Abram Olmstead  | November 27, 2013

7 Free Enterprise Stories We’re Thankful For

This Thanksgiving, we’re taking a moment to thank the people who have inspired us, improved lives through business, and been part of some of our favorite free enterprise stories of the year.

When co-founders Julian Mann and John Fenwick decided to start a company, they reached for the stars—literally. Skybox Imaging recently launched its first satellite, debuting a technology that has true potential to change the world. “If you look at companies that truly transformed industries,” Mann says, “they’re the ones that facilitated a new level of access.”

Ten years ago, Sarah Ericson (above) was hit by a drunk driver and lost the use of her legs. But using Ekso Bionics exoskeleton, she can leave the wheelchair behind and walk again.

In an office just a stone’s throw from Washington, D.C.’s K Street, a cluster of entrepreneurs is hard at work, making their dreams reality. 1776 is like many incubators, but this year decided to extend its reach by launching the Challenge Cup, a worldwide competition to find the most promising startups tackling global challenges in education, health, energy, and transportation. (Check out our ongoing coverage for more.)

Heath Clarke’s Local Corporation, a media advertising company that connects brick-and-mortar businesses with online and mobile consumers, has mirrored the dramatic ups and downs of the tech sector since its launch in 1999. Undeterred, Clarke has weathered storm after storm, from gun-shy investors to increased competition, and his appetite for risk has kept Local Corporation successful

In Louisiana, where the bayou is disappearing as a result of coastal erosion, the last, best hope at a future wasn’t built in a fancy university lab or by a team of engineers. It was created by 72-year-old inventor Webster Pierce, using an old washing machine motor in his backyard. Pierce knows the stakes are high. “This isn’t just wetlands that are disappearing,” he says. “It’s the people, culture, and the economy of Louisiana.”

Steel City has evolved into a hub for innovation and technology, but its manufacturing roots are still present. Pittsburgh’s Tech Shop workspace serves as home base for amateur tinkerers and entrepreneurial engineers, including the founders of SolePower, a company that has created a power generating shoe insole for charging portable electronics while you walk.

Nicole Snow started Darn Good Yarn out of her home in the remote town of Sebec in upstate Maine, but her business reaches across the globe. She creates jobs for women in India and Nepal to craft reasonably priced, high-quality yarn using reclaimed materials that would otherwise be thrown away. Snow’s business helped save 10,000 pounds of waste in India and Nepal last year.