America was built on aspirations. Ever since the country was founded, the desire for a better life has propelled people to our shores. The same yearning to reach ever higher inspires today's entrepreneurs--and there's no better example of the power of aspirations than the success stories from our Hot 500 list.
For the past 15 years or so, politicians and economists have touted entrepreneurship as the engine driving our economy. While this was once news, today it's not--at least, not to us at Entrepreneur. We've long known that entrepreneurial companies are the primary generators of new job creation. To be included in our listing, companies had to show positive job growth.
Now, with a second wave of web entrepreneurs well underway, entrepreneurs are getting plenty of press. But today's entrepreneurial revolution is not all about technology. In fact, as our Hot 500 list took shape, what impressed us most was the sheer variety of businesses represented. "In contrast to conventional wisdom, the Hot 500 shows that America's fastest-growing companies are not concentrated in just a few industries," says Spencer
Tracy Jr., president of Corporate Research Board in Washington, DC. "These businesses can be found in nearly every industry. They're a remarkable testament to the diversity of the U.S. economy."
Our Hot 500 companies' diversity extends to the faces and stories behind each of these businesses. But however they differ, successful entrepreneurs share one trait: the ability to look at the familiar in a new way and see opportunity. The stories you'll read are proof of the power of innovation, inspiration and aspiration--proof of the power of entrepreneurship. We hope they inspire you to seek your own new worlds of opportunity.
Making the Cut
This is how it all begins: The Hot 500 rankings are compiled with the help of Corporate Research Board, a research organization. Entrepreneur and CRB started with CRB's database of more than 19 million U.S. businesses and considered only those businesses that met the following criteria:
- Must have been founded no earlier than 1998 and no later than 2002
- Company sales in 2002 must be $100,000 or greater; 2006 sales must not exceed $1 billion
- Must have positive job growth between 2002 and 2006
- Must have a minimum level of sales growth or a sales growth quantifier of 1 or higher between 2002 and 2006; the growth quantifier is a measurement that combines percentage and absolute growth.
Only 95,000 businesses--or 0.5 percent of the 19 million businesses--met the above criteria. Entrepreneur then contacted the businesses with the greatest growth to confirm eligibility. To be eligible, the founder must be actively involved in the company, the company cannot be a spinoff or a division of a larger company, and company sales for 2006 must be at least $1 million. From this list, the Hot 500 was selected.
About Corporate Research Board
Corporate Research Board is a leading provider of economic and business data, research, and information. From its Washington, DC, headquarters, CRB serves businesses and governments worldwide, offering high-quality insights into the U.S. economy, the companies that comprise it and the forces that shape it.
A little teamwork and a lot of vision have taken an online media company to the top of our list.
By Amanda C. Kooser
Digital media--digital video in particular--is a hot topic these days. Digital media products and services company DivX Inc. was well ahead of the curve when it launched in San Diego in 2000. But getting off the ground took the combined talents of five co-founders--Jordan Greenhall, 35; Joe Bezdek, 34; Jerome Vashisht-Rota, 33; Darrius Thompson, 34 and Tay Nguyen, 34. "Jordan was the driving force at the very beginning," says Bezdek. "He had the vision; he had the idea and brought the people together."Bezdek attributes the company's fast growth--it has doubled its number of employees and more than tripled its sales since 2004--to a strong team and successful expansion beyond its core software and online community market. And although sales have reached almost $60 million, "we still really think of ourselves with a startup mentality," Bezdek says. "We try to encourage innovation, creativity and an open approach." And he expects the company's exponential growth to continue: "Our eyes are on even bigger things. We want to approach the content market and try to transform the entire way that media works."
Hoku Scientific, Inc.
Looks like blue skies ahead as some eco-conscious entrepreneurs light the way to clean energy.
