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Leading Ladies

These women-led businesses are speeding their way to the top.

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This story appears in the November 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Women today continue to push to the forefront of small business. So for the second year, Entrepreneur and the Women Presidents' Organization set out to find north america's 50 fastest-growing women-led companies. Topping the list is one woman holding her own in a male-dominated field.

Heidi Smith Price might speak in a soft voice, but she's definitely loud enough to be heard. In fact, at only 29 years old, she has established a notable presence in a male-dominated industry. "You hardly see any women in the construction industry, much less the industrial industry," says Smith Price, who has grown her heavy industrial contractor business, Spartan Constructors LLC, from a mere $100,000 in revenue in 2003 to a projected $150 million this year--landing her securely at the top of this year's list of the 50 fastest-growing women-led companies.

In 2004, Smith Price bought majority partnership in the Sugar Hill, Georgia-based business and was up for the challenges that it presented--namely earning respect from her peers. "You just have to stand your ground and not let other people walk all over you," says Smith Price, who has focused instead on the opportunities that she knew lay beneath the surface. She immediately certified her company as a Women's Business Enterprise and was thereby able to open up her business to major contracting opportunities. This simple decision has enabled her to enjoy substantial growth over the past four years--at a rate faster than even she thought possible.

And while many might find the turf unfamiliar, it's been Smith Price's stomping ground ever since she was a young girl learning the ins and outs of her father's construction company. That experience as his executive assistant prepared Smith Price well for her role today, which requires that she wear many hats to get the job done. This level of competency, coupled with high standards for quality control and attention to safety, has won over major clients like Georgia Power and Southern Co.

The rate at which Smith Price has grown her business is exceptional, but her success is not unusual. The Women Presidents' Organization, the nonprofit peer advisory organization for multimillion-dollar women-led and women-owned businesses, estimates that 41 percent of all privately held companies in North America are owned by women. Meanwhile, WPO members earn average annual sales of $13 million, says Marsha Firestone, founder and president of the organization. "It's very difficult to build a business. And it keeps the fire in the hearth burning to see women who have made it."

Top 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Led Companies

  1. Spartan Constructors LLC

    Industrial construction Sugar Hill, GA spartanconstructors.com

    Heidi Smith Price

    Began: 2002 Initial Investment: $350,000 2003 sales: $100,000 2007 sales: $136 million
  2. Pinnacle Technical Resources Inc.

    IT staffing Dallas pinnacle1.com

    Nina G. Vaca

    Began: 1996 Initial Investment: $300 2003 sales: $9 million 2007 sales: $141 million
  3. Temporary Housing Directory Inc.

    Temporary housing & hotel placements Castle Rock, CO temporaryhousingdirectory.com

    Teresa Vidger

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $281,000 2007 sales: $20 million
  4. EnterForce Inc.

    Managed services provider Waukesha, WI enterforce.com

    Marie L. O'Brien, Filippa C. Weber

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $26,000 2003 sales: $1.9 million 2007 sales: $50.3 million
  5. Strategic Staffing Solutions Inc.

    Staffing solutions Indianapolis strategicstaffonline.com

    Debra J. Maynard

    Began: 2002 Initial Investment: $60,000 2003 sales: $1.3 million 2007 sales: $39.4 million
  6. Polaris Direct

    Mailing services Hooksett, NH polarisdirect.net

    Judith Maloy, Suzanne Lampognana

    Began: 2003 Initial Investment: $2.4 million 2003 sales: $2.1 million 2007 sales: $43.9 million
  7. Artech Information Systems LLC

    IT staffing Cedar Knolls, NJ artechinfo.com

    Ranjini Poddar

    Began: 1992 Initial Investment: $200,000 2003 sales: $16.5 million 2007 sales: $128.2 million
  8. Global Resource Management Inc.

    IT & supply chain management services Suwanee, GA grmi.net

    Naheed Syed

    Began: 1993 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $2.2 million 2007 sales: $39.9 million
  9. United Scrap Metal Inc.

    Metal recycling Cicero, IL unitedscrap.com

    Marsha Serlin

    Began: 1978 Initial Investment: $200 2003 sales: $33.9 million 2007 sales: $172.8 million
  10. Morpheus Media

    Interactive advertising & marketing agency New York City morpheusmedia.com

    Shenan Reed

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $0 2003 sales: $2 million 2007 sales: $35 million
  11. Pinnacle Petroleum Inc.

    Petroleum products Huntington Beach, CA pinnaclepetroleum.com

    Liz McKinley

    Began: 1995 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $19.3 million 2007 sales: $120 million
  12. Sun Coast Resources Inc.

    Petroleum products Houston suncoastresources.com

    Kathy Lehne

    Began: 1985 Initial Investment: $2,000 2003 sales: $554 million 2007 sales: $1.1 billion
  13. Salo LLC

    Senior-level finance & accounting staffing Minneapolis salollc.com

    Amy L. Langer

    Began: 2002 Initial Investment: $150,000 2003 sales: $3.4 million 2007 sales: $42 million
  14. Search Wizards Inc.

