Whether it’s the war in Ukraine, natural disasters or a narrow shot at the American dream, this year’s honorees found ways to flip adversity into opportunities to change the business world.
By Kenrick Cai
In a nutshell—or perhaps more aptly, a coconut shell—Kesava Kirupa Dinakaran, 22, was born with minimal opportunity to alter his life path. Generations of his family had subsisted in rural India by toiling away on a coconut farm. After grade school, he was expected to do the same.
But by chance one day in middle school, Dinakaran saw a friend toying with a Rubik’s cube and asked how to solve it. He was soon dominating cube-solving competitions and by age 16 had broken two Guinness World Records, earning him a scholarship to a prestigious high school. On a school trip to the U.S., he decided he’d relocate permanently, despite having no college education, no job and no visa.
Dinakaran lands on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Enterprise Tech for 2023 thanks to Luminai, the startup he cofounded in March 2020. At the time, he was down to $9.48 in his bank account after months surviving on hackathon prize money. Today, Luminai has raised $20 million from some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital investors and is starting to make money from its software, which saves time for customer service reps by automating a chunk of their work.
“Being naive and not knowing the standard metrics of what success traditionally looks like has helped me aim higher and dream bigger,” he says of his entrepreneurial tightrope act.
For more than a decade, Forbes has highlighted young entrepreneurs for our annual 30 Under 30 Enterprise Tech list, with the help of nominations from the public. To be considered for this year’s list—headlined by the likes of Daniel Hanover, 25, and Toni Oloko, 26, who have built dentistry software firm Dandy in a 700-employee operation, and Retool founder David Hsu, 27, whose startup is worth $3.2 billion—all candidates had to be under the age of 30 as of December 31, 2022, and never before named to a 30 Under 30 list.
Candidates were evaluated by a panel of judges featuring Sid Sijbrandij, founder of GitLab; Lucy Guo, cofounder of Scale AI, CEO of Passes and a 2018 Under 30 alumna; Dylan Field, cofounder and CEO of Figma and a 2015 Under 30 alumnus; and Erica Brescia, managing director Redpoint Ventures and former GitHub executive.
Like Dinakaran, the honorees are linked not only by their technological and business promise, but also a steadfast ambition for turning adversity into opportunity.
Being naive and not knowing the standard metrics of what success traditionally looks like has helped me aim higher and dream bigger.
Take, as another example, Perimeter cofounder Bailey Farren, 26. The daughter of two first responders, Farren watched as her parents helped oversee the evacuation of their hometown when the Tubbs Fire ravaged Northern California in 2017. A year later, she teamed up with former UC Berkeley classmate Noah Wu, 25, to build a company that would help fire departments and public safety agencies to replace radio and paper maps with mobile software.
At the same time as the wildfire in California, Emmanuel Oquendo Rosa, 29, and Israel Figueroa, 28, were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in their native Puerto Rico. When much of the island’s electrical infrastructure was still down, the duo started BrianHi, a virtual receptionist that books appointments for medical practices—already understaffed even before the hurricane.
“I would go around searching for Wi-Fi signals and work from parking [lots] whenever I could find internet,” says Figueroa, the app’s chief technology officer. “In the afternoon, I would go back to my hometown to bring gas [and] supplies to my family.” More than 1.6 million patients have since scheduled an appointment through BrainHi, which is tracking to make $3 million of revenue this year.
It’s not only natural disasters that have given rise to positive technological change. Among the many headlines to dominate 2022 is the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which has caused tailwinds for numerous honorees on the 30 Under 30 list for Enterprise Tech. Perhaps none has been impacted more directly than Elisar Nurmagambet, 29, cofounder of Black Ice AI, who was born and raised in Kazakhstan. His fraud detection software has, among other use cases, helped authorities to detect Russian oligarchs who are attempting to evade sanctions.
Intelligent, hard working kids were a dime a dozen, nothing truly made me better than my peers.
Unusual serendipity has led many of this year’s 30 Under 30 for Enterprise Tech down paths that are now disrupting the business world. Deepak Chhugani, 29, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker, got his foot in the door of entrepreneurialism with an idea for a professional network startup to help college graduates from atypical backgrounds and non-Ivy League schools (he graduated from Bentley University) to get hired at top financial institutions. The business failed, but Chhugani executed a left-field business pivot into Nuvocargo, which makes software to simplify freight trading between the U.S. and Latin America. His prowess building a cross-border business, which has raised $75 million from VCs, can be traced to his unorthodox heritage: the son of Indian parents, he was born in Kenya and raised in Ecuador.
Zaden Technologies cofounder Valentine Nwachukwu, 29, began his career in the defense industry at Boeing and Northrup Grummon, but decided to launch his company after noticing how slow his former employers were to adopt new tech. “As a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, I grew up fully aware of the possibilities in the U.S. and promised myself to maximize the opportunity,” he says. Nwachukwu may have been especially precocious in his intuition: He became interested in programming at age 12 when he asked for a PlayStation 2 and his dad “jokingly” proposed to teach him the C++ coding language instead. “I haven’t looked back since I took him up on the offer,” he says.
Nwachukwu’s company is one of the rare few on the Enterprise Tech list to be bootstrapped, meaning it has not taken funding from external investors. Another is Carabiner Group, which Seamus Ruiz-Earle, 23, launched from his college bedroom to kill time after his post-graduate job at Deloitte was delayed due to Covid-19. Originally a Salesforce consulting service, Carabiner Group has become a fully-fledged company that assists businesses with managing their revenue operations. It is on track to make $7 million in revenue in 2022 and employs 30 people, including a former barista, a Navy SEAL veteran in his first civilian job and a playwright.
“I’ve been able to recruit these folks and others like them because I actively hire alternative talent—people overlooked by other companies because they don’t fit the mold,” Ruiz-Earle says. “I get to give them opportunities to succeed through the company I’ve built.”
His sentiment is echoed by Hightouch cofounder Kashish Gupta, 26, who made the list alongside cofounders Josh Curl, 28, and Tejas Manohar, 23. The San Francisco-based startup helps companies to transport critical business intel from raw data repositories to places where they can be put into action, such as Salesforce and Facebook Ads. For Gupta—who, like Dinakaran, was born in rural India—the privilege of moving with his parents to the United States at age 5 has provided a natural motivation for him to put all his energy into a fast-growing business that in its second year of existence is already valued at $450 million.
“Intelligent, hard working kids were a dime a dozen [in my hometown], nothing truly made me better than my peers,” he says. “This is what fuels me: the belief that I can share my opportunities with others who are less fortunate.”
This year’s list was edited by Kenrick Cai, Cyrus Farivar, David Jeans and Helen A.S. Popkin. For a link to our complete Enterprise Tech list, click here, and for full 30 Under 30 coverage, click here.