list | Inc. • the 26 most fascinating entrepreneurs

no. 8 | Ray Kurzweil
May 20, 2019

— story —

publication: Inc.
story title: list • the 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs
deck: no. 8 • Ray Kurzweil
label: Because he’s Thomas Edison’s rightful heir.
author: by Adam Hanft
date: April 2005

note: This story is collected for the Kurzweil library.

— introduction —

Inc. magazine goes behind-the-scenes with 26 entrepreneurs who best exemplify: extraordinary drive, creativity, and passion for business. Our top 26 list — one for each year of Inc. — spans the gamut of the entrepreneurial world.

From names you know well: like Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Martha Stewart.
To the names you don’t know well:

  • Tony Lee — a former janitor who bought out his steel manufacturing employer.
  • Craig Newmark — who’s the opposite of a dot-commer with his no-frills CraigsList site.

No matter what the accomplishment, each entrepreneur profiled here offers a fascinating case study in what it takes to thrive in today’s economy. We love them.


LIST | Inc. • the 26 most fascinating entrepreneurs

no. 1 |

page • Martha Stewart Martha Stewart OmniMedia
reason: Because she took one for the team.

no. 2 |

page • Richard Branson — Virgin
reason: Because he’s game for anything. In fact, everything.

no. 3 |

page • Michael Dell — Dell Computer
For being brilliantly straightforward.

no. 4 |

page • Jim Sinegal — Costco
Because who knew a big box chain could have a generous soul?

no. 5 |

page • Diane von Furstenberg — Diane von Furstenberg Studio
For staging an elegant come-back.

no. 6 |

page • Julia Azuma — Different Roads to Learning
For offering hope + help to the parents of autistic children.

no. 7 |

page • Fritz Maytag — Anchor Brewing
For setting limits.

no. 8 |

| Ray Kurzweil — Kurzweil Technologies
Because he’s Thomas Edison’s rightful heir.

no. 9 |

  | Craig Newmark — CraigsList
For putting the free in free markets.

no. 10 |

page | Mitchells / Richards
Because his family business makes an art of customer service.

no. 11 |

page | Frank Robinson — Robinson Helicopter
For whipping an entire industry into shape.

no. 12 |

page | Mark Melton — Melton Franchise Systems
For giving immigrants their shot at the American dream.

no. 13 |

page | Michelle Cardinal + Tim O’Leart — Cmedia + Respond2
For re-writing the rules for husband-and-wife teams.

no. 14 |

page | Mike Lazaridis — Research in Motion
Because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers.

no. 15 |

| Trip Hawkins — Electronics Arts + Digital Chocolate
For still scrapping.

no. 16 |

page | Warren Brown — Cake Love + Love Cafe
Because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery.

no. 17 |

page | Muriel Siebert — Muriel Siebert + Co.
For being a notable first with a worthy second act.

| Chuck Porter — Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
For verging on reckless.

| Katrina Markoff — Vosges Haut
For setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business.

| Barry Steinberg + Craig Sumerel — Direct Tire + Auto Service
For showing the power of the peer group.

| Victoria Parham — Virtual Support Services
For serving as a mentor to military spouses.

page | Tom LaTour — Kimpton Hotels + Restaurants
For staying at fleabag hotels so that we don’t have to.

| Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams — Mitchell Gold
For creating a true comfort zone.

| Izzy + Coco Tihanvi — Surf Diva
For kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom.

| Tony Lee — Ring Masters
For saving 16 jobs including his own.

| Rueben Martinez — Libreria Martinez Books + Art Galleries
For simultaneously building a business + nurturing Latino culture.


— no. 8 • Ray Kurzweil —

no. 8 | Ray Kurzweil — Kurzweil Technologies

At age 17: Ray Kurzweil appeared on television game show I’ve Got A Secret with host Steve Allen. His secret? The piece of music he played had been composed entirely by a computer he invented. That early acclaim only hinted at the remarkable body of invention that Kurzweil would establish over the next 4 decades. Kurzweil said: “I’m excited by the link between dry formulas on a black-board and people’s lives.”

Starting in 1974, Kurzweil invented in rapid succession:

  • a device that recognized printed text
  • the flat-bed scanner
  • a way for machines to connect text to a recorded voice

Combining all 3 technologies, he developed the Kurzweil Reading Machine to assist blind and visually impaired people. His first customer was music legend Stevie Wonder, who called the reading machine “a breakthrough that changed my life.”

Kurzweil sold that business to Xerox co. in 1980. Then he and Stevie Wonder collaborated on a music synthesizer that can replicate the rich tones of a grand piano and other orchestra instruments. He sold that business in 1990. Kurzweil is working on a technology to help hedge funds make stock trades based on instant readings of the market.

They may seem wildly eclectic but Kurzweil’s businesses rely on one basic theme — pattern recognition. Kurzweil said: “I gather as much data as I can to develop patterns at every different level.” His ability to channel that notion into great businesses is a  remarkable pattern.

— notes —

Thomas Edison is Thomas Alva Edison