5 Most Influential Innovators of the 21st Century

Ever since the beginning of mankind, there has always been someone who pushes the human race forward, such as the cavemen who learn how to make fire or the Native American Indians who sharpened stones to create weapons. With the advancement of technology in the 21st century these innovators: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheila Lirio Marcelo are creating new ways to travel, interact with others and access professionals for help.

1. Elon Musk

Elon Musk was born in South Africa in 1971. He spent his childhood there and developed an interest in computers. He taught himself how to program and made his first software sale at the age of 12. Since then Musk has developed several companies and is working on ways to change transportation on Earth and in space. He is most famously known for his companies Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

SpaceX was founded with the intention of building spacecraft for commercial space travel. In 2012, SpaceX launched spacecraft Dragon. It attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth. Dragon has since delivered cargo multiple times and will soon carry crew as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX is currently developing the world’s most powerful rocket as well as working towards one of its key goal–developing reusable rockets. This will transform space exploration by delivering highly reliable vehicles at radically reduced costs.

Tesla Motors is dedicated to producing fully-autonomous electric cars of the future. In 2008, the Tesla Roadster was launched. It achieved a range of 245 miles per charge on its lithium ion battery, setting a new standard for electric mobility. In 2012, Tesla launched Model S, the world’s first premium electric sedan. It is built from the ground up to be 100 percent electric and was named Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year. Musk acquired SolarCity Corp. in August 2016 and said this about the deal. “Solar and storage are at their best when they’re combined. As one company, Tesla and SolarCity can create fully integrated residential, commercial and grid-scale products that improve the way that energy is generated, stored and consumed.”

2. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco, California in 1955. Jobs and his adopted father worked on electronics in the family garage. A hobby that would later help him launch Apple Computer with co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1976. Jobs and Wozniak are one of the few people in the world credited with revolutionizing the personal computer industry. After a few successful computers, Jobs and the executives of Apple Computer disagreed on the founder’s vision and he was quickly phased out of his own company.

In 1986, Jobs purchased an animation company that would later become known as Pixar Animation Studios. With his vision and confidence in the company, he invested in $50 million of his own money. Pixar released hit after hit starting with the movie Toy Story. The studio merged with Disney in 2006, making Jobs the largest shareholder.

Jobs would return to Apple as CEO, in 1997, where he would go on to create an empire and brand that consumers crave. Apple has introduced revolutionary products which have dictated the evolution of modern technology. After the first generation iPod was released in 2001, Jobs realized there was a need for a legal way to download music and iTunes was born. The iTunes store was an instant success, selling one million songs in its first week and has since reshaped the entire music industry.  After releases of the iPhone and iPad, Apple ushered in the App Store, which created a new era of mobile software, and iCloud, which allow users to sync email, documents and media across all platforms.

In a Newsweek article Jobs said, “If I look at myself and ask, ‘What am I best at and what do I enjoy most doing?’ I think what I’m best at is creating sort of new innovative products.” Even though Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, his legacy lives on in the Apple brand and their products.

3. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg was born in Washington D.C. in 1969. She graduated from the Harvard Business School with her M.B.A degree. Sandberg then worked as chief of staff in the Treasury department during the Clinton administration. After her work in the government was done she moved to Silicon Valley, where she has become one of the top executives in the country. She is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

In 2001, Sandberg signed with Google as the vice president of global online sales and operations. She was responsible for managing online sales of advertising and publishing products. In 2008, she left Google and joined Facebook as the company’s COO. Sandberg oversees Facebook’s business operations, specifically helping Facebook scale its operations and expand its global footprint. She also became the first female on the company’s board of directors.

One of the most influential things Sandberg has done is become an author. In 2013, she wrote Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead which has sold millions of copies and inspired a global community group, LeanIn.org. Sandberg founded the group to support women to reach their ambitions and create a better world for everyone. Lean In supports women by encouraging open exchange of ideas and information and has a growing library of free online lectures on topics like leadership and communication.

4. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984 in White Plains, New York. He became interested in computers at an early age. While at Harvard University, Zuckerberg continued to develop software and with three friends created a site that allowed users to create profiles, upload photos, and communicate with others. They called it The Facebook and they built the business out of a dorm room until June 2004 when Zuckerberg dropped out of college to work on Facebook full time.

Facebook created a new way for people to stay in touch and communicate. It is easier to talk to people vacationing in other countries. Facebook also changed the way people obtain their news giving people the ability to share stories and videos. Facebook has created a whole generation that finds all their sources of news and entertainment online. Time named him Person of the Year in 2010 and he landed on the Fortune 500 in May 2013, the youngest CEO on the list.

While Facebook has continued to change the way people interact with others and get their news, Zuckerberg has started giving his millions to several philanthropic causes. His first in 2010 gave $100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s public school system. In September 2016, he and his wife announced they would invest at least three billion dollars into scientific research to help cure, prevent and manage all diseases.

5. Sheila Lirio Marcelo

Sheila Lirio Marcelo was born and raised in the Philippines, but her family relocated to the United States in 1977. Marcelo balanced earning her M.B.A. and Juris Doctor degree at Harvard University while raising two young boys. Marcelo’s passion for technology and its ability to help people solve real problems gave her the idea to develop Care.com.

Marcelo was caring for her children as well as her parents at an early age. She was challenged to find quality care and knew that she was not alone. In 2006, she founded Care.com and it quickly became the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care, with 22 million members in 19 countries. Care.com allows families to search for, connect with and select caregivers in a low-cost reliable way. With the growth of Care.com, Marcelo has received numerous accolades, including Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs from Fortune and the Filipino Heritage Award from President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines.

The world is changing with advancements in technology, medicine and the development of new products. These five innovators are only a few of the people that have helped the advancement and make the world a better place to live for generations to come. Who will be on the next list of the most influential innovators? Only time will tell.

By Ryan Ayers

About the author

Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.

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