- Michael Kite, 27, took over Ontario, California-based Freeflow Products Inc. in 1994, a manufacturer of custom-molded plastic components. "My father gave me the opportunity of a lifetime right out of college," Kite explains. "He owned this business, which was losing money, and he said, `If you can turn a profit at this, you can have it.' " Under Kite's leadership, the firm has moved from the red to the black, and from an industrial base into more diversified areas, including its own line of hot tubs.
- Cliff Michaels, 32, is cofounder of Firstuse.com, an online registry in Westlake Village, California, that provides third-party authentication of intellectual property and vital records. Before launching Firstuse.com in 1997, Michaels was cofounder of Visual New Media, an Internet development and commerce company. He is also founder and CEO of Michaels & Associates, a real estate finance company, where he negotiated more than $100 million in transactions. "I've never actually had a job," Michaels confesses. "I started with a whole bunch of little businesses right out of high school."
- Rina Yasuda, 34, developed her interest in marketing and graphics by acting as an impromptu consultant for friends. "When I realized I could make a living doing what I loved, I started Insyght," Yasuda says. That was in 1995. Today Insyght Interactive Inc. in Beverly Hills, California, provides marketing-related services including print media production, presentations, and public relations.
- Erica Zohar, 28, founded American Groove Los Angeles in 1995 with $10,000. Today, her women's and children's high-end sportswear is available nationwide. "We started small, with just six samples and a shared booth at a trade show," she says. "I was working out of my home. But we got into the contemporary sportswear business just as it started going bananas. We were one of the founding companies in our niche."
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