From the 28-year-old Instagram sensation making us all laugh to the founder of the world’s largest crypto ATM provider, here are the young people reshaping the worlds of tech, finance, entertainment and more in Atlanta.
By Moya Johnson; Illustration by Jordan Carter
Ronald Acuña, Jr.
25 | Athlete, Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuña, Jr. is on pace to join an elite club in baseball history. At just 25 years old, all eyes are on the outfielder as he looks to surpass 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases. Acuña, who is originally from Venezuela, made his MLB debut in 2018, and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in the same year. He signed a $100 million dollar contract with the Braves in 2018, according to ESPN.
28 | Founder, The Tender Foundation
Jaycina Almond is a model, a mother and the founder of Tender — a nonprofit that supports single moms in Atlanta. Tender provides emergency financial assistance with rent, as well as donations of gift cards and everyday necessities like diapers and wipes. Founded in 2020, Tender has raised $500,000 in donations, including a $150,000 donation from rapper Quavo in 2022. As part of her modeling career, Almond has been featured in campaigns for Gap and Madri.
Ryan Babaie, Jared Duncan & Alex Nussey
27, 27 & 27 | Cofounders, Wattch
Ryan Babaie, Jared Duncan and Alex Nussey connected thanks to their passion for nature and their drive to do something about climate change. The Georgia Tech graduates created Wattch, a data analytics platform for renewable energy systems like solar and wind. Their software predicts maintenance schedules, improves diagnostics and extends the lifespan of renewable energy plants. The trio believes supporting renewable energy systems can play a central role in climate change mitigation and a clean energy transition. Founded in 2020, the platform is used in 14 states and three countries. Wattch has secured $3 million in funding from Spero Ventures and Standish Spring Investments, and won a $500,000 American-Made Solar Award from the Department of Energy.
Cameron Duncan & Armaan Sikand
27 & 29 | Cofounders, Axle
Axle provides access to real-time insurance verification and the monitoring of ongoing coverage so that customers–like rental car companies, lenders and gig services–can accurately assess risk for their businesses. Axle, which calls itself the “Plaid for insurance,” also allows users to connect their insurance account to trusted companies in seconds. Cameron Duncan, Armaan Sikand and Nihar Parikh founded Axle in 2022, raising $4 million in funding from investors including Y Combinator, Google’s AI-focused venture fund Gradient Ventures, and members of the founding team of Plaid.
24 | Founder, Coily
The Coily app uses artificial intelligence to help users find the best products, styles and techniques for their hair. Users who download the app take an interactive quiz to help the AI get an understanding of their hair care needs. The founder of Coily, Asha Christian, has designed apps since the age of 15, including Five-O, the police rating app that allowed people to review and track their interactions with law enforcement. Christian says she wants Coily to become a marketplace for Black hair products, tools and extensions. Coily is valued at $4 million and has secured funding from venture capital firms Andressen Horowitz and Sequoia.
Kayli Joy Cooper
19 | Founder, GirlWell
Kayli Joy Cooper is leading the charge to make sure her generation prioritizes mental, physical and emotional health. Cooper, a sophomore at Spelman College, founded GirlWell, a nonprofit that has raised over $250,000 in donations to provide thousands of self-care kits for under-sheltered teenage girls throughout the U.S. GirlWell has partnered with brands such as Dove, Esteé Lauder, Better Help and more to provide merchandise for the self-care kits. Cooper was named to the 2022 Disney Dreamer Academy, an educational mentoring program.
Drew “Druski” Desbordes
28 | Creator
Millions found comedic relief during the beginning of the pandemic by watching this Instagram sensation’s social media content. Drew “Druski” Desbordes’ viral videos have taken him from a content creator to an actor and comedian starring alongside major heavy hitters. Desbordes has collaborated on comedic bits with the likes of Drake, Jack Harlow, Chloe Bailey, Lil Yachty and more. He’s also toured with J. Cole, Chris Brown and Lil Baby. With Druski’s 11 million followers across TikTok and Instagram, the comedian has partnered with brands for campaigns and commercials, including Bud Light Seltzer, Beats By Dre, AT&T, Call of Duty, Mountain Dew, KFC and Google Pixel.
23 | Founder, Vaila Shoes
Frustrated with never being able to find her shoe size in quality high heels, Ahriana Edwards turned her misfortune into a business. Edwards founded Vaila Shoes, a modern dress shoe brand for women who wear extended shoe sizes (9-14) in 2021. Vaila Shoes are engineered for a larger foot structure, designed with modern fashion trends in mind. With 5,000 customers annually, the company is a direct to consumer brand that operates mainly online, but is also sold in Macy’s.
