Jagdeep Singh, 32
Today’s telecommunications network is woven largely from fiber optics--glass threads that carry thousands of times more information than copper wires. The key to expanding this capacity even further lies in a technology called wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), which sends multiple signals down the same fiber, using different colors of light (see "Wavelength Division Multiplexing," TR March/April 1999). WDM requires a sophisticated switch to direct multi-spectral traffic--and that’s just what Jagdeep Singh created at his 1998 startup, Lightera Networks. Their invention, called the Core Director, was deemed so critical to WDM that last spring optical networking company Ciena bought Singh’s year-and-a-half-old startup for a whopping $500 million. Born in New Delhi to the family of a globetrotting diplomat, Singh landed in the United States and enrolled at the University of Maryland at 15. By 20 he was working for Hewlett-Packard and getting an introduction to telecommunications networking--a field primed for an explosion of demand. In 1993, he started AirSoft, which made software to improve the performance of wireless networks. He formed Lightera after selling AirSoft for $65 million. Now studying for a management degree at Stanford, Singh says he intends to switch from entrepreneur to captain of industry--building a company that will be a "lasting piece of the economy."