Every year we do this list—this fantastically unscientific list, in which we acknowledge 100 brilliant ideas, companies and the founders behind them. This list represents everything that is great and meaningful in entrepreneurship and living in a country that celebrates and cheers for disruption. (Gotta love an election cycle.) It’s sort of our kiss on the cheek and nod to innovation.
Honestly, it’s my favorite issue of the year because it captures the spirit of what we entrepreneurs stand for: boldness, creativity and collaboration. It’s our essence, and more important, it’s your essence. And in the spirit of disruption, this year we made a point of doing away with the traditional, quantifiable markers of brilliance—revenue numbers, head count, archetype and whatnot—to focus on the ideas, almost all fueled by passion and implemented by strong leaders who simply get shit done. This is our definition of brilliant, and this year all the visionaries we highlight really are freakin’ brilliant.
Here’s the thing about brilliance. It can’t be truly measured. It just is. We know this because we tried. There is nothing scientific or academic about being a brilliant entrepreneur. You can go to school for it. You can study it. But until you do it, you’ll never get it.
Entrepreneurship is equal parts science, art, luck and, yeah, capital, but an infusion of cash doesn’t always equal great new ideas. In fact, an absence of funding often leads to the breakthroughs that become brilliant ideas. That’s why I love this list so much. Time will tell whether the companies, entrepreneurs and ideas we profile become the next big thing or flame out before Christmas, but their influence will certainly last. That’s because great ideas generate the next wave of game-changing ideas, and so on. I see it repeated year after year. One thread of an idea can spawn generations of brilliance. That’s the goal of our unscientific look at how cool humans can be.
To data wonks and business purists, we may sound like lightweights here, but I submit that we are not. Every day, high-priced, by-the-book MBAs are eclipsed by the artists, the creatives, the poets and the dreamers. No b-school would ever make the case for landing a used rocket on a tiny platform in the middle of the ocean, but Elon Musk made it happen. Brilliant.
If there’s anything I’ve learned—and seen—from covering this world for years, it is to never underestimate the power and force of the human spirit. So let your freak flag fly, guys.
These are our brilliant freaks. All 100 of them. Now let the celebration begin.