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Shari Misher Stenzler, 36, & Andy Stenzler, 38
New York City
Projected 2006 Sales: More than $10 million
Description: Upscale educational and play facility for children age 5 and under and their families
Child's Play: What started as just a dream for husband-and-wife team Andy Stenzler and Shari Misher Stenzler has since become a dream come true for Manhattan parents of children age 5 and under. Kidville, NY, their $3 million, 20,000-square-foot, four-story-high family facility, opened in January 2005 and is home to developmental classes such as "Run, Wiggle, Paint & Giggle," music classes such as "Little Maestros" and enrichment classes such as "Baby Sign Language" for parents and caregivers. Kidville also features an indoor playground, a beauty salon, a retail boutique and a 50-seat cafe, making it the complete socialization center for kids and parents that the Stenzlers so gallantly envisioned during startup.
In the Genes: A business in its infancy risks floundering, but Kidville, NY is one business that was born to succeed. The Stenzlers are seasoned entrepreneurs who have each found overwhelming success with their previous undertakings, including Cosi Inc., a nationwide salad and sandwich franchise Andy co-founded. Connections made from their previous endeavors, as well as strong ties to their New York City community, allowed the Stenzlers to bank on the wisdom and financial support of an influential group of friends, including tennis couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff. Says Andy, "It was about finding the right team of friends and partners who cared about kids and wanted to do something in that space to change people's lives."
Cause for Change: Kidville, NY is flourishing with 3,000 member families, the recent opening of a second New York City location and plans to open similar centers in other states, not to mention the future launch of related media, books and music. Meanwhile, the Stenzlers' single source of inspiration continues to be their kids--Kylie, 3, and Colby, 1. Parenthood opened their eyes to the unappealing options available to parents at the time and motivated them to create a better facility for children. Says Shari, "Going through [parenthood] ourselves not only gave us great ideas, but also created a passion that I don't think we could have had if we weren't parents."
Follow Their Lead: Don't settle for less than the best, and if the best doesn't already exist, you might have just discovered your niche.
You're Fired: At one time in her life, Andrea Lake tossed fiery sticks through the air at concerts to help her pay rent. Now she makes her living running several different businesses, but the balancing act is just as impressive. Delinquent Distribution, which she started in 1999, sells T-shirts and stickers printed with hip phrases in bulk to large retailers. StickerJunkie.com, started in early 2001, lets customers order small batches of stickers and T-shirts printed with any phrase they want. Between the two intentionally different business models, Lake covers all the bases and can ride through business upturns and downturns in style. StickerJunkie.com alone is on track to sell more than 3 million stickers this year.
A New Attitude: You've got to have a bit of your own 'tude to think of selling shirts that say "I'm not a stalker, I'm just persistent" and "I used to have superhuman powers, but my therapists took them away." Lake hearkens back to her teenage years to explain her company's hip edginess. "I was your typical suburban girl [who] was mad at the world for no good reason," she says. Now in her early 30s, she's happily settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It's not the first town you'd think of as a hub of industry. "For my own personal quality of life, I wanted someplace cool and laid back but also very creative."
As Seen on TV: You might recognize Lake from her appearance on Donald Trump's The Apprentice earlier this year. She didn't win, but that doesn't bother her in the least. Says Lake, "It was the most fabulous experience for me in that I realized how lucky I am to be doing exactly what I'm doing."
Taking on the World: These days, Lake is hoping to get funding for her companies, including a new venture called Luxury Wedding Packages. With so much entrepreneurship going on, the best way to keep up with her is through www.andrealake.com . "One day, Andrea Lake Enterprises will dominate the world!" she says, perhaps only half-jokingly.
Follow Her Lead: Young entrepreneurs can let their businesses mature along with them without losing their youthful energy and creativity.
Family Matters: Family is serious business for Nina Vaca. The list of key employees at her IT consulting company reads like a genealogy. Freddy Vaca, senior vice president of professional services, is her brother. Vice president of human resources Jessica Narvaez is her sister. And president Jim Humrichouse is her husband. Says Vaca, "I absolutely love it. We're cut from the same cloth, and we all have the same work ethic. I'm just really lucky to have such a talented family."
Born to Run a Business: Entrepreneurship runs in Vaca's family. Her parents emigrated from Ecuador, and she grew up working in her father's chain of Los Angeles-area travel agencies. "I quickly understood that my parents made their future and didn't just collect a paycheck," she says.
Boom to Bust: Pinnacle had its beginning in 1996 when staffing firms were booming; it soon specialized in system administration. The dotcom bust of 2001 came down on Vaca's business like a ton of hard drives. She found herself facing a hollowed-out business with a handful of employees and uncertain prospects for the future.
Bust to Boom: Failure is not an option in the Vaca family. "I used it as an opportunity," Vaca says. "I aligned myself with my family, leveraged their talents and we came together." She followed the market, diversified Pinnacle's portfolio and rebuilt its customer base with Fortune 500 clients. Pinnacle now employs 700 people across 30 states. "I see no reason why we can't get in the billions in terms of revenue," says Vaca. That's some recovery.
All in the Family: The future of Pinnacle is about more than revenue, employee growth, new contracts and new market areas. It's about a sense of dedication, civic responsibility and family strength that goes back to Vaca's parents' first travel agency in California. "I hope to fulfill a family legacy," says Vaca. "I hope my daughters are in the business someday, and sons as well." With her track record, look for Pinnacle to be a source of family pride for generations to come.
Follow Her Lead: The people you surround yourself with in business can be your greatest source of strength.