Culture & Entertainment

Han Li

Co-Founder, Dragonite International Limited | China

For inventing vaping.

Han Li, also known as Hon Lik, trained at a college of traditional Chinese medicine. Yet he invented something decidedly untraditional in 2004: e-cigarettes. “Vaping” on these has become a hot (and probably dangerous) trend in the United States, where sales were projected to top $1.5 billion in 2014. Since sales took off, the soft-spoken Han has not seen much of a windfall from his invention because of a publicity war driven by China’s tobacco companies, intellectual property lawsuits, and bans on e-cigarettes in some markets. Han resists the notion that he’s spreading poison, telling Agence France-Presse in 2013, “I’ve made a big contribution to society.” True or not, it’s clear that Li’s ability to upend a giant industry with one new innovation from China is likely to inspire other fortune seekers.