It’s quite inspirational to look back at how some of the world’s most famous celebrities, game-changers, and entrepreneurs got started on their journey to success. While some get lucky by getting a good break, the majority of them had to work extremely hard to make their dreams a reality.
While most young people end up settling for a 9-5 job, others follow the road less taken yet amazingly succeed. There is no minimum age to become successful, as these inspirational entrepreneurs know firsthand. From organising high-profile events to uploading YouTube videos to growing their companies to a multi-million level, get to know these 12 entrepreneurs who made their mark in 2020.
1. James Purpura
Around 17 years ago, James had hit rock bottom – beaten down by life, with shattered self-esteem. His addictions had resulted in jail time. He was financially, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt. At the lowest point in his life, he met his future wife and business partner, Steph, and together they pursued a vision of becoming more.
Along their journey of personal growth and self-improvement, James and Steph saw an opportunity to disrupt an industry that ironically appeared to be perpetually stuck in the dark ages – the personal development industry. As a rag to riches, a non-formally educated, successful tech founder with a serious interest in philosophy, James recognized the uniqueness of his position to disrupt the personal development industry for the better.
Together, James and Steph felt an urgency to pursue their life mission to inspire individuals to tap into their unlimited potential and push humanity forward through a personalized combination of philosophy, science, technology, and community. They agreed it was time to launch their next venture, Powerful U, The World’s First Personal Evolution Company. James and Steph and their team have published a book, produced an award-winning movie, developed a game-changing personal perception assessment, and launched the Powerful Universe, a global platform for teaching and learning personal evolution. James has built strong international partnerships and an influencer network that already reaches over 50 million followers. Onstage and on camera, James is compelling, authentic, riveting, and has enriched audiences around the world.
2. Deven Powers
Around 18 years ago, Deven Powers had hit rock bottom. Beaten down by life, with shattered self-esteem – his past actions of breaking the law has lead to significant jail time. He was financially, mentally, and spiritually bankrupt. At the lowest point in his life, he eventually realized that a life of crime isn’t something he wants to do for the rest of his life. After months and months of contemplation, he finally decided to pursue a vision of becoming more. In 2003 he made the conscious decision that he’s going to turn his life around by becoming a successful entrepreneur one day – so he began studying and taking classes in business management and consumer science. While he was in jail, he managed to pick up several skills, and one of which is hair styling – he learned how to braid, cut, and style hair. He never in a million years imagine that this particular set of skills would eventually lead to a very lucrative business model.
Along his journey of personal growth and self-improvement, Deven saw an opportunity to disrupt the film festival industry – he somehow found a gap in an established market. There weren’t many festivals in Los Angeles that actually catered to African American Filmmakers at the time so he decided to create a film festival that not only screened independent filmmakers but also applauded them by giving them screening blocks.
Fast forward to today, Deven Powers aka “Mr. Hollywood” is now the CEO and founder of the Black Film Festival Los Angeles, Mr. Hollywood TV Show, Mr. Hollywood Blogs, Mr. Hollywood Magazine, and Discover My Music Radio. He has also been the host of the LA Live Film Festival from 2018 through to 2020. When Deven’s not gracing the cover of magazines or hosting red carpet events, he’s hosting the “Mr. Hollywood TV show” which airs on AT & T, channel 99 in U-Verse, and channel 32 in Charter Spectrum.
3. Chris Cebollero
Chris Cebollero is an internationally recognized leadership expert, bestselling author, Emergency Medical Services leader, and advocate who’s passionate about helping people chart a new direction, even in the midst of the most challenging of situations.
His professional history is showered with process improvement know-how. This knowledge provides executive-level support to achieve aggressive business and personal goals. He brings thought-leadership and over 25 years of organizational design success and his career has been defined by slashing costs and exploding growth in the healthcare arena. In fact, he constructed his healthcare management and small business consulting firm on that foundation.
Some of his key areas of expertise include executive coaching, leadership development, emotional intelligence, change management, Kaizen, Agile & Lean methodology practice, relationship building, business plan creation, organizational process improvement, motivational and keynote speaking, and healthcare/EMS transformation. He has been recognized for his strategic leadership as the Chief of EMS for Christian Hospital, he has been delivering inspiration to international audiences for over a decade as a highly sought-out speaker and he has also been writing bestselling books on leadership.
