In a three-part series, we celebrate innovators from Chicago, Miami, and New York City who dared to make their business dreams a reality. Below, 16 entrepreneurs from the Big Apple share their triumphs, failures, and lessons learned while founding some of the city's most prolific businesses.

Photos by Ben Rosenzweig, unless otherwise noted

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Yuriy Boykiv / Gravity Media

Age: 32

Mission: "Gravity's mission is to help brands integrate into cultures."

Yuriy Boykiv is the embodiment of the American dream. “I came here as an immigrant from Ukraine to pursue owning my own business,” he says. “I wanted to create an agency that services Americans who come from all over the world.”

After finishing college in the United States, Boykiv got his first marketing job as an intern and rose through the ranks to become the VP of client services. He earned his MBA along the way—and noticed a hole in the industry. “A lot of agencies market to Caucasians, or just Hispanics or African-Americans,” Boykiv says. “Out of 330 million Americans, 110 million come from different cultures. If you ignore a third of the population as a brand, you are missing opportunities.”

That’s where Gravity Media comes in. Boykiv, now the CEO, banded with three co-founders to launch the agency. “We started Gravity from scratch, with almost no investments, with whatever money we had,” Boykiv says. “In 2008 and 2009, it was the worst time to start an agency, with the economy collapsing. The first thing people cut was marketing. I think it helped us because we were going against the stream. What sets us apart is our team, to have people who come from different cultures but also have an understanding of languages—we speak over 25—and nuances, with people from Afghanistan to Vietnam. Everyone we hire has to have a marketing background and we understand so many communities in the U.S.”

That helped Gravity land Boykiv’s favorite project, creating an ad campaign for the U.S. Army to recruit American native speakers of Pashto, Farsi and Dari to serve as translators to U.S. soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. But for Boykiv, the greatest reward of co-founding Gravity is helping others achieve the American dream. “Based on the current immigration system, (many of our employees) would have to go back to their country, but through Gravity they have the chance to stay here and contribute to the American economy,” he says. “Our country will benefit from them and they’ll benefit from us. My goal isn’t to create a business, but to create entrepreneurs. It’s a fantastic achievement and one of the reasons I wanted to have an agency.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Sashka Rothchild / Standbuy

Age: 34

Mission: "Asking for help is hard, we make it easier."

Just two weeks before Sashka Rothchild was supposed to start college, her mom passed away from brain cancer. “I was in New York City surrounded by people creating beautiful—and expensive—digital experiences. You could buy the perfect running shoe, but it seemed borderline insane that we weren’t spending the time or money to get people help when they need it most. We all know there is a massive health care crisis… (and when people) are diagnosed with cancer, a majority of them are not able to afford (treatment), which is really obscene. From experience, I knew that the faster you can connect people to support, the less likely they are to drown. I wanted to create something that would act as the life preserver.”

 That’s why Rothchild founded Standbuy, a fundraising site for cancer. “We are focused and incredibly thoughtful about the issues our users face because every member of our team has been through the exact same situation,” she says. “We believe it is different to ask for help when you or your kid is sick versus when you need to raise money for your kid’s little league team. We get people their funds when they need them.”

To get Standbuy off the ground, Rothchild poured every cent of hers into it—and found out she was pregnant a month and a half after launching. She says, “I have made a very conscious choice month after month that what we do at Standbuy is really important and the time I have spent nursing on conference calls or traveling for meetings is worth it because I want (my son) to know that you make sacrifices to help people.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Rameet Chawla / Fueled

Age: 32

Mission: "We have an unwavering desire to aid entrepreneurs in building and growing successful technology ventures."

Rameet Chawla seemed to be on exactly the right path. After graduating from NYU’s business school, he landed impressive jobs in banking, carving out an impressive C.V. in the finance world. But something didn’t feel right. “It wasn’t necessarily about making a switch—it was more a shift in responsibility for me,” Chawla says. “I didn’t know enough about my personality to know what suits me. We’re kind of brainwashed to believe that corporate America is the next step. I pursued that and it was only when I started to learn about how I operate and work that I realized reporting up doesn’t necessarily work for me. I need to be able to hold myself accountable. I am prone to be a risk taker. I was not empowered by banking.”