By Sara Wilson
Dustin Shindo, 33, and Karl Taft, 34, are in the business of developing clean-energy technologies--and rightly so. After all, they've single-handedly powered Hoku Scientific Inc., growing it from a homebased business with credit card debt of more than $100,000 to a public company that projects revenue of $7 million to $10 million for fiscal year 2008. Operated by a team of fewer than 30 employees, the Kapolei, Hawaii-based company has fueled growth through major deals inked within the last year alone: the building of a $260 million plant in Idaho, a $370 million contract with Sanyo Electric Co. and a $678 million contract with Suntech Power to deliver polysilicon, as well as an agreement to provide the second-largest photovoltaic power system in Hawaii. Serial entrepreneurs Shindo and Taft branched out to solar and polysilicon materials when their original focus, the fuel cell industry, didn't grow at the projected rate. That move, coupled with 100-hour workweeks, solid money management and a strong drive, is what propels the business forward. Says Shindo, "Passion, performance and persistence really are the keys to success--not just for entrepreneurs, but in life."
Dressed for Success
For a clothing and accessories retailer, growing fast and having fun aren't mutually exclusive.
By Lindsay Holloway
In 1998, when Martha's Vineyard frequenters Shep and Ian Murray came up with the name Vineyard Vines for their then tie company, they were playing off the notion that they would eventually grow and expand into other product lines, or "vines." And grow they did--to the tune of more than $37 million in sales last year. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company now offers lifestyle clothing and accessories for adults and children, employs nearly 120 people, and sells its products in four East Coast Vineyard Vines boutiques as well as online and in more than 600 stores nationwide. The company also recently added more to its plate with custom, golf and wholesale divisions.
Though Vineyard Vines' rapid growth can be attributed largely to increased product offerings and sales channels, the Murray brothers say success has been possible because they're doing what they love. "The number-one reason we're growing so quickly is because we're having fun," says Ian, 32.
"It's never been about making money," adds Shep, 36. "Success will find you if you do the thing that you love in the place you want to do it."
To curb health-care costs, an enterprising pair tackled one source of the pain: prescription drugs.
By Nichole L. Torres
Finding a solid niche in a huge marketplace was key to the success of SunRx Inc., a Cherry Hill, New Jersey, prescription benefits administration company. Not only does the company provide prescription drug plans to businesses nationwide, but it does so on a transparent fee basis--every client knows exactly where his or her money goes. "We created a niche company that operates fundamentally on full disclosure," says Gerard Ferro, 47, who co-founded the business with Christine Serenelli, 41. "We report to our clients what our administrative fees are...and, as a result, [they] save on average anywhere from 12 percent to 18 percent on their pharmacy program."
In the beginning, persuading clients of the savings was a challenge, but once Serenelli and Ferro secured their first deals, new business came much easier. Investing in a technology upgrade allowed the company to expand its capacity to serve its growing roster of clients. "You've got to understand your company's limitations and capacity and be prepared to invest in the infrastructure," says Ferro, adding that sales skyrocketed from $120,000 in 2002 to a whopping $29.4 million in 2006. "We're ready to go to the moon now."
Odoi Associates Inc.
Moving to the U.S. let an immigrant from Ghana realize his entrepreneurial destiny.
By Amanda C. Kooser
Ablade Odoi-Atsem moved to the United States from Ghana in 1984 and realized his long-held goal of becoming an entrepreneur when he launched Odoi Associates Inc. in 1998. As founder and president of the construction, facility and energy management services company in Greenbelt, Maryland, he has overseen an impressive growth curve. Odoi-Atsem funded the startup by maxing out his personal credit, and the business has since grown into an $8.2 million venture. His success formula is simple: "I [am] lucky to have selected the right group of people to work with."
Government contracts are a huge part of what the business does. "Have a good relationship with the people who make the decisions in the federal arena," Odoi-Atsem, 53, advises. Networking and relationships are also important when it comes to government work.
And as for the future of Odoi Associates, he's got big plans to venture into new frontiers. "The future of the company is to make sure that we diversify, go heavily into private sector work, and grow nationwide and internationally," says the entrepreneur, who's been able to focus his talent for construction and engineering on building a thriving business.