Could the toughest times inspire the greatest solutions?

Highlights from EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2020

For the first time in the 20-year history of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year, we opened the celebration to the world — and the world was watching. More than 2.5 million viewers joined the celebration to learn how the 46 award winners from 41 countries and territories are rising up to face today’s challenges in remarkable ways. Watch the full event here.

That spirit of determination is truly embodied by Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 Award winner. As the Executive Chairperson of Biocon Limited in India, Mazumdar-Shaw has leveraged science for the betterment of society, and she shows no sign of stopping.

“I’m the eternal entrepreneur, and I just feel there’s so much to be done,” Mazumdar-Shaw says. “I need to make every moment of my time useful.”

How entrepreneurs are fighting a pandemic

It’s no secret that entrepreneurs can change the world and help reframe the future. But they’re facing a steep learning curve amidst a global pandemic. According to Brad Keywell, CEO of Uptake Technologies and the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019, “This world that we’re in is a siren call for entrepreneurs to step forward and do what we do — define, create, inspire, instigate, disrupt — to frame a future that moves toward ‘better.’”

Mazumdar-Shaw is at the forefront of answering this call, supporting new coronavirus tests, antibody research and vaccine startups. “We’re really trying to play across the board,” she says. But other members of the Class of 2020 are also looking for new ways to help people. In Japan, biotech firm PeptiDream and its founder, Dr. Hiroaki Suga, along with Executive Chairman Kiichi Kubota, are working to aid the development of therapeutic peptides for COVID-19 treatment. And Estonia-based firm Veriff is making sure we stay protected as our lives move online. Founded by Kaarel Kotkas, Veriff has also organized a free online emergency growth accelerator to help startups navigate the challenges of COVID-19.

Dr. Joseph DeSimone, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of cutting-edge 3D printing technology firm Carbon, is also helping in the battle against COVID-19. He is working with manufacturers to pivot their production lines to produce face shields and testing swabs, with the potential to deliver 1 million swabs per week. “It feels really satisfying to help out,” DeSimone says. “Being able to print objects quickly really lends itself to a situation like coronavirus, health care and testing particularly.”

We have a responsibility to maximize our value, but we also need to protect the environment — blue sky and clear waters.
Loretta Lee
Executive Director and Chairlady, Canvest Environmental Protection Group Company Limited, and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Hong Kong/Macau
Photographic portrait of Loretta Lee

How sustainability helps businesses grow

Members of the Class of 2020 are on a mission to build a business with purpose, with many focused on nurturing a circular economy. Sustainability is key to this vision, and it’s a prominent aspect of Vestre’s outdoor furniture business. CEO Jan Christian Vestre, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Norway, is creating life-long products that minimize any impact on the environment and contribute to communal spaces for the public to enjoy. Vestre’s manufacturing facilities operate on 100% renewable energy, and the company is close to producing zero emissions throughout its entire manufacturing process.

In Southern Africa, leading poultry producer Irvine’s Group provides sustainable business opportunities to other entrepreneurs, most of whom are women. The company provides feed and day-old chicks to over 60,000 small-scale farmers who grow the chicks to a marketable weight and then sell them. “Everything we do is aimed at changing lives in Africa by producing affordable protein and growing businesses,” says Irvine’s Group CEO Craig Irvine.

Photographic portrait of Tony Fernandes
Why waste a crisis? We have a chance to do things we couldn’t have done at an ordinary time.
Tony Fernandes
CEO, AirAsia Group, and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2006 Malaysia

How leaders are making a global impact

Driving growth and making a difference on a global scale is a common thread among the Class of 2020. In Turkey, BAU Global puts education first with a mission to raise global citizens who are committed to each other and the world around them. The company runs 300 schools and 6 universities, and it provides education to more than 200,000 students from 126 countries. “I created a market for lifelong education within one global institution, from kindergarten to the doctoral level and beyond, where there was none,” says Enver Yücel, Chair of BAU Global.

Motorica in Russia has designed cutting-edge, multifunctional upper-limb prostheses for over 1,000 users in Russia and around the world. Co-Owner and General Director Ilya Chekh has revolutionized the sector and transformed people’s lives by constantly pushing the boundaries of technology. He says his customers are proud of being among the first people on the planet to use both biological and technological limbs at the same time: “They are like cyborgs in a way.”

Technological advances are common among the Class of 2020, and they are always thinking of its impact. “Technology should always serve us to make our lives easier, whether at work or at home,” says Dr. Simon Haddadin, CEO of Franka Emika and an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Germany Award winner. Haddadin disrupted the robotics industry by building robots that are user-friendly and cost-efficient, taking them from a niche market to the masses. His Panda robotic arm is inspired by human agility and the sense of touch. 

For entrepreneurs, every problem is an opportunity — a moment to find our truest and best selves.
Jacqueline Novogratz
Founder and CEO, Acumen, and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 US New York
Photographic portrait of Loretta Lee

How social responsibility combines profit with purpose

Mindful entrepreneurs lead their businesses in a way that helps their communities. In the United Kingdom, Recycling Lives combines a profitable waste management company with charitable work. The company runs programs for offenders in 12 prisons across the country, empowering 250 men and women at a time as they work and learn new skills. “I believe that if businesses and their clients start to look at social value as a currency, then we will all become proactive in implementing real change in the world, ” says Founder Steven Jackson OBE DL.

Empowerment is also important to Dr. Cosmas Maduka, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year West Africa. As President and CEO of Coscharis Group in Nigera, he is keen to encourage young people. “It’s in our mission statement to plow back resources into our local communities. We are creating a level playing field for anyone to be the best they can be,” says Maduka, who facilitates youth empowerment seminars and mentors university students.

Photographic portrait of Sipho Nkosi
I saw people who reminded me of what an entrepreneur should be. I met teachers, mentors and incredible people. I think the world is in a better space with these entrepreneurs.
Sipho Nkosi
Chairman, Sasol, and EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 Judge
Congratulations to all the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year winners. Thank you for the innovation and inspiration you are bringing to the world, especially during such a challenging time. I know first-hand the personal sacrifice you have made through the years, not only for your people but for the world.
Sara Blakely
Founder and CEO, SPANX, and former EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2002 US Southeast
Photographic portrait of Sara Blakely

The views of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.

Watch EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™

Visit cnbc.com/weoy for the inspiring stories, visions and ambitions of Class of 2020.

Watch here

Thank you to our contributors

A photographic portrait of Emma Crosby

Hosted by Emma Crosby
as seen on CNBC Europe, Sky and BBC News

A photographic portrait of Brad Keywel

Brad Keywell
CEO, Uptake Technologies, Inc.
EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019

A photographic portrait of Tony Fernandes

Tony Fernandes
CEO, AirAsia Group

A photographic portrait of Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz
Founder and CEO, Acumen

A photographic portrait of Emma Crosby

Carmine Di Sibio
EY Global Chairman and CEO

Unstoppable scarlet macaw image

Nominate an unstoppable entrepreneur today

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ recognizes unstoppable entrepreneurial achievements among individuals and companies that demonstrate vision, leadership and success.

Nominate