Technology had always been one of Chawla’s hobbies, and since he had been running a small tech company on the side he decided to make it his full-time gig in 2010. The initial capital came from Chawla’s investments in the stock market and profits from projects that they were working on. “Cash is king when running an agency and while company growth results in cash reserve growth, it also leads to an overall increase in monthly spending,” says Chawla. “Experiencing this pattern gave me a new appreciation for why companies raise large amounts of capital even if they're already successful. That said, I’ve still elected not to raise capital. This is mainly because service companies require a different kind of investor than traditional venture capital, and the types of returns they look for aren't typically ones produced by service companies.”

Now Fueled, a mobile app design and development company, has 85 full-time employees spread across their headquarters in New York, London, and smaller offices in the UK, Chicago and LA. “(Launching a company) will take longer than you will expect it to take,” Chawla advises. “A lot of initial mistakes were me thinking things would happen faster than they did.” And in general, he believes in following your instincts. “I see people looking for advice and end up building something run of the mill instead of something unique. Take all advice with a grain of salt and stick to your gut.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Pamela Bell / Prinkshop

Age: Late 40s

Mission: "We design advocacy campaigns for todays most pressing social issues. We use silk screen and fashion accessories to highlight the campaign and give individuals a voice to create awareness and  raise funds to support those who are fighting for justice and peace on each issue."

Pamela Bell wears her heart on her sleeve—literally. Prinkshop creates and sells graphic tees and totes that make bold statements about issues ranging from education to sex trafficking, homelessness and marriage equality. “One of my favorite projects is 1973, which celebrates Roe v. Wade; it’s just so perfect,” Bell says. “Our goal is to raise awareness and funds. This design does both. So many people on the street and in the gym ask ‘why 1973?’ and we proudly show off our flip tag with information about a woman's right to choose. It immediately sparks a big conversation. I also love our DYSLEXIA design. My son has been lucky enough to have the gift of dyslexia. The shirt is an ice breaker to talk about his learning style and all the other accomplished people throughout history with dyslexia.” Prinkshop teams up with organizations for each issue and donates 30 percent of the profits to their fight.

Before launching Prinkshop, Bell was a founding partner of Kate Spade New York. “When we sold Kate Spade, I had support in every department, assistants, tech support, a shipping room, color copiers, and messengers,” Bell says. “Starting over, one has to be all things. In the beginning, I was all departments: the messenger, the mailroom, the photographer and photo retouching. I had to teach myself new skills. Simple as they may seem, it had been a long time since I had packed a box or set up a showroom or even opened a business account. On the flip side, I have had total freedom to make decisions and move quickly with Prinkshop opposed to the corporate red tape. I have found in life and in business, everything is a trade-off. I also found that some of the most difficult tasks are the most rewarding.

Bell used her own money to launch the business, and took friends and family on as investors for an initial small round. Given her experience with Kate Spade and a few other ventures, it was easy to sell on her history. She began working closely with nonprofits to help them fundraise with products, which contributed to the foundation of Prinkshop. “My long-term goal is to employ the marginalized available work force who have a hard time securing jobs,” she says. “I started a program off the Bowery in a homeless shelter run by Project Renewal called Bowery Arts Project. We teach art to male homeless addicts, most of whom have been incarcerated for most of their adult lives. We aim to train and hire men from the shelter to silk screen and ship when the timing is right.” Bell admits that it takes extra training and support to work with this group, but she is dedicated to making the lofty goal work. When you’re passionate about your work, it makes it all easier. “I love the power and immediacy of silk-screened graphic design, making products, creating awareness, causing trouble, and opening conversations on subjects that are hard to comprehend,” Bell says. “All of my interests align in this product line.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Jaron Gilinsky / Storyhunter

Age: 35

Mission: "Our mission is to power original journalism in the digital age. "

As a filmmaker and journalist, Jaron Gilinsky has travelled the globe in search of stories of ordinary people living under extraordinary circumstances, including North Korea, Tibet, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Gaza. “While I loved the storytelling component, the business of freelancing was clearly broken,” Gilinsky says. “I didn’t have a way to meet or pitch new clients. I often got paid really late, if at all. I had no conflict insurance. And I didn't have a way to connect to a community of like-minded peers.”  

