What have these four business icons been up to over the past year?

When we debuted Next is Now last year, we featured four icons who were shaping the world (check out the video below to refresh your memory). This group continued to push forward through a challenging year. In each case, they accelerated their companies to new heights.

Icons featured in the video: Leah Lizarondo, CEO & Co-Founder, 412 Food Rescue; Luis von Ahn, CEO & Co-Founder, Duolingo; John Thornton, CEO, Astrobotic and; Nisha Blackwell, CEO & Founder, Knotzland Bowtie Co.

Let’s take a look at what each company has been up to.

Almost half of our food is totally wasted in the U.S., which is sadly enough to feed everyone experiencing food insecurity… four times over. Lucky for us, we have thoughtful entrepreneurs like Leah Lizardo and her team at 412 Food Rescue intervening to save and distribute food surplus. 

We know the team and their “food rescue heroes” are busy delivering food donations, but what else is the startup working on?

  • Launched Community Takeout, an initiative to provide funds to local restaurants to prepare over 1,000 meals per week to help people experiencing food scarcity.
  • Invested $410,000 into small local restaurants and provided 55,000 meals for people in need.
  • Expanded Community Takeout for a third round. The program is now open to all Allegheny County (where the City of Pgh is located) restaurants.
  • Over 12,000 volunteers completed more than 100,000 rescues and saved more than 17 million pounds of food (the equivalent of 14.2 million meals).

Duolingo’s mission is simple – scale-free education, and increase income potential through language learning. The edtech powerhouse is used by 500 million people across the world, simultaneously generating bookings of $190 million. 

The app’s little green owl has been bouncing around the internet in the past few months, so we thought we’d recap what the company has been up to. 

  • Valued at $2.4 billion by investors + announced it had raised an additional $35 million, bringing its total funding to more than $183 million.
  • Launched its 40th language, Yiddish!
  • Entered into a unique partnership with the dating app Tinder to help the app’s Passport users communicate with long-distance singletons. Members who use the Passport feature can take free lessons on Duolingo, choosing from 40 different languages. Cómo se dice “muy guay”?
  • Insiders say the company hired bankers at Goldman Sachs and Allen & Co. for an initial public offering that could come as soon as this summer.
  • Named to Time Magazine list of “100 Most Influential Companies” and Forbes’ “Top AI Companies to Watch in 2021” list.

The North Side-based space technology company has been making moves that are literally out of this world. So much so that they’ll be landing on the moon for a THIRD time by 2023. 

How did they get there? Let’s find out. 

  • Won the contract from NASA to deliver VIPER to the moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
  • The first lunar lander mission will launch this year, when its Peregrine will conduct research with NASA and carry payloads from companies and space agencies from Canada, Mexico, U.K., Japan, Hungary and Chile.
  • Selected Elon Musk’s rocket-launching company to carry its Griffin lunar lander to the Moon in 2023. The Griffin lander itself will carry NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) toward the lunar south pole.
  • Announced the Moonshot Museum — Pennsylvania’s first museum focused entirely on space. It is scheduled to open in summer 2022.

What started as a handmade hair bow made from vintage cloth for a friend’s birthday has turned into a nationally regarded sustainable accessory brand. 

Nisha Blackwell – the company’s founder – recycles unusable fabric to make bowties that have been featured across the country. We checked in to see what Blackwell and her team are working on. 

  • Rescued more than 3,000 pounds of textile waste to date.
  • When COVID-19 hit, Knotzland shifted gears and began sewing thousands of face masks using their unique, environmentally-friendly fabric. The masks have recently been recognized by the Pittsburgh City Paper as the “best locally designed mask.”
  • Featured among makers and artisans from across the country in the Smithsonian’s Craft Optimism online contemporary craft show and marketplace.