Meet young entrepreneurs using new tools to solve old problems

Many young founders on this year’s list also focus on the social and environmental impact of their startups.

By Amy Feldman, Alan Ohnsman and Elizabeth Brier


Iinflation is high and supply chains are fragile. Traditional companies are revamping their operations to incorporate robotics and AI-powered software. Companies are looking to use technology to make it easier to move goods through ports. And the founders are designing new materials and new products that are more durable in the long term.

These major trends are all reflected in this year’s report Forbes List of under 30s in manufacturing and industry. Entrepreneurs and innovators from here are creating companies in the fields of robotics, freight, new materials and manufacturing software. A growing and important trend this year: Many of their activities also have a social or environmental aspect.

Twin sisters Neeka and Leila Mashouf, 26, for example, founded Rubi Laboratories to create more sustainable clothing with their pioneering carbon-negative cellulosic textiles. “Fashion (especially textile production) is accelerating us toward environmental catastrophe,” says CEO Neeka Mashouf, a scientist who earned degrees in materials engineering and business administration simultaneously from the University of California, Berkeley. A pair of Rubi’s fabric jeans, on the other hand, consumes no water or land, actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere and is biodegradable. After raising $4.5 million in funding, the startup is now signing pilot deals with apparel brands.

Alex Report, 27, who studied environmental engineering and entrepreneurship at Tufts, also focuses on the environmental impact of production. He co-founded ZwitterCo to leverage revolutionary advancements in filtration to help companies remove more harmful substances from their wastewater. ZwitterCo’s membranes can handle fats, oils and greases, and still last for years. The company has raised $44 million in venture capital (deep tech firm DCVC led its Series A) and plans to have more than 1 million gallons of wastewater treatment capacity in place by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Aarav Chavda and Roland Salatino, scuba diving enthusiasts, divers and rock climbers aged 27 and 28 founded Inversa Leathers to make environmentally regenerative leathers from invasive species including lionfish and Burmese python. The duo took their company through Harvard’s Startup Accelerator and raised $2 million in funding. And Kezi Cheng, a 29-year-old immigrant from Xi’an, China with a Ph.D. of Harvard, co-founded Flo Materials to commercialize a new class of recyclable polymers to enable the manufacture of sustainable plastics, starting with eyeglass frames.

A number of entrepreneurs on the list this year are tackling supply chain issues. Former Uber engineers Rahul Sonwalkar and Tanuj Tiwari, 25 and 24, co-founded LiveTrucks to use software to eliminate wasted trucking capacity at ports and warehouses. With $3.5 million in funding, they launched projects with Whole Foods and Johns Manville. Founder of Kargo Sam Lurie, 24, raised $38 million from Founders Fund and others to create smart loading docks equipped with cameras, lidar, and artificial intelligence to collect inbound and outbound freight data in real time. The data generated eliminates labor waste and inefficiency, helping to both lower prices and increase sustainability, says Lurye. And Harshita Arora, a 21-year-old immigrant from India, co-founded AtoB, a company that offers no-fee fuel cards and payroll products to truckers nationwide, and is valued at $800 million.

In the factory, meanwhile, Russell Nibelink, Austin Appel and Xiao Yang Kao, who are 27, 29 and 25, launched Overview.ai in 2018 to design and develop inspection systems for factories that leverage deep learning technologies. The company has now raised $13 million from GV and Blumberg Capital for its expansion. And an Iranian immigrant Seyed Sajjadi, 28, co-founded nFlux, which uses AI to understand every step of a manual manufacturing process so it can train human operators. He has raised $10 million and counts NASA and the US Space Force among his clients.

Other young innovators are using robotic technology for new purposes. Jamie Balsillie and Wilson Ruotolo, 28 and 29, are the co-founders of Hedgehog, which uses robotics to make protein-rich mushrooms affordable on a large scale. CEO Balsillie estimates that by automating production, which reduces labor costs and increases yield, the overall cost of a pound of their mushrooms will drop by 70%. “I am committed to creating a food system where healthy foods are affordable and environmental impacts are minimal,” he says.

Core products are also getting a major upgrade by some of our under 30s this year. Frustrated with menstrual care in sports competitions, Stanford engineers Greta Meyer and Amanda Calabrese both 25, reinvented the tampon with an exclusive spiral design that absorbs more evenly and won’t leak until it’s full. Since its inception in 2018, Sequel has raised $5 million in venture capital and expects $10 million in revenue next year. Courtney Toll and Anabel Love, 27 and 26, also reinvented a common household item – the iron – with Nori because it personally frustrated them. “The hardware industry is generally considered a boys’ club, with over 70% of founders being male,” says COO Love. “Courtney and I didn’t let that deter us.”

To find the best in manufacturing and the industry, Alan Ohnsman, Elisabeth Brier and I (assisted by Forbes summer intern Ethan Steinberg) combed through hundreds of applications submitted online or generated by our own reports. We then sent the top candidates to our team of expert judges to help us choose the final 30. This year, our judges were Aisha Evans, Zoox CEO; Tessa Lau, co-founder and CEO of Dusty Robotics; and Haley Marie Keith, co-founder and CEO of Mito Materials and an alumnus of the 2021 Under 30 list in manufacturing and industry.

This year’s list was edited by Amy Feldman, Alan Ohnsman and Elisabeth Brier. For a link to our complete manufacturing and industry list Click hereand for full 30 Under 30 coverage Click here.

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