"Technology is one of those areas where it's not about your degree," says Sam Reich-Dagnen. "It's about having good ideas and trying to solve problems." Reich-Dagnen worked in the movie business for a decade before landing at Disney Imagineering, where she created some of the first interactive media for Disney theme parks. Then she was off to a strange land for a film school grad—Microsoft. "My first five years there they used all these acronyms in meetings and I had no idea what they were talking about," she recalls, "I just winged it."
After nearly a decade at the company—and with 3-year-old twins—Reich-Dagnen cashed in her Microsoft stock options, and she and her film editor husband started Braincandy, an entertainment DVD series for toddlers that's educational but not mind numbing. Now Reich-Dagnen, 44, is consulting for Microsofts Partners In Learning $500-million-educational-grant program and plotting her second startup, this time pairing up with other entrepreneurs and academics to tackle the global K-12 education problem. "Part of the challenge is getting school leaders to buy into transformation and change, and part of it is motivating teachers and empowering them with tools," says Reich-Dagnen. "But the nut we haven't cracked is how do you make it really entertaining? How do you engage kids?"