Greatest Technology Entrepreneurs of All Time

UPDATED: May 6, 2008
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2008

George Eastman 1854-1932 George Eastman made photography an amateur sport. When competition in the camera industry heated up, he shifted his attention and created the film roll, which replaced cumbersome glass plates that required more complicated processing. The innovation also became the basis for motion picture film. Eastman obtained a patent for a camera to use the film roll and later developed the Eastman’s Kodak Brownie, which sold for $1, making it possible for average people to create their own Kodak moments.

Quote: "Price yourself into a mass market."

Steve Jobs b. 1955 The Apple Inc. story is a well-documented one; Steve Wozniak combined his computing genius with Steve Jobs’ marketing prowess and, voilà, Apple was born. Ultimately, their impact was to make personal computing much more user-friendly, while their entrepreneurial talent was in creating product loyalty and in owning every aspect of the computer. When Wozniak and Jobs built their first Macintosh, they had no idea of the impact it’d have on user-friendly personal computing. Then came their revolutionary operating system, which gave users a desktop, windows and a mouse. If it weren’t for these elements, we might still be using a C: prompt.

Conquering both the hardware and software worlds was quite a feat, but Apple took it another step. Since Jobs’ return as CEO and the subsequent reinvention of the brand, Apple has led the digital music revolution, selling more than 110 million iPods and 4 billion songs from its iTunes online store. (Apple announced in February that iTunes is the No. 2 music retailer in the United States, behind mega-retailer Wal-Mart.) Apple even entered the mobile phone market successfully with its revolutionary iPhone. No other competitor has conquered so many markets with the panache that Apple Inc. has, and that wouldn’t have been possible without Steve Jobs. Jobs also founded Pixar Animation Studios (originally The Graphics Group, which he bought from George Lucas) and served as CEO until it was acquired by Walt Disney Company in 2006, making Jobs the largest individual Disney shareholder.

Quote: "Half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the nonsuccessful ones is pure perseverance. Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

Michael Dell b. 1965 When the computer company he ran from his University of Texas dorm room took off, Michael Dell, 19, borrowed money from his grandparents, dropped out of college and founded Dell Computer. By building computers to order and selling directly to the customer, Dell undercut competition with good, inexpensive computers and avoided costs related to storage and obsolete inventory. Since Dell stepped down as CEO in 2004, Dell Inc. has struggled against tough competition and a changing marketplace. Dell returned to the helm in 2007 to help right his ship and, judging by history, he is the right man for the job.

Quote: "Eliminate the middleman. Both you and your customer will benefit."

Thomas Alva Edison 1847-1931 He gave us the light bulb, the phonograph, motion picture projector and more than 1,300 other patented inventions, but Thomas Alva Edison is considered one of history’s greatest entrepreneurs for his ability to develop the profit potential of his creations. He was the first professional inventor who used the profits from his creations to fund further research and development, eventually establishing his R&D facility at Menlo Park, N.J.

Quote: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Ross Perot b. 1930 As a top salesman for IBM, Ross Perot felt his business ideas were largely ignored by his superiors. So, with a $1,000 loan from his wife he founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 1962, courting large corporations to use his data processing services. After dozens of rejections, he landed his first contract and eventually received lucrative deals for computerizing Medicare records from the U.S. government. In 1984, GM bought EDS and Perot became GM’s largest individual stockholder and a member of the board of directors. In 1986, GM bought out Perot’s stock for $700 million. Two years later, he started a new company, Perot Systems, and has built it into one of the largest companies in the information technology-services industry.

Quote: "You don't have to be the biggest to beat the biggest."


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