One of Hayden Hamilton's cherished childhood possessions was a soldering iron. He used it to tinker with stereo equipment and other electronics, creating one-of-a-kind gadgets in between launching a string of start-up businesses that included a gutter-cleaning operation and a snack shop both before the age of 12.
In college came a Web site design enterprise and a co-op bookstore that successfully challenged the campus monopoly and won a loyal customer following among budget-conscious university students.
"It just seemed particularly egregious to me that they bought books back from students at 15% of the cover price and then would sell them for 85% of the cover price," Hamilton says of the book venture.
Two years ago, Hamilton, now 30, founded ProgressiveRx, which offers deeply discounted medicine over the Web through an office in Bangalore, India. A year later, he launched the nonprofit Progressive Health Worldwide, which funnels medical supplies and technology to African aid agencies. His most recent start-up is GreenPrint, which creates and sells low-cost software that minimizes printer paper waste.
An intrepid entrepreneur and serial innovator with a passion for technology and zero interest in following a traditional corporate career path, Hamilton in many ways typifies the men and women on Computerworld's list of 40 Innovative IT People to Watch, Under the Age of 40. Many are the sons and daughters of technologists or engineers and count their parents among their earliest and most influential mentors. Steve Jobs' name also pops up frequently as the person who most influenced their careers.
Consider Bogdan Butoi. "For me, technology is like a family thing," says the Romanian native, who came to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics after earning a computer science degree in his homeland. "My mother was a database administrator. My dad was a hardware engineer who developed computers and terminals. In communist countries, there were no baby sitters. When my parents did research for eight hours, I ended up in their workplaces. I started writing small [computer] programs and punching cards in the second grade. Then I got a PC, and everything else is history."