In late 2009, Gilinsky was freelancing for Time magazine when they shut down their Jerusalem bureau, which became his “aha” moment. “I realized that media companies would need a more efficient and cost-effective way of sourcing original stories from around the world,” Gilinsky says. “I recognized the power of sourcing original video stories from the ground up. I still just couldn’t believe that there was no viable platform out there for video storytellers. I figured that if I could build a robust and fair professional marketplace, both media companies and freelancers could really benefit.”

That’s how Gilinsky became the Co-Founder and CEO of Storyhunter. After the Egyptian revolution, he stopped taking freelance work and devoted all his time and effort to Storyhunter’s launch. “I managed to raise a small seed round, then left the Middle East and moved to New York City to start the company,” he says. “I hadn't spent more than a week in New York City in my entire life, but knew that this was the place that would give Storyhunter the greatest chances of succeeding.” Now Storyhunter’s partners include digital media companies like Al Jazeera Plus, Shift by MSNBC, The Guardian, Fusion, Time, Discovery Digital, The Weather Channel, and The New York Times, as well as brands like Airbnb. “I got into journalism because I believed that storytelling could transform the way we all think about and understand our world,” Gilinsky says. “I believe this even more fervently today. While I really miss being out in the field, to be working on the technology that is powering original storytelling is both incredibly humbling and fulfilling.”

Photo courtesy of Joanne Wilson.

Photo courtesy of Joanne Wilson.

Joanne Wilson / Gotham Gal

Age: 53

Mission: "Investing in start-ups with a huge bend towards women and building a community for Women Entrepreneurs through the WEFestival."

Joanne Wilson makes other people’s dreams come true. As the founder of Gotham Gal, she is an angel investor in technology-based startups. “I had been involved in the tech industry in the mid-90's,” Wilson says. “When the industry fizzled out I started to blog under the name Gotham Gal. I wanted to do something that kept me involved in technology but something that was only mine.” Wilson had been a freelancer at Silicon Alley Reporter, where she headed up all revenue until she left. She went on to chair a nonprofit called MOUSE that was bringing technology to the New York City school system. After a few years there, she decided to stay home with her kids. That’s when blogging took off and she decided to create the blog Gotham Gal.

“I'd write about whatever I chose to, from companies to food to raising kids to musings,” Wilson says. “It is pretty much the same today as it was when I began almost 12 years ago. I had no idea where it would go but it was something that I started and figured that perhaps it would turn into something that would point me in the direction of my next move. Gotham Gal was not a contingency plan but an evolution.” She started to hear from many entrepreneurs through the blog, particularly women, because it resonated with them. They asked her for advice, so she’d share her expertise and that’s how she transitioned to investing.

Now, after over 85 investments later, what sets her apart from other angel investors—who are almost always male—is that she supports companies founded by and run by women, including Curbed, VenueBook, Union Station, Sweeten, and Nestio. “(The most surprising thing about launching Gotham Gal is) my role in the tech world as a voice of women,” Wilson says. “I did not start out that way but it is something that I am very passionate about.”

The reality is that it’s harder to raise cash for female-founded businesses, says Wilson. “People question their valuations, their leadership, and their ability to execute in a way that they do not do with men. I do think that is changing as more women build real businesses like the (ones I invest in). As these women grow businesses of significant value, go public, or have worthy exits, it will change the way all investors look at women entrepreneurs.”

Wilson loves what she does so much that she doesn’t even consider it a risk. “I talk to entrepreneurs all day,” she says. “When I meet the right person with the right idea, I invest. I am excited about everything I invest in, from companies that are starting to raise significant capital to companies that are just coming together. (The best part is) the people I meet, the people I work with and being part of helping other entrepreneurs see their dreams turn into realities.”