29 | Cofounder, Chezie
Launched in 2020 by Toby Egbuna and his Chicago-based sister Dumebi, Chezie is an online platform working to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces. Their software acts as a tracking and management system for employee resource groups (ERGs), which are typically employee-led collectives whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Chezie allows ERGs at companies like DocuSign and Instacart to seamlessly track membership, events, budgets and employee engagement. It can be integrated into a company’s existing workflow tools, like Zoom, Slack and Workday, among others. Chezie has raised nearly $1 million in funding and is part of the Amazon Web Services Accelerator for Black founders.
Mary Lou Akai-Ferguson
29 | Founder, Akai Strategies
Mary Lou Akai-Ferguson is a progressive political organizer and strategist committed to mobilizing immigrant communities, communities of color and young people. Born in Japan and raised in Atlanta, the 29-year-old founded Akai Strategies to train and support organizations at the forefront of the fight for systemic change. Currently, she is advising the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) as a leader on the largest active single-unit labor organizing campaign in the country. Akai-Ferguson’s political background includes serving as the campaign manager and chief of staff to Michelle Wu, Boston’s first woman and first person of color to be elected mayor. Akai-Ferguson secured endorsements for Wu, created an organizing strategy and trained volunteers. She also worked on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign as a regional organizing director.
28 | Cofounder, Altera Investments
David Fershteyn is the cofounder of Altera Investments, a firm focused on investing in under-the-radar, lower-middle market private equity, private credit and real asset strategies. Fershteyn, an immigrant from Uzbekistan and a University of Georgia graduate, worked as an investment banker in Silicon Valley before founding Altera in 2018. Altera manages $350 million of assets and the company has 600 investors.
28 | Cofounder, Dream Capital
Dream Capital is an investment firm that sponsors and co-invests in hotels and other commercial real estate throughout the U.S. From new construction to rehabilitated projects, the company has $403 million in assets under management. Cofounder Ankit Govan’s career began working the front desk at a hotel chain. He now spearheads organizational strategy for his own company and supports the firm with asset management, underwriting and development in partnership with fellow cofounder and his brother Anish Govan. Dream Capital’s next development, a hotel, will break ground in Kennesaw, Georgia in 2024.
28 | Acting Director of Communications, Black Voters Matter
Venkayla Haynes is an organizer and the acting director of communications at Black Voters Matter, a national nonprofit that empowers and uplifts Black communities by advocating for voting rights, healthcare, environmental justice, affordable housing and more. The organization has received over $30 million in grants, operates in 25 states and has over 400 partners that donate resources. As the leader of the BVM communications department, Haynes coordinates rapid response statements after national events relevant to BVM’s mission and activities, such as voter suppression, election results and racial justice. BVM organizers and volunteers played a key role in the 2020 and 2021 U.S Senate election in Georgia.
23 | Athlete, Atlanta Dream
Rhyne Howard is a professional athlete currently playing for the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. Howard was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Dream in 2022. She was named a 2022 WNBA All-Star and the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Howard reportedly signed a three-year, $226,668 contract with the Dream. Howard also had a shoe deal with Jordan Brand.
28 | Cofounder, Transition
In 2021, Kayla Wright-Jackson founded Transition, a tech platform built to bridge the gap between vocational training and employment opportunities in the healthcare industry. The startup aims to help fill entry-level front-line healthcare roles—such as certified nursing assistants and medical assistants— who are responsible for 85% of direct patient care. Employers can use Transition to attract, recruit and develop healthcare talent, while healthcare training providers can use the platform for enrollment, student support and career services. Transition gives students immediate exposure to career planning, resume building and more. Employers are able to partner with training providers to recruit their students and provide sponsorship opportunities. In 2022, Transition was one of 50 companies selected for the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. Wright-Jackson has raised $780,000 in funding from Techstars and Jumpstart Foundry, among others.
29 | Founder, Nomads Swimwear
Curve model Taylor Long turned her love of travel into a business by founding Nomads Swimwear, which creates destination-inspired, size-inclusive, sustainable swim and resort wear. Founded in 2019, the online brand has recently ventured into wholesale and is carried in Anthropologie and Shopbop. Long has modeled for brands that include Byrdie, Bustle, Kohls and InStyle Magazine. This year, Nomads received $200,000 in funding and was accepted into the a16z Talent X Opportunity Accelerator.
