For the first time, CultureMap celebrates twentysomething trailblazers in the Top Texans Under 30. These are the state’s budding power players.
We solicited nominations from the public, narrowed down the finalists, and put those impressive young professionals in front of a panel of expert judges — Trey Bowles, Felix Chevalier, Bryan DeLuca, Renee Rouleau, and Kendra Scott — to determine the winners.
The result? This list of 26 dynamic Texans, who impress with their innovation, dedication, and leadership, regardless of industry or cause.
Meet the Top Texans Under 30 for 2016 (and look for more in-depth profiles in the weeks to come):
The man behind East Austin’s beloved ranch-to-table restaurant grew up with the business in his blood, thanks to his family’s indispensable feed and seed store. Jacoby decided to expand into the eatery realm after his freshman year at the University of Texas, and now eager diners enjoy a menu of Southern staples made with meats from his family’s ranch, then stay to shop the artisanal foods and vintage goods in the attached mercantile.
Adam Kraus, 29
Founder, Dallas Autumn Ball
With a vision of opening up charitable giving to more young professionals in Dallas, and a passion for education, Adam Kraus has helped raise more than $85,000 for North Texas education organizations. Although the fall event is a must-attend for many, Dallas Autumn Ball also connects people with volunteer opportunities throughout the year. His vision for the future is one that’s led by today’s young professionals, many of whom push boundaries like Kraus loves to do.
Andyshea Saberioon, 28, and Ricky Johnson, 28
Driven by a passion for education and technology, Houstonians Andyshea Saberioon and Ricky Johnson founded PledgeCents in 2013 as a way for teachers to raise funds for their classrooms. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and their organization has already made a huge impact in the lives of kids across the nation. To date, PledgeCents has raised nearly $600,000 for more than 300,000 students.
Anne Gardner, 27
Owner, Cilantro Lime
With a background in plant physiology and a graduate degree in biology, Austinite Anne Gardner understands food on a molecular level. She also knows it should taste good, so she combined her expertise with a love of travel to create a meal delivery service that encourages culinary adventures. Together with her husband, James, Gardner sources sustainable ingredients and local meats and vegetables, then pairs them with recipes that pay homage to classic global cuisines.
Ben Doherty, 27, and Zac Maurais, 27
Like something out of Hollywood, Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais were working in Doherty’s parents’ basement when the idea for an on-demand delivery app struck. Armed with nothing but a book on basic web development and the determination to make their great plan work, the Austin pair built an app from scratch. Today Favor is available in 18 cities across the United States, significantly boosting the local economies in each.
Cooper Anderson, 29, and Ross McLauchlan, 27
Co-founders, Austin Winery
Cooper Anderson and Ross McLauchlan co-founded Austin Winery on the premise that it should be as relaxed and local as possible. The first of its kind within Austin city limits, the urban winery is distinctly Texan. Although the grapes are grown elsewhere, everything — from the fermentation and filtration to the bottling, serving, and enjoyment — takes place in town.
Dr. Dakota Carter, 28
Psychiatrist, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and Democratic nominee for Texas State Board of Education
The first in his family to attend college, Dakota Carter went all in, earning a degree in political science with minors in biology, chemistry, and Spanish. Then he went on to medical school, focusing on adolescent psychiatry, and is now pursuing his doctorate in education. Carter is the first openly gay Democratic nominee to run for a State Board of Education seat, and one of the two nonprofits he’s founded in Houston serves troubled LGBT youth.
Dominik Stein, 29
Co-founder, Verts Mediterranean Grill
Looking to reimagine the Mediterranean food enjoyed in his native Europe, Dominik Stein, along with Michael Heyne, founded the fast-casual restaurant with the memorable name in 2011. (It was formerly known as Vertskebap.) At the build-it-yourself concept, diners choose from pitas, wraps, salads, and rice bowls, to which they add fresh meats and fillings. It began in Austin, and there are currently 30 Texas locations, with plans to expand soon to the East Coast.
Hunter Pond, 29
Founder, East Hampton Sandwich Co.
When Hunter Pond saw a gap in the restaurant industry, he set about filling it by providing customers with a menu stacked with sandwiches featuring meat and sauces prepared in-house, without all the hormones and chemicals of other sandwich shops. When East Hampton Sandwich Co. opened in 2012 at Dallas’ Snider Plaza, it was greeted by eager foodies. Today there are six locations throughout Dallas-Fort Worth.
Jason Bornhorst, 30
Founder, Patient IO
A serial entrepreneur with a passion for healthcare innovation, Bornhorst founded Patient IO, which engages patients and caregivers outside the clinic. Prior to that, the Austin mover and shaker was the director of product management at Mobiata, the company that built FlightTrack, one of the highest-grossing travel apps to hit the market. Mobiata was acquired by Expedia in 2010, and Bornhorst led the team who built the award-winning and user-friendly Expedia mobile app.
Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, 29
President and CEO, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation
When businesses are looking to relocate or expand to San Antonio, Jenna Saucedo-Herrera is their point person. She and her team at the private nonprofit work in conjunction with local businesses, gather all possible incentives, and even arrange analyses of the labor market, proving why Alamo City is right for their particular industry. In the last five years alone, SAEDF has brought in an economic impact of more than $5.5 billion.