 

Photo courtesy of We Did It.

Photo courtesy of We Did It.

Su Sanni / WeDidIt

Age: 31

Mission: "WeDidIt uses technology to help nonprofits raise more money and reach new donors."

While Su Sanni was working in a sales job at a global media monitoring software company in 2010, he learned from several nonprofit customers how difficult it was for them to fundraise, especially online, but there were few helpful resources available to them at the time. Sanni caught the entrepreneurial bug and decided to help by building a software program that made fundraising easier. He enlisted the partnership of Ben Lamson, his former sales manager, and Bryan Liff, a senior software engineer, to build WeDidIt.

WeDidIt isn’t actually a crowdfunding site—they’re a fundraising platform that helps nonprofits raise money online and gather insights on their donors using social data. They assist organizations with identifying major gift donors within their network and implementing fundraising technology on their website or at events. WeDidIt has helped clients like the Los Angeles Zoo completely revamp their approach and exceed their goals. A campaign in 2013 raised 47% of a $35,000 goal. Using WeDidIt, the zoo funded 122% of a $50,000 goal. Nearly a third of the donors on their new online campaigns were first-time givers.

The first capital they raised for WeDidIt came from $6,000 in a family and friends crowdfunding campaign using their prototype software, and winning $25,000 in a business plan competition sponsored by MillerCoors. “One of the competition judges was so inspired by our story and business that he invested in WeDidIt on the same day that we received the $25,000 grant prize,” Sanni says. “Fortunately, these three events happened within a 30 day timeframe and produced nearly $100,000 in capital raised for the company. For the next 18 months, we continued to improve our product and started generating significant revenue for the business from paying customers.”

“Starting a company and launching a new product is about so much more than just the potential payout, though that is important,” Sanni says. “It’s about seeing something in the world that’s broken and setting out to fix that. There are countless examples of tech start-ups that have made immense changes in the lives of everyday people by creating products that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. That happened because somebody saw a problem, and rather than just complain about it, they set out to fix it. That’s worth the risk.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Jeanne Pinder / ClearHealthCosts

Age: 61

Mission: "We're bringing transparency to the health care marketplace by telling people what stuff costs.  "

As anyone who has ever gone to the doctor knows, it can be impossible to predict the bill. But Jeanne Pinder, founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts, is trying to change that. “I've always been a careful consumer, and this seems obvious: Why can't we know what stuff costs in health care? Why can't we understand our medical bills, or our benefits?” wonders Pinder. “People who know what things cost can budget for them, or choose to have a procedure in a time and place that's affordable for them if it's a discretionary procedure. Because people don't know costs, they might delay treatment or skip it altogether. Having this information is mission-critical for people, especially in this time of rising deductibles, rising co-insurance and rising out-of-pocket medical spending.” 

Before launching ClearHealthCosts Pinder worked for The New York Times as an editor and reporter. She volunteered for a buyout in late 2009 and within a year won the first of several grants to found ClearHealthCosts. (Pinder also just secured a fellowship at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University to do a "guide to crowdsourcing," to be launched this November.) “I had been there for almost 25 years, and I was bored and itchy, so it seemed a good time to move on,” Pinder says. “I didn't really have a plan for what would happen next. The media world was in the middle of big changes, and so some of the obvious moves (‘get another media job!’) weren't going to work, in all likelihood.” Six months later, she took an entrepreneurial journalism class at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism with Jeff Jarvis, where she developed her business idea. “The class ended with a shark-tank type pitch contest, in which I won $20,000, almost a year to the day after I walked out of The Times building.”

For Pinder, that risk has paid off by enabling people to take control of their healthcare costs. She regularly hears from users sharing feedback, such this one: "I just want to say that your website is amazing. Please don't stop because you are helping people everyday, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet while others are just looking for a some transparency in a market where there has traditionally been very little.” Taking on the healthcare industry, one walk-in visit at a time.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Claudia Wu / Cherry Bombe

Mission: "Cherry Bombe celebrates women and food—those who grow it, make it, serve it, style it, enjoy it, and everything in between. It is about sustenance and style and things that nourish the mind, the eye, and, of course, the stomach."

