Julia Hu, 26, founder and CEO, Lark
Résumé: The savior of sleep-incompatible couples, Hu dreamed up the Lark in 2009 after her boyfriend's early-morning alarm constantly left her groggy. Apple pounced to sell the product a vibrating wristband that syncs with your iPhone exclusively in 2011. And Hu's relationship survived: Her boyfriend, now a Lark user, proposed onstage this summer at the company's national launch.
Background Check: "I grew up in L.A. and met my boyfriend on our high school science bowl team. In 2009, we both went to MIT's Sloan School of Management. His alarm went off at 5:30 every morning he wanted to exercise but I didn't need to be up until 7:30 a.m.! I was so tired I couldn't function. When I pitched my idea, a silent alarm clock, in MIT's entrepreneurship contest, I finished in the top five, and I founded the company that fall."
Big Break: "The best feeling was seeing the Lark on shelves in an Apple store this past June. My team and I took a lunch break and drove to the Palo Alto shopping mall in our orange Lark T-shirts."
Sales Strategy: "As a woman, I'm sensitive to my audience. In a recent pitch, I toned it down when I saw my male investors' poker faces as I raved about how sleep changes your life. But I've learned I have more credibility when I let my excitement shine through, even at the risk of sounding young or naive. One of our early backers told me after they invested that they loved my exuberance."