29 | Founder, Tractian
A computer engineer, Igor Marinelli founded Tractian, technology that uses AI to monitor the status of machines, electrical infrastructure and industrial equipment. Tractian’s software can spot signs of looseness, imbalance and misalignment from vibration and temperature anomalies measured by custom sensors, in addition to potential electrical failures. Tractian has a customer base of 200 companies that include brands such as John Deere, Bosch and Hyundai. The company has raised nearly $70 million dollars in funding from Next4, Siemens and more.
29 | Founder, BStarPR
Brandy Star Merriweather is known as “The GenZ Publicist” on TikTok and Instagram. Merriweather founded BStarPR in 2020 while in college, and has led accounts for brands such as Rap Snacks and the Fanbase app, as well as the musician Isaac Hayes. Merriweather navigates between the content creator economy and traditional media. She’s helped clients get coverage in publications such as USA Today, Essence, Tech Crunch, Business Insider, AfroTech and BET. Her agency also provides marketing for movie premieres, like Wakanda Forever, as well as conferences, music festivals and award shows.
29 | Founder, The Culture Candy
Ashley Miah is an Afro-Latina artist and founder of The Culture Candy, a woman- and minority-owned arts organization created in 2020. The Culture Candy aims to help young people of color, women and LGBTQ+ creatives pursue their art through community programs, pop-up events and gallery exhibitions. In curating events, The Culture Candy has created a community of 300 artists and small business vendors from multiple cities, including Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles. The organization has also partnered with summer youth employment programs to teach young artists how to start their art careers. The Culture Candy receives resources from a partnership with the City University of New York.
29 | Founder, Bitcoin Depot
Brandon Mintz started his first company, Cash to Crypto, when he was 19 years old at the University of Georgia. The business allowed anyone in the U.S. to purchase cryptocurrency in minutes, with no confusing instructions or excessive wait times. Three years later, in 2016, Mintz founded Bitcoin Depot, a crypto kiosk company with 7,000 Bitcoin ATMs in North America. These Bitcoin ATMs allow users to buy and sell digital assets, without having to deal with setting up an account with an exchange. In July, the company launched on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Bitcoin Depot has seen $2 billion in revenue since the company was created, Mintz says.
29 | Creator
Melanie Mitchell is a TikTok star and comedian. Using the handle @TheBaddestMitch, Mitchell has been creating content for seven years, gaining popularity across social media platforms with skits, podcasts, short films and her infamous Harry Potter sketches about “Black Hogwarts.” She’s collaborated with major brands such as HBO Max, Sony Pictures, Fenty Beauty, Target and more. Mitchell has 550,000 followers across Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and wrapped a national comedy tour with headliner Kev on Stage earlier this year.
24 | Filmmaker
Webby Award-winning and Emmy-nominated cinematographer Mya-Breyana Morton is a writer and director. Her films include What Remains of Emily, Proud, and The Traveler. As a filmmaker, Morton has collaborated with Target, Always, iHeartMedia, Paramount and Canva. She also cofounded a community center for filmmakers and creative artists called Production Circle. It focuses on career development for independent talents.
26 | Athlete, Atlanta Falcons
NBA All-Star Dejounte Murray says he’s loyal to Atlanta, and he’s here to stay. The 26-year-old signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension with the Atlanta Hawks this summer. Murray, the youngest player in NBA history to receive All-Defensive honors, had a breakout season in 2022 with the Hawks. Off the court, Murray loves to give back to his community, hosting turkey drives or free basketball camps for local youth. His brand partners, like New Balance and Lemon Perfect, help in his community efforts, donating to local charities and families in need.
24 | Founder, The Owens Group Consulting
Antwan Owens, the first NCAA athlete to ever sign an endorsement deal, is now educating other athletes about the importance of being in control of their financial portfolios. Owens is a Georgia Tech graduate who played collegiate football at Jackson State under head coach Deion Sanders. Now, the 24-year-old is the founder of The Owens Group Consulting, which helps their clients (mostly athletes) strategize on sports, media, tech and real estate deals. The company was founded in 2020 and has earned $700,000 in revenue since then.
23 | Founder, Maya’s Ideas
Maya Penn started her own global sustainable fashion brand called Maya’s Ideas in 2008 when she was 8 years old, earning over $200,000 in grants for her eco-friendly fashions. The online fashion brand uses only vintage fabrics or organic bio-based materials, like cotton, in its clothing and accessories. Penn, a Gen Z environmental climate activist, also advises companies on how to make their clothing more eco-friendly. This year, she advised Coach on sustainable clothing as they launched their sub brand Coachtopia. Penn is a part of the Alexis Ohanian’s 776 Foundation Youth Climate Fellowship and was on the January 2023 cover of Vogue wearing her own eco-fashion designs alongside Billie Eilish.