In an era of everything going digital, Claudia Wu and Kerry Diamond went against the tide by co-founding a print magazine, Cherry Bombe. “What makes us different from other food magazines is that we don’t focus on recipes, although we do have some sprinkled about,” says Wu, the creative director. “We’re more interested in sharing stories of women as they relate to food. Whether that’s a profile on Ina Garten, or Chloe Sevigny’s favorite cocktail, or a playwright’s essay on how she made her first wedding cake, our contributors span the gamut.”

Much to their surprised delight, Cherry Bombe made quite the splash with its debut issue. “Cherry Bombe is a reflection of who we are and what we like through the lens of food,” says Wu. “We give a lot of ourselves to each issue and every conference we’ve done. What you do defines you in this day and age so it’s extremely personal, especially since we choose to do this.”

Wu and Diamond, the Editorial Director, have both kept their day jobs to pay the bills. But balancing a magazine launch and separate full-time gigs was a lesson in time management. “I’ve started businesses that have not succeeded in the long run, but it’s all a learning experience,” Wu says. “I’m the kind of person who starts to feel like I’m dying a slow death if I’m working for someone else, so I’d rather take the risk of being an entrepreneur than the security of steady income and benefits for as long as I can manage. That being said, work never seems to end, but I’m trying to find a balance.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Steven van Wel / Karma

Mission: "Our mission is simple – make Internet access on every device better than ever before."

Steven van Wel was traveling to New York from Amsterdam, and when he landed at JFK, he searched for WiFi, but all of the options were disappointing and expensive. He bought a hotspot, but the service wasn’t good and the product was ugly and bulky. “I knew we could create a beautifully designed product and offer a simple and honest service,” says van Wel, who had a background in web design and founded a company in the Netherlands. “It was time to take back the internet and build a company that people actually recommended instead of hated.”

For three years, van Wel’s phone has been set on flight mode and he’s used Karma WiFi. “I have never signed a contract with a phone company,” he says. “I have never hunted for a WiFi signal. I have never asked, ‘do you know the password?’ and have never panicked before a presentation because I wasn’t connected. Bringing my connection with me everywhere allows me to actually get things done. It makes life easier. There are enough obstacles in our way, and WiFi shouldn’t be one of them.”

However, it hasn’t always been that simple for the Karma Co-Founder and CEO. When they were asked to join Techstars in New York, they were still based in Amsterdam, where they had been their entire lives. “At the time, my wife was three months pregnant and the thought of picking up and moving across the world seemed terrifying and slightly idiotic,” says van Wel. Launching Karma taught him to overcome fear and think long-term. “In the long run, the worst case scenario was to pack our bags, book a flight, get rid of our apartment, and go home.” Clearly van Wel won’t need to hire movers any time soon.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Kate Arian / ManiCare

Age: 26

Mission: "To deliver beauty services to those who cannot get out."

Four months after graduating from college, Kate Arian found herself on the waiting list for a double lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis. “I was home-bound for months prior to the surgery, hospitalized immediately after, and home bound again for many more months,” she recalls. “During this time I was faced with the lack of beauty options for those unable or otherwise restricted to access a conventional storefront salon. A simple manicure and pedicure or eyebrow wax was out of reach. I began to personally appreciate the power that my usual beauty and maintenance routines would have had to uplift, empower, and restore my sense of normalcy.”

To prevent other women from experiencing this same void, Arian launched ManiCare, a nail and beauty service that comes to you, whether that’s your home, office, hospital or bedside. “One hundred percent of the money that helped to found ManiCare was my own,” Arian says. “I used my savings along with the income from a full-time job. Ultimately, I left aforementioned job to pursue ManiCare, which is what I would define as the ultimate ‘putting it all on the line’ moment.” Now ManiCare sees between 80 to 120 individuals a month, and they’ve serviced clients everywhere from the Dream Downtown Hotel to Governor’s Ball music festival, NHL HQ, Metropolitan Pavilion, Puck Building, South Street Seaport, as well as within all major New York City hospitals.