Some people claim they have a passion for travel, but Dallasite Jon Alsup is always on the go to a new locale. So it comes as no surprise that he made a business out of his hobby: OpenKey, a mobile key technology for hotel rooms, helps streamline guests’ experiences. The down-to-earth former college football player continually thinks up new ways to innovate.
Kathleen Perley, 28
Founder, Decode Digital
A self-described “closet nerd at heart,” Houstonian Kathleen Perley took her penchant for TED Talks and a fascination with the ever-changing world of digital marketing and created her own agency — despite warnings about entrepreneurship risks from others. But the Fulbright scholar was undeterred, and now her Decode Digital has grown into a go-to resource for B2B and B2C companies looking to improve their online presence.
Katie Fang, 25
Founded by Austinite Katie Fang in 2014, SchooLinks takes the ambiguity and confusion out of the college application process by connecting students with colleges and academic advisors via an easy-to-use platform. It supports applicants through every step of the process, which starts by matching applicants with schools that best fit their academic goals and interests. The platform also provides space for open conversation between students and advisors.
Kelly Wynne Ferguson, 29
Founder, Kelly Wynne Handbags
Kelly Wynne Ferguson started her eponymous handbag line in 2012, at her parents’ kitchen table. By 2013, she had launched an online store, and soon after her accessories were picked up by exclusive boutiques around the state. Named a Rising Fashion Star in 2014 during Austin Fashion Week, Ferguson’s first storefront opens later this month at the Capital City’s Domain Northside. Her handbags are playful and bold, just like the designer, and they range from girl-about-town totes to cocktail party-worthy clutches.
Lizzie Velasquez, 27
YouTube sensation and motivational speaker
A small woman with a huge heart of gold, Lizzie Velasquez went from being the target of cyberbullying to one of the leading advocates for the first federal anti-bullying bill, the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Open and honest, the Austinite has amassed an impressive YouTube following and speaks at events around the nation. The documentary about her life, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, has garnered scores of awards, and she’s currently working on her first book.
Mariame Aana, 27
Supervising attorney, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Driven to help immigrants live the life of their dreams, Mariame Aana oversees the St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance’s pro bono program and coordinates the program’s outreach efforts. Proficient in French, Spanish, and Arabic, Aana also dabbles in Mandarin, and she has an MBA in addition to her law degree. She uses these skills and her passion for service to help DACA applicants, legal permanent residents seeking citizenship, and others make a life for themselves in the United States.
Matt Alexander, 28
Founder and CEO, Edition Collective
It’s hard to keep up with Dallasite Matt Alexander, as he seems to churn out e-commerce and media concepts almost without pause. He’s the founder of Edition Collective, the parent of Imprint (formerly Need), a curated retail concept for men; Foremost, an American-made clothing brand for men and women; and Unbranded, a shop that pops up over the holidays to give other indie brands a storefront. So that other creators can learn to follow in his footsteps, Alexander is a mentor and advisor for both Tech Wildcatters and REVTECH.
Mohamad Maarouf, 29
Principal, KIPP Houston High School
Driven to build a better future through providing kids with a quality education, Mohamad Maarouf serves as principal of KIPP Houston High School, where he is as much a mentor as an administrator. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is designed for underserved students who might otherwise have limited access to empowering academic programs. As principal, Maarouf never misses a school sporting event, hangs out with the kids whenever he can, and has even tutored students on Saturdays when they need it.
Nick Marino Jr., 28
Director of social change, TangoTab
Founded in 2011, TangoTab has already fed more than a million people simply by connecting restaurants with local food charities. When diners use the app to reserve a table and then check in, the restaurant pays TangoTab a fee. A portion of that fee then goes to the charity, providing a meal for someone in need. In addition to promoting TangoTab daily, the purpose-driven Nick Marino Jr. started clothing line MISSION’D, which helps nonprofits and individuals raise money for mission trips.
Paul Hedrick, 28
Founder and CEO, Tecovas Boots
It shouldn’t break the bank to rock true Texan style, or at least that’s how Paul Hedrick saw it. The entry price point for a well-made pair of cowboy boots could sometimes be exorbitant, so the Austinite got to work building an online retailer that cut out the brick-and-mortar mark-up while still delivering quality leather boots meant to last a lifetime. He also aimed to make digital shopping a friendlier experience, earning lifelong loyalty from satisfied customers.
Stephanie Hansen, 29
When Stephanie Hansen’s mother was battling breast cancer, her family needed something to remind them all to be strong. That need manifested into bracelets bearing a triangle symbol and the phrase “be brave.” Each piece of Bravelets jewelry also comes attached to a cause, with 10 percent of each sales price going directly to it. To date, Hansen’s Bravelets team has raised more than $2.5 million to support groups ranging from the Lung Cancer Alliance to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Whitney Wolfe, 27
The age of internet dating brought about its share of problems — including reinforcing antiquated dating norms — so Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe decided to make things less creepy. With the Bumble app, women make the first move, and only if there’s mutual interest. But Bumble isn’t just for romantic relationships: There’s also Bumble BFF, which helps users find new friends. The team running Bumble is also predominantly female, a rarity in the tech startup world.