Age: 29 | Cofounder | TurnTide
All e-mail is handled by a set of rules that determines how messages get from one point to another. David Brussin, cofounder and chief technology officer of TurnTide (recently acquired by Symantec), turned those rules against spammers by building a router that examines the content and source of messages passing through it. When Brussin’s router identifies a computer that’s sending spam, it reduces the number of messages that computer can send out. According to Brussin, companies using the TurnTide router see spam drop by about 90 percent.
Age: 31 | Senior technical manager | Amazon.com
You probably think of Amazon.com as a place to buy everything from books to kitchenware. But that’s only a part of what the company aspires to be. Programmer Robert Frederick is leading Amazon’s transformation into something more like the Coca-Cola of e-commerce, with its own virtual vending machines – each a gateway to Amazon’s entire inventory – scattered across thousands of third-party websites. It’s all part of a grand vision starring Amazon as the Web’s central platform for almost any kind of online purchase.
Frederick got his start at the company five years ago by building Amazon Anywhere, software that prepares data from Amazon’s vast product database for display on cell phones and other mobile devices. From there, it was a short conceptual step to opening up Amazon’s database to any independent Web merchant or programmer with a need for product information. And the resulting tools – a set of standardized commands for interacting with Amazon’s database, built around XML and other new Web standards for describing content – have allowed outsiders to soup up their businesses with a range of Amazon services.
More than 60,000 Web developers have signed up to use Amazon’s new services, with many hoping to bring new customers to their sites – and earn a commission of up to 10 percent on every sale.
Age: 32 | Cofounder | Axiom Microdevices
By squeezing an entire radar system onto a single chip, Ali Hajimiri may have brought us closer to the day when even a low-end car can “see” through fog. Earlier, the Caltech electrical-engineering professor found a way to fabricate a multiwatt amplifier on inexpensive silicon with no external components – a development that could result in smaller, cheaper, less power-hungry single-chip cell phones and led him to start Axiom Microdevices of Orange, CA.
Age: 32 | Cofounder and CEO | Meetup.com
In the wake of September 11, Scott Heiferman felt the need to find new ways to build community. He knew that Americans no longer belonged to bowling leagues and Elks Clubs in the numbers that they once had, but he didn’t feel that electronic chat rooms and Internet personal ads filled the void. “People still live in the real world, the real non-cyber world, where they want to be face to face,” he says. “The idea was, How do you use the Internet to get people off the Internet?”
So in early 2002, he assembled a five-person team to build a database and develop software that would help people organize themselves. People sign up at the Meetup.com site, indicating where they live and what topics they’re interested in, and when a certain number of like-minded people in the same area have registered, the site announces a meeting. About 190,000 supporters of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign used Meetup.com to organize in the months before the Iowa caucuses, giving his campaign early momentum. About 170,000 people are now registered for meetings of Democracy for America, an organization that grew out of Dean’s campaign. Today, Meetup.com has more than 1.4 million registered users, and revenues at the privately funded company are seven times what they were a year ago.
Heiferman can get passionate about his theme of bringing people together, invoking de Tocqueville on the importance to Americans of forming associations and even citing an evolutionary imperative. “We’re a species who was optimized for face-to-face interaction,” he says. Meetup’s innovations, he adds, are “as much in social engineering as software engineering.”
Heiferman has been an entrepreneur since about age nine, when he founded Scott’s Slave Service to market menial tasks to his siblings. And his sense of community engagement began to blossom the next year, when he wrote what he calls a “pointless letter to every U.S. governor, major-city mayor, and Fortune 100 CEO.”
“The best of the Web is when there are platforms for people to do their own thing and take it in ways that the founders could never think of,” says Heiferman. “What’s really interesting is when the technology is merely a tool for people to do things that are uniquely human.”
Age: 33 | Photonics R&D program leader | DuPont
The Internet would be even faster and cheaper if more components of the fiber-optic network could be combined on individual chips – in much the way that computers evolved from room-sized monstrosities to desktop machines when transistors were condensed onto integrated circuits. Chemist Maria Petrucci-Samija has created materials that might soon make such integrated photonic circuits possible.
The problem with putting multiple optical components on a single chip is that different components work best when built from different, often incompatible materials. Silica glass is great for shunting a beam of light from one place to another,
but it’s not so good at modulating a signal so that it carries information. Petrucci-Samija has shown that plastics can be molecularly tailored to combine the best of all worlds. “It’s really trying to figure out at the atomic level what is necessary to do that,” she says.
Petrucci-Samija figured it out well enough to produce a polymer as transparent as the best optical glass; this helped the company she worked for, Lumenon Innovative Lightwave Technology, create the first polymer versions of several optical-communications components. Petrucci-Samija’s work continues at DuPont, where she heads a team striving to develop new plastics and to combine plastic and silica glass devices on individual chips. She hopes to have marketable components ready for use in optical networks in about three years.
Petrucci-Samija says the first use of integrated photonic circuits will most likely be to make network communications more reliable and bring down the cost of equipment. Eventually, though, the same approach could help realize the dream of superfast optical computers.
Age: 27 | Cofounder and CEO | Six Apart
Mena Trott, who cofounded Six Apart with husband and fellow TR100 honoree Ben Trott (see photo), liked writing a weblog but not the inflexible software it required. So while Ben pounded out code, Mena developed a simpler user interface – and the Trotts created Movable Type, which allows bloggers to create links to other pages by clicking and dragging items on-screen. TypePad, a blog-hosting service based on Movable Type, has more than 50,000 paying users.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.