ManiCare gives 10 percent of all proceeds to charity; a variety of nonprofits benefit, particularly transplant, organ donation and cystic fibrosis charities, as well as the American Cancer Society and many BCA organizations. “A large part of my concept when founding the company was a desire to improve the lives of others,” Arian says. “Although I feel that ManiCare gives back by enabling homebound and otherwise demobilized individuals to access beauty services, we are a business and not a charity.” But for Arian, knowing that she is providing a service that makes people feel more beautiful inside and out is priceless. “Clients or their loved ones often write thank you notes after their services--I don't think most companies see this sort of gratitude.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Matthew Nolan / Verona

Age: 32

Mission: "The mission of Verona is to help people form friendships across borders, barriers, and political divides."

Matthew Nolan was hanging out at home with his friends, talking about using art and technology to bring the world closer. Suddenly, his business was born: “My buddy, who's Palestinian, said he and his Israeli date were already doing that,” Nolan says. “I half jokingly suggested we should build a social app to connect Israelis and Palestinians.” Everyone thought it was a great idea, so after a few weeks of bouncing the idea off friends, he built Verona.

“Verona is a platform that provides people a new way to empathize with one another,” Nolan says. “And it turns out there are a lot of people on the same wavelength who want to take matters into their own hands and resolve this conflict from the ground up. After our launch we discovered there is a large subculture of people who are fascinated by and interested in chatting with people from other cultures, even those on the other side of a cultural ‘divide.’” 

Nolan has been building software for a living since he was a teenager, but he’s never seen anything take off as fast as Verona, his fourth startup. Now the app has users in almost every major city in the world. Nolan had been running his company Red Button, building apps and sites for clients. “When I made the decision to build Verona I literally dropped everything I was doing,” he says. “I turned down a lot of large projects to make Verona happen. I think the trick to doing anything right is giving it everything you've got.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Kate Oppenheim / m ss ng p eces

Age: 30

Mission: "m ss ng p eces is a creative production company dedicated to finding and creating for the next wave of storytelling. "

Kate Oppenheim has had a bird’s eye view of the entertainment revolution. She led content- and entertainment-focused campaigns at Ogilvy Entertainment when the agency was still very focused on traditional TV and print ads. In 2009, she met Ari Kuschnir and Scott Thrift, the filmmaking duo behind m ss ng p eces. “They had started making films together for the web in 2005, during the Wild West days of Internet video. While I was at Ogilvy, my whole team was really struggling to find production partners who were forward thinking and capable of working with brands to create content that people would choose to watch—not just ads that were played during commercial breaks. I realized that together we could reinvent m ss ng p eces into the kind of production partner that the industry was going to need in the next five to ten years.”

Oppenheim took a leap of faith and left her secure corporate job at Ogilvy. “There was a clear trajectory for promotion and benefits like health insurance and a 401k,” says Oppenheim. “But I was working so hard for results that I simply had no stake in. Ultimately I decided that I'd rather take the risk to build something of my own, so I figured out the minimum amount of money I could live on, negotiated a partnership stake in the company, and made the jump.”

Now partner and executive producer at m ss ng p eces, Oppenheim and her team are dedicated to taking on meaningful projects. “It's really important to me and my partners that we lend ourselves and resources to causes that we care a lot about,” she says. “We did work for Al Gore's Climate Reality Project that we are immensely proud of, and feel that climate change is an issue we'll continue to be involved with for as long as it takes to make change.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Lisa Gross / League of Kitchens

Age: 33

Mission: "To create opportunities for meaningful connection and social interaction, cultural engagement and exchange, culinary learning and discovery, and exceptional eating and drinking. "

While Lisa Gross was born, her grandmother moved to the United States to help take care of her and lived with her family. “She cooked all this amazing food, but when I wanted to cook with her she told me to go study and do my homework, so I never learned to make Korean food from her,” Gross says. “When my husband and I were looking to cook the foods from our childhood, I tried teaching myself, but nothing tasted as good as her food did. So often with cookbooks and the internet, important but subtle details are left out. Those techniques are crucial and elevate food from good to great and you often need to learn them in person.”