27 | Cofounder, Reframe
Vedant Pradeep is the CEO and cofounder of Reframe, an app designed to help users reduce their alcohol intake and incorporate healthy habits into their lifestyles by using educational modules and homework assignments. The app has a personalized drink tracker to help users stay accountable day-by-day and keep track of their progress over time. Since its founding in 2018, Reframe has raised $27 million in funding from investors including Goodwater Capital and Atlanta Ventures.
29 | Cofounder, Infinite Giving
Seth Radman is an Atlanta-based tech entrepreneur and a four-time startup founder. He is currently the cofounder of Infinite Giving, a fintech platform that automates investing and asset gifting for nonprofits. The startup provides an all-in-one product to receive stock donations, crypto donations and endowments. It also provides nonprofits with curated investment portfolios and personal advisors to answer questions about them. Infinite Giving operates in 17 states and has raised $1.6 million from Atlanta Ventures and local angel investors. Radman previously founded Crescendo, an AI music training app used by over 1 million musicians, which was acquired by Ultimate Guitar in 2019. Radman also founded Upbeat, a virtual music platform that helped 5,000 schools keep music programs alive during Covid. Upbeat was acquired by MakeMusic in 2022.
Alyssa “Latto” Stephens
24 | Musician
Raised in Atlanta, 24-year-old rising rapper Alyssa “Latto” Stephens has been making a name for herself since she was 10 years old. The Rap Game reality show season one winner has continually released music since 2016. She signed with RCA Records in 2020. Last fall, her single “Big Energy” became the longest-charting rap song by a solo female artist in Billboard’s Hot 100 history. Latto has 10 million followers on Instagram. The rapper was also crowned Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the BET Awards this year.
24 | Global Epidemiologist, Rollins School of Public Health
As a global epidemiologist, McKenzi Thompson’s primary focus lies in understanding and addressing the global and local disparities that disproportionately affect Black and Brown women in the field of public health and medicine. Thompson researches and analyzes potential links between exposure to chemicals and gestational hypertension in pregnant women. In 2022, Thompson began organizing maternal health events with the Emory University Reproductive Health Association. Thompson is a MD Anderson Cancer Center Fellow, examining ovarian cancer prevention research. She plans to become an OB/GYN.
29 | Founder, ImIn
Lauren Wilson is the founder of ImIn, an on-demand employee scheduling app that allows hourly employees to view available hours and apply for the specific times they’d like to work at various companies. The platform also allows employers to offer rewards to employees that sign up for lower-demand hours, like nights and weekends. The startup’s revenue model is licensed-based, where a fee is charged to a company per license per month. Collab Capital invested $1 million in ImIn in a pre-seed round, and the startup has received $100,000 as a participant in the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.
Cofounder, Slutty Vegan
Aisha “Pinky” Cole, founder of Atlanta-based restaurant Slutty Vegan, built a $100 million brand with her catchy slogans and signature burgers. Cole’s creative takes on plant-based meals with racy names like “Sloppy Toppy” and “One Night Stand” launched her business into the spotlight. Slutty Vegan has four brick-and-mortar locations in Georgia, with more to come in Alabama. Cole is also the owner of Bar Vegan and founder of the Pinky Cole Foundation.
UNDER 30 CLASS OF 2022
Cofounder, Arize AI
Tsion Behailu is a 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree and a founding engineer at Arize AI. Behailu, an immigrant from Ethiopia, began her career working as a computer scientist at Google. At the beginning of the pandemic, Behailu and five others built Arize AI, which enables customers to monitor the performance of AI models using software that looks for things such as unforeseen biases in algorithms. The startup has $24.5 million in funding.
UNDER 30 CLASS OF 2021
Partner, Value Investment Group
Eric Campbell is a 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree and a managing partner at the Value Investment Group. The private family office works with high profile Black athletes and entertainers, such as Larry Fitzgerald and 2Chainz. As a trusted investor and strategist, Campbell has helped raise $25 million for companies such as Epic Games, Airbnb, Lime and more. Some 100 athletes and entertainers have completed Campbell’s five-week training program on venture investments.
CEO, Cam Kirk Productions
Cameron Kirkland, infamously known as Cam Kirk, is a notable Atlanta-based photographer and entrepreneur. As the founder of creative community space Cam Kirk Studios, Kirk has worked with major hip hop artists, including Gucci Mane, Migos, 21 Savage and Future. Kirk has been cultivating creativity behind the scenes in the music industry for over 13 years. As an activist, Kirk also established the Cam Kirk Foundation, a non-profit focused on art, education and community.