4. Michael Smith
A veteran entrepreneur, Michael Smith is the Toronto-based founder and Chief Executive Officer of MDS Media Inc., a disruptive integrated marketing firm. He has built a career solidifying his status as a Market Leader in Integrated Marketing – helping companies execute industry-leading content marketing strategies and achieve profitability at scale for more than two decades. He’s a savvy visionary who does so much more than lead a business – “he elevates the entire digital conversation”.
Throughout his career, Michael has earned many of the media industry’s top honours. In 2019, he received the GlobalTrend Video Awards’ Ascent Award as well as three Triumph Awards; W3 Awards for his work in Branded Entertainment, Health & Wellness, and Not-For-Profit Videos; a Davey Award for Best Social Campaign and two Summit Creative Awards. Michael recently received the highest honours at AMCP’s 2020 AVA Digital Awards in the Corporate Image and Social Campaign categories. Michael’s branding work is recognized alongside the work of globally renowned brands like Apple, Netflix, Disney, Google, and Pepsi. In 2020, Michael was recognized by MADCon as a Top 100 Global Leader in Marketing and Advertising, for setting standards for industry impact, innovation, and future-readiness.
Additionally, Michael is a frequently published Forbes contributor and Forbes Agency Council Member, where he leverages his experience and subject matter expertise to lead a global discussion about branding trends and best practices. He appears on several expert panels each year to share his insights on disruptive strategy, marketing, media, and agency-specific concerns.
5. Uyanga Boldbaatar
Uyanga Boldbaatar has always wanted to become a doctor since childhood and her mother has been by her side since day one helping her to achieve her childhood dream. To achieve this dream, she studied Oral and Maxillofacial surgery in Mongolia, Korea, and the USA, and in 2013, she finally opened her beauty clinic in Mongolia as the culmination of all her hard work. Fast forward to today and Uyanga is now the founder of Cinderella beauty clinic – a clinic that performs cosmetic surgeries and non-surgical treatments and is currently one of the top clinics in Mongolia. Besides being an accomplished entrepreneur, Uyanga also happens to be a model and in fact, she is one of the brand ambassadors for the luxurious OOGII brand.
6. Chris Graffagnino
Imagine if you had a crystal ball that enables you to see into your future – wouldn’t you use this crystal ball to avoid making any mistakes and use every possible opportunity to achieve success? Well, guess what? There is such a thing as a real-life crystal ball – and it comes in the form of a person you can turn to for solid advice about your business… that person is usually referred to as a “mentor.” Having a mentor is a must for any budding entrepreneur because they’re a valuable resource who have already experienced most of the challenges that you’re still currently going through. So in effect, they actually have a solution to those challenges.
Chris Graffagnino is one such mentor. Chris is a well known New York-born entrepreneur, business influencer, innovator, and avid traveler who is widely recognized as one of the most influential mentors in the world. A former law enforcement officer and combat veteran, he has used his experience in the security and risk mitigation industry and he has applied it to the business sector. With his unique skill set, Chris was able to develop a niche market in crisis management.
Chris was recently named as one of the ‘Top 10 Most Influential People in 2020’ by Yahoo Finance alongside big names such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Lisa A. Romano and for good reason. He has several accolades under his belt; besides being named as one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in 2020, he was also included in Yahoo Finance’s elusive “Top 10 Mentors to Follow in 2020” list. He has effectively developed several global businesses on and off Wall Street and he has several successful entrepreneurial ventures under his belt including a successful global risk solutions company. Chris actually specialises in business development and his passion is to help monetize a budding entrepreneurs’ ideas through his very own non-profit mentorship program “Settle4Success.” Through this detailed program, he’s helping emerging entrepreneurs develop their own businesses. He is helping them monetize and learn the ins and outs of the industry when it comes to business development and risk mitigation.
7. Vincent Zurzolo
Vincent Zurzolo grew up in Rockaway Beach, Queens in New York City. He’s always loved comic books as a kid. He decided to make a business out of something he loves so he began buying and selling comic books with a friend – he was 15 years old at the time. He started at the bottom of the ladder, he was even selling comic books on the streets of Manhattan. When he graduated in 1993, he was selling comic books part-time through school. Six years later he merged companies with his partner Stephen Fishler. After years of working hard, he eventually achieved success and he is now the co-owner of Metropolis Collectibles, the largest dealership of vintage comics in the world. In 2007 they started a second brand called ComicConnect.com which is the premier online auction company in the world and in 2015 they started Metropolis Gallery which is the only gallery in New York City that focuses on comic books and fantasy art.
8. Annie Liao Jones
Annie Liao Jones is the founder and CEO of Rock Candy Media, an advertising & marketing agency that is based in Austin, Texas – it has become one of the fastest-growing businesses in Central Texas. Under Annie’s leadership, the full-service content strategy, design, messaging, branding firm, and growth agency went from the ground up to grossing over seven figures a year.
9. Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp and her husband/business partners are self-made entrepreneurs based in Westlake Village, CA. They started their first business back in 1997 from their small apartment living room with just $100. The business, an online legal document filing service, was the first of its kind at the time and rapidly grew. In 2005 it was acquired by Intuit for $20 million.
The couple took a few years off to focus on their growing family (they have four children) but Nellie soon found herself bored so she decided to get back to work. In 2009, once their non-compete was up, they launched their current online legal document filing service, CorpNet.com. She found success at business the second time around as the company has been recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies in America.
10. Brianna Rooney
Brianna Rooney was initially hired as a recruiter, a career she knew nothing about, yet somehow she managed to thrive in it and even enjoyed every second of it. Two years later, she came to a point where she didn’t feel that the company she worked for was doing her justice. Eventually, she decided to walk out of her job with no plan whatsoever because she just knew she wanted to do better, more quality work – and that’s how Techees was born. Techees is a team of recruiters that collaborate well together and help connect companies and candidates.
Today she’s 34 years old, she owns her own company called Techees, she also has three houses, as well as a top 100 restaurant (www.mouthfuleatery.com).
11. Mimi G
With over 2.1 million social media followers and 12 million website views annually, DIY Fashion Expert/Girlboss Mimi G has defied all odds to emerge as the most influential woman in DIY fashion, propelling herself into the ranks of Martha Stewart, Lauren Conrad, and Chrissy Teigen.
MimiGStyle.com began as a hobby, and has blossomed into the world’s leading DIY fashion/sewing online destination, where Mimi G models her original designs/patterns ranging from business wear to swimsuits that fit the everyday girl, create free tutorials of her on-trend sewing patterns (Turn Your Jeans into a Skirt, Refashioned Sweatshirt into Dress, Men’s Shirt Into Off Shoulder Button Up), personally answers every DIY sewing question (i.e. what fabrics to buy, what projects to start with, etc.), and so much more. She also created the world’s #1 online sewing school SewItAcademy that works for everyone from the first-time sewing novice to the expert seamstress. SewItAcademy helps fashionistas of all levels master the fundamentals of sewing, work at a pace that allows time to practice, learn the importance of specific techniques, break free from mundane methods, and create trendsetting clothing and accessories.
Mimi G has worked with celebrities like Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Aniston, companies like Target, Revlon, and Google, and has been featured in People Magazine, Parade Magazine, POPSUGAR (to name a few) for making sewing hip and accessible.
12. Rafah Hanna
A veteran entrepreneur, Rafah Hanna specializes in financial technology, property, and security. He has built a career creating locally and globally diverse group of businesses that creates solutions focusing on three core values: sustainability, quality, and innovation. Having built, run, and managed financial technology and information businesses with the likes of the London Stock Exchange Group, the New York Stock Exchange, Euronext, and Deloitte, Hanna has built a strong reputation for delivery, execution, and market knowledge, creating an extensive network of contacts across various financial and data industries. He also owns a highly respected property investment company called NED Capital as well as a security company called Abchurch Group – a company that provides a global response to local and international clients’ needs in the fields of security, risk assessment, special equipment procurement, and specialist training.
Born in Iraq to a Catholic family with Chaldean roots that speaks Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ), he views his parents as visionaries. After his parents saw the tide changing in the Middle East, they decided to come to London in the 70s to invest, contribute to the community, and build a powerful legacy. He was educated in Switzerland and the UK which gave him the skills and knowledge that enabled him to kickstart all of his businesses.
Fast forward to today and Rafah is now a successful entrepreneur with several businesses under his belt. Hanna has founded companies such as NED Capital and the Abchurch Group and his data consulting arm now serves a global client base as it continues to grow exponentially. Their clients include banks, brokers, regulators, stock exchanges, and the biggest financial website in the world.
His property investment company, NED Capital, is a unique, non-leveraged property investment company based in London that is entirely self-funded. It’s currently building a grade-one portfolio of exclusive residential and commercial assets in the UK. The goal of this company is to continue to grow their grade-one portfolio of investments via their intricate knowledge of the UK property market and unique sales approach, utilizing their fully staffed in-house team of skilled contractors, leading to becoming a publicly quoted company. His security company Abchurch Group, on the other hand, has helped to significantly reduce maritime piracy in the past four years using their specialist maritime protection team and sought after proprietary patented technology.