And so League of Kitchens was born, in which immigrants teach immersive cooking classes in their homes to small groups. Their growing roster includes instructors from Korea, Afghanistan, Lebanon, India, Argentina, and Trinidad, teaching courses like full immersion workshops and shorter “taste of” classes. For Gross, the greatest challenge getting it off the ground was that there were no other comparable businesses. “In terms of doing financial projections, there was very little I could pull upon,” she says. “I was inventing everything from scratch. How long should these workshops be structured? What kind of training? How do we talk about this? What possible issues can come up and how do we deal with it? That was a challenge and a benefit. Because it is a new idea, it attracts a lot of interest and attention.”

League of Kitchens is doing more than just teaching people family recipes—it’s also providing meaningful work for the instructors. “Even though our teachers are amazing home cooks, their families often take them and their cooking for granted,” Gross says. “They meet so many people they otherwise would never meet. For them to be recognized for their knowledge and expertise with a group of really interested Americans is an exciting and empowering experience.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Chris Bradley / Mana Health

Age: 28

Mission: "Mana Health's mission is to transform healthcare by building the app platform for healthcare innovation."

Growing up with a family physician for a father, Chris Bradley was exposed to medicine early in life. “That was a lens I saw the world through,” he says. “I wanted to do something that helped people and medicine was the focus.” So he went to college on the pre-med track, studying neuroscience and computer science. “I realized the amount of information that was available to me as future doctor and researcher was enormous, beyond any one person’s ability to use effectively,” Bradley explains. “I wondered how can we be using a whole history of information to better help people? I wanted to take how computers can crunch numbers and process data efficiently and apply it to medicine.”

Just before Bradley was supposed to set off to pursue a PhD in medicine research, he decided to change paths and put his idea into practice. “I had a lot of student debt and didn’t know where to start,” he recalls. “When we began, health kits didn’t exist, the idea of integrating it into your phone didn’t exist, and healthcare was not a sexy place to be.”

Luckily, that all changed as Mana Health came to fruition. The technology company builds products that integrate all of your medical history and data to make the healthcare system work more smoothly. “We take all that information and unify it in such a way that you don’t have to create that unification every time,” Bradley says. “It’s taken us years of time. If a few lines of code can improve millions of people’s lives, that’s very exciting to me.”

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Photo by Ben Rosenzweig.

Dana Haim / Dana Haim

Age: 31

Mission: "Our mission is to spark joy through the creation of ethical, hand crafted textiles."

“I have always been obsessed with textiles, the way they feel, the way they look, and also because the medium has so much cultural and historical significance,” says Dana Haim. “I love learning about traditional processes and new techniques for weaving, dying, and knitting.” However, textiles is one of the most harmful industries, so when Haim launched her eponymous company, she was determined to help change that. “By starting my own company I felt like I could set an example for sustainable and ethical practices,” she says.

Haim has an ongoing initiative with The Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation (JUANFE) in Cartagena, Colombia, where her family is from. It provides at-risk, first-time teen mothers with medical care, psychological support, and job training. Haim has taught a few textile workshops there herself. “I hired them for pom-pom production, which is fun, liberating and creative paid work—a rarity in Cartagena,” she says. “By creating jobs for people that need them most and by telling their stories, my goal is to foster social and environmental consciousness through my textile business.”

Getting her company off the ground had its challenges. “I went to art school, twice,” Haim says. “They did not teach us much about running a business and I definitely identified with myself more as an artist than as a designer, so it felt very risky to dive in to making sellable products in New York City.” Haim looked at her rookie mistakes as opportunities for learning. “You have to be fearless and unafraid to put yourself out there. Rejection has become fuel for me to do better. Failure is not as scary as it once was. You have to keep trying and never give up if you truly believe in what you are doing.”