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Innovation Agents

Meet 2013's Innovation Agents

Paraplegics walking again? Yes. Artisanal pickles still spiking? Yep. Longtime couples finding the frisky? Amazingly, that's true, too. Here are the women and men responsible for these—and many other—incredible acts of innovation.

  • <p>The leadership challenge among troops working with Afghan forces is incredibly difficult. International troops, including the U.S., are pulling out next year. Forces have been dispatched across the country to help get the Afghan security forces strong enough to hold the country after 2014. But there is no command-and-control relationship between NATO’s advisers and the Afghans they’re trying to help. Anything the advisers accomplish is due solely to influence and persuasion.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">Leadership Lessons From The U.S. Army In Afghanistan</a></em></p>
  • <p>Even Jordan Levy, founder of Buffalo-based incubator Z80 Labs, admits that the post-industrial town is missing one very important ingredient for startup success: money. "It’s very challenging," says Levy, a western New York native who spends his weekdays in New York City as a partner at SoftBank Capital. "I’ve lived with this my whole life; it’s very challenging to get funds to invest in Buffalo companies."<br />
<em><br />
<a href="" target="_self">4 Lessons Your Startup Can Learn From A Rust Belt Incubator</a></em></p>
  • <p><a href="" target="_self">Video: This Powered Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegics Walk Again</a></p>
  • <p>Girls start using technology at a younger age, on average, than boys, but women represent less than 20% of those graduating from college with computer science degrees. Computer-related fields are among the fastest growing in the U.S., to the tune of approximately 1.4 million job openings by 2020, and yet we're producing fewer than half the computer science majors we would need to fill them.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">A Girl Who Codes</a></em></p>
  • <p>In 1995, with his wholesale pastry business on the rise, Pascal Rigo, a French expat in California, was interviewed by a group of French journalists. They asked him what the future would be for his business, and Rigo pointed to Starbucks. Though already 24 years old, and rapidly expanding, it had yet to open its first international location.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">The Latest Food Innovation At Starbucks: An Actual French Chef Is Making Your Croissants</a></em></p>
  • <p>For $89, Ubiome, a startup founded by Jessica Richman--a doctoral candidate at Oxford who did stints at Google and McKinsey after graduating from Stanford in 2009--will send you a kit that harvests the organisms that live inside your body. For additional fees, you can also gather bacteria from your mouth, nose, skin, and genitalia. <br />
<em><a href="" target="_self"><br />
Ubiome Wants To Harvest Your Gut--And Unlock The Health Secrets Of The Human Microbiome </a></em></p>
  • <p>In May, Hearst brought in Say Media's Troy Young as president of Hearst Digital to rebuild the company's online operation from the ground up. Now, the changes he's made are showing signs of success: according to Young, flagship site has doubled its traffic in his seven months at the helm, and reached a high of 17 million unique visits in November.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">Hearst's Troy Young Spills: This Is How You Make Money In Digital Media </a></em></p>
  • <p><a href="" target="_self">Video: How Circa Is Rethinking News For A Mobile-First Audience</a></p>
  • <p>“We had fallen by 25% in revenue,” Allen Edmonds CEO Paul Grangaard says. “I looked at what we weren’t doing as well and imagined how much better we could do if we improved things around here.”</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">How Old-School Shoe Brand Allen Edmonds Reinvented Its Image</a></em></p>
  • <p>Years ago, when Lisa Sedlar was living in Boulder, Colo., she’d often see CU college kids running across the street to the mini-mart, and coming out with a Snickers and Coke. It occurred to her that it would be great for them to have access to a store designed with the same convenience factor that offered a wider selection of healthy grab-and-go foods.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">If You Want To Raise Capital For Artisanal Pickles Or A Healthy 7-11, Head To CircleUp </a></em></p>
  • <p><a href="" target="_self">Video: This Man Is On Fire </a></p>
  • <p><a href="" target="_self">Video: Why Everybody's Excited About Tile, The Easy Way To Make Sure You Never Lose Your Phone </a></p>
  • <p>The creators of SimCityEDU, a multidisciplinary team known as Glasslab, have a wild ambition. They want to use game-based assessments like these to wean our education system off fill-in-the-bubble tests, which are optimized for gauging memorized content knowledge, and instead start measuring what really matters in the 21st century: how well people can think.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">SimCityEDU: A Video Game That Tests Kids While Killing The Bubble Test</a></em></p>
  • <p>Three months into her new job as data scientist in residence at the venture capital firm Accel Partners, Hilary Mason was already thinking about what's next. "This [move to Accel] is not my last career move," she told us. Over the next year, she plans on starting her own company. "Anything that takes a lot of data and makes it useful to people."</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">Hilary Mason Will Make Sense Of Your Company's Massive Data Sets</a></em></p>
  • <p>The nonprofit CODE2040 places promising black and Latino STEM students at summer internships with companies including Facebook, Etsy, and Jawbone, among others.</p>

<p><em><a href="" target="_self">CODE2040's Latest Mission: Make Tech Internships More Accessible To All </a></em></p>
  • <p><a href="" target="_self">Video: Why 23AndMe Terrifies Health Insurance Companies</a></p>

In 2013, the industries being upended, reimagined, forever altered, and, yes, disrupted by Innovation Agents were as diverse and intriguing as the agents themselves. From French chefs to Hunger Games directors, and war-ravaged generals to a girl who codes, innovation—and the men and women driving real change—was everywhere.

The above slide show is an excellent primer on all this incredible—and, at times, controversial—creativity. Today, we're celebrating a year of Innovation Agents by re-visiting many of our favorite and most popular stories from the series. Check them all out and then let us know who you think we should consider for Innovation Agents, 2014. You can tweet your nominations to @FastCompany, with the hashtag #InnovAgents14.

Enjoy the stories and happy innovating!

Slideshow Credits: 06 / Image via PLOS Blog;