As far as the Pi goes, if you look at what gets loaded when it boots, it's an insane amount. It'd be well worth fiddling with building your own Linux kernel - it's very configurable and you can really strip it back.
To be honest I bet someone's already come up with a super-minimal distribution. You could try OpenWRT as a start. I bet you could get the boot time well under 1 second with fairly little work.
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