Ryan Black, 32; Ed Nichols, 32; and Jeremy Black, 34
Sambazon , San Clemente, California
Projected 2007 Sales: $15 million to $20 million
Description: Manufacturer of Brazilian açaí berry products
Jungle Fever: When Ed Nichols and Ryan Black took a surf trip to Brazil, they never expected to end up far from the water's edge and deep in the Amazon. Through the country's surf culture, the friends discovered açaí (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee"), a Brazilian berry popular for its unique flavor and nutritional properties. "We fell in love with it," says Nichols. "We didn't want to leave Brazil without it." So they teamed up with Ryan's brother, Jeremy, to become the United States' first supplier of .
Through extensive research, they learned about the berry's other benefits. "The native people make more money selling açaí than they do selling nonrenewable resources," explains Nichols. "We [realized we] could drive preservation by employing the people to harvest the fruit instead of wood."
Organically Grown: The guys founded Sambazon in 2000 and then hit the streets. Getting people to try the exotic berry was a challenge, but once they did, they loved it. Business really picked up after Dr. Nicholas Perricone named açaí the No. 1 "superfood" in his 2004 book, The Perricone Promise. "All of a sudden, the floodgates opened," says Jeremy. "It really helped accelerate the knowledge of what açaí is."
Fruitful Business: From there, Sambazon expanded its products and distribution and opened the first açaí processing facility in the Amazon. Last year, they won the U.S. Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence. "We were recognized not so much for our profits, but for the intangible things we're doing," says Ryan. "It was really cool for the State Department to recognize something that's not just on our balance sheet."
Adds Jeremy, "We've been given this incredible opportunity to make a lot of positive change with this berry"--change they hope includes getting açaí in every supermarket nationwide and expanding internationally.
Follow Their Lead: Let your passion be the driving force in your business. --Lindsay Holloway
Amy Smilovic, 39
Tibi, New York City
Projected 2007 Sales: $21 million
Description: Designer of an upscale boutique clothing line
Hustle and Bustle: Even as a child, Amy Smilovic was a budding entrepreneur, forming everything from mini baby-sitting networks to lemonade stand chains. Her business sense eventually landed her a successful marketing career, but the self-starting side of Smilovic dreamed of bigger things. When her husband was relocated to Hong Kong in 1997, Smilovic joined him--and stumbled upon the idea for Tibi. As she walked the streets of her new hometown, she noticed that no one made clothing to fit a modern Western woman's lifestyle in Asia.
Spreading the Word: Just one month after the move, Smilovic designed and manufactured a line of dresses that meshed American sportswear with hints of international influence. After showcasing the line to a group of women she'd met in Hong Kong, the collection became an overwhelming success. When summer arrived, many of the women returned home overseas, bringing the Tibi brand with them and establishing Tibi's worldwide fame.
In 2000, Smilovic headed back to the States to open a 3,000-square-foot loft in New York City's SoHo. Her designs now hang in department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, and they can be spotted in Istanbul, Turkey; London; Moscow; and Hong Kong. The brand has come a long way, with a second store in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and even a shoe collection making its debut next month.
Styles, Not Trends: "If you just design for yourself, someone will identify with it," Smilovic says. "The world is big enough, and you'll find a group of people who want to dress like you." As a woman who has seen much of the world, Smilovic certainly is a testament to this.
Follow Her Lead: When you fill a hole in the market with a quality product, customers will take notice. --Jessica Chen