Idealab CEO Bill Gross
Idealab CEO Bill Gross - 

Bill Gross

Google doesn't make a big deal about it, but the search engine giant has Bill Gross to thank for its mojo. Gross launched in 1997 on the principle that companies should only have to pay for preferred search listings if users click their link. ultimately fizzled, but the concept of pay-per-click would later form the backbone of Google's business.

Gross started IdeaLab in March 1996 as a business incubator to nurture and spin off new Internet ventures. Among its start-ups were NetZero, CarsDirect, CitySearch and eToys -- an online toy retailer that once threatened to put Toys "R" Us out of business. After the dot-com crash, Idealab moved away from Internet-based businesses and focused more on robotics and alternative energy, one of Gross' passions. He started brainstorming new ways of generating power when he was in high school during the 1970s energy crisis. He even devised his own solar energy kits that he advertised in the back of Science magazine.

Gross' knack for starting businesses emerged even earlier when, as a teen, he bought candy in bulk and sold it to his classmates for a profit. Gross eventually went on to the California Institute of Technology, where along with his studies he started the high-end loudspeaker business GNP, which grew into a national brand.

Along with his work at Idealab, Gross is on the boards of Art Center College of Design, and CalTech.