to all events — job fairs included. “We basically had to start from scratch.”
It’s a position most entrepreneurs were in this year, forcing them to refocus on the value they offer — and then to rebuild for how to be valuable now.
Jeremy Cai, 25
Founder and CEO, Italic
Jeremy Cai is the son of Chinese immigrants who worked in auto part manufacturing in Chicago. That got him interested in manufacturing in general — and he was puzzled to see how slow the industry was to adapt. Even as direct-to-consumer companies disrupted retail, older companies seemed stuck on the same model they’d relied on for half a century.
At 23, he decided to join the disruptors. He imagined a luxury fashion and home goods company that would sell its items in a totally new way. Most brands buy products from a factory, then mark it up for consumers. His company would act more like a partnership: He’d create a platform through which manufacturers could sell directly to consumers, therefore earning double or triple their usual profit. He’d take no cut of the sale; instead, he’d charge a $100 annual membership fee to shop on the site.
David Zamarin, 22
Founder and CEO, DetraPel
Sometimes an idea is bad. But other times, an idea is good — and just the timing is bad.
David Zamarin didn’t realize it at the time, but his idea fell into the latter category. As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, Zamarin just couldn’t keep his beloved Air Jordans clean. He imagined a magical film that would peel off his shoes whenever they became dirty, revealing a pristine surface. But…it didn’t exist. And he had no idea how to create it.
So he did the next best thing. He started a shoe cleaning and repair business called LickYourSole, which he marketed to local sports teams. It was an instant hit, and he sold it four months later. But as he got older, he couldn’t shake his original idea. Was a protective film for shoes really possible?
Matthew Rooda, 26
Co-founder and CEO, SwineTech
Matthew Rooda grew up in southeast Iowa, where his parents and grandfather were pork producers. But his family encouraged him to go to college to try something new, so he entered the University of Iowa on a premed track. While he was there, he took a part-time job at a farrowing house, where sows give birth, and got an up-close look at the problem of piglet crushing, which kills one in every 10 piglets. “One morning I went up to one of the moms, and she had lain on, like, eight of her babies,” Rooda says. “They were dead. Fifteen minutes later, she lay on another one. I was so frustrated. I was just like, I have to figure out a way to solve this problem.”
Cecilia Gonzalez, 26, and Kimberly Robles, 27
Cofounders, Hype and Vice
Kimberly Robles (pictured, right) was studying business at the University of Southern California when she met Cecilia Gonzalez (left), a student at the nearby Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. The girls instantly bonded over two things: They both grew up in Mexico, and they both knew how to hustle.
At tailgate parties, they noticed that all their girlfriends were cutting up and redesigning USC shirts to make them cuter, more fitted, and less masculine. Collegiate apparel, after all, isn’t known for being fashion-forward. So Robles and Gonzalez jumped, founding Hype and Vice in their dorm rooms and debuting with trendy USC T-shirts. In just a few months, students were lining up at other campuses for clothes in their school colors.