Jinhee Park, 39, principal, SsD architecture firm
Résumé: Park's first creation was a fish-shaped bulletin board that hung in her grade school bathroom in South Korea. She founded her firm in 2001 while getting her master's in architecture, and has since wowed spectators with projects like a sleek Massachusetts home made of construction debris from Boston's Big Dig. Her inventive approach has cemented her reputation as an influential force in modern architecture.
Background Check: "I graduated from Seoul National University in 1995 and became an industrial designer, creating DVD players and toasters for Samsung. But I wanted to work on environments, so I applied to Harvard's design program."
Big Break: "In 2009, SsD was asked to compete to design a gallery in Korea's prestigious Heyri Art Valley. I flew to Korea with two coworkers to present. The jury asked so many questions, we thought we'd lost, but three days later, we got the official call telling us we'd won. It was fantastic!"
Food Fight: "My husband and I hold Iron Chef — style cooking contests to relax. We challenge ourselves with limited ingredients and impersonate the judges. We just had a peach competition: His peach chicken beat my dessert."
Mandy Coon, 35, head designer and CEO, Mandy Coon
Résumé: A former model, Coon lived all over the world before launching her line in 2009 from a tiny Manhattan studio with just $20,000. Six months later, she garnered instant acclaim at New York Fashion Week. Now she sells her edgy collections at 13 stores and to celebrity clients like Lady Gaga.
Background Check: "Growing up, I wanted to be a scientist; I collected bugs and grew mold. I ended up studying computer science at the University of Houston before leaving to model, but I still love insects. I even designed a fly brooch."
Big Break: "My fall/winter 2010 line was inspired by anatomy. During the fashion show, there were gasps for my padded charmeuse coat with chains. Then the Paris boutique Colette bought the line."
Runaway Bunny: "Our biggest hit was the bunny bag inspired by Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running — she carries a stuffed rabbit purse. I thought, I want a leather bunny! I made one and sold it for $435; people still ask for it."