    Consulting firm Atlanta searchwizards.net

    Leslie O'Connor

    Began: 2000 Initial Investment: $0 2003 sales: $359,600 2007 sales: $12.2 million
  15. TransPerfect

    Translation services New York City transperfect.com

    Elizabeth Elting, Shirley Shawe

    Began: 1992 Initial Investment: $5,000 2003 sales: $37 million 2007 sales: $156.5 million
  16. MediConnect Global Inc.

    Medical record retrieval & digitization South Jordan, UT mediconnect.net

    Amy Rees Anderson

    Began: 1996 Initial Investment: Undisclosed 2003 sales: $2.8 million 2007 sales: $35.6 million
  17. The Saxon Group Inc.

    Industrial construction Sugar Hill, GA thesaxongroupinc.com

    Jeni Bogdan

    Began: 1995 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $13.4 million 2007 sales: $81.8 million
  18. Aecometric Corp.

    Industrial combustion equipment Richmond Hill, Ontario aecometric.com

    Jill Anderson

    Began: 1978 Initial Investment: $50,000 2003 sales: $1.5 million 2007 sales: $23 million
  19. Kilop USA Inc.

    Raw materials sourcing & distribution High Point, NC

    Christine Yumei Chen

    Began: 1988 Initial Investment: $44,500 2003 sales: $3 million 2007 sales: $28.8 million
  20. KellyMitchell Group Inc.

    IT consulting St. Louis kellymitchell.com

    Cassandra Sanford

    Began: 1998 Initial Investment: $10,000 2003 sales: $4.6 million 2007 sales: $33.6 million
  21. Communispace Corp.

    Online community creation & management Watertown, MA communispace.com

    Diane Hessan

    Began: 1999 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $2.4 million 2007 sales: $23.6 million
  22. Advantage Performance Network

    Travel & perfomance improvement solutions Savage, MN advantageperformancenetwork.com

    Mary Sue Leathers

    Began: 1995 Initial Investment: $40,000 2003 sales: $23.3 million 2007 sales: $85 million
  23. RCC Associates

    General contracting Deerfield Beach, FL rccassociates.com

    Beverly Raphael

    Began: 1971 Initial Investment: $5,000 2003 sales: $34.8 million 2007 sales: $105.1 million
  24. Continental Cabinets Inc.

    Cabinets Dallas ccabinc.com

    Beverly Taylor

    Began: 1988 Initial Investment: Undisclosed 2003 sales: $48.9 million 2007 sales: $130.8 million
  25. Words from The Wise

    We couldn't pass up the opportunity to dig a little deeper and uncover their secrets to success.

    "Sixteen years ago, we were cold calling and struggling to land our first client, The Port Authority of New York. New Jersey called us by mistake, attempting to contact a company whose name was similar to [ours]. We kept them on the phone and discussed their IT infrastructure and project needs at length. Needless to say, they became our first client. We still laugh at this."

    Ranjini Poddar, owner of Artech Information Systems LLC, No. 7

    Cedar Knolls, New Jersey

    "The biggest mistake we ever made was undervaluing ourselves. When we started, we were young and hungry, and we didn't give ourselves credit for the amount of value we brought to our clients and strategies. So the lesson learned is: Don't undervalue yourself and your expertise, and don't let your size dictate your value."

    Shenan Reed, owner of Morpheus Media, No. 10

    New York City

    "It is important to take an inventory of your strengths and what you like to do. Focus on those things and get help for the others as soon as you can."

    Amy L. Langer, owner of Salo LLC, No. 13

    Minneapolis

    "Be a great juggler. As a woman in business, you will always have lots of balls in the air, including the activities of running your business and being strategic in your decisions to grow your business. In many cases, [you also have] the role of being a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister. The same traits that make us great in all of these roles are the ones that you will rely on to excel in business."

    Leslie O'Connor, owner of Search Wizards Inc., No. 14

    Atlanta

    "Build an atmosphere of trust and respect. You must always respect the [employees and clients] you work with. Believe in your people. Make your word count. In addition, never lose focus on your next challenge." Jeni Bogdan, owner of The Saxon Group Inc., No. 17

    Sugar Hill, Georgia

    NCompass International Inc.

    Marketing agency West Hollywood, CA ncompassonline.com

    Donna Graves, Kae Erickson

    Began: 2003 Initial Investment: $1.5 million 2003 sales: $360,000 2007 sales: $7.3 million
  26. Camp Bow Wow

    Dog day camps & boarding services franchisor Boulder, CO campbowwow.com

    Heidi Flammang

    Began: 2000 Initial Investment: $85,000 2003 sales: $100,000 2007 sales: $3.8 million
  27. Casco Contractors Inc.

    General contracting Irvine, CA cascocontractors.com

    Cheryl Osborn

    Began: 2000 Initial Investment: $20,000 2003 sales: $3 million 2007 sales: $22.9 million
  28. Saicon Consultants Inc.

    IT consulting Overland Park, KS saiconinc.com

    Swati K. Yelmar

    Began: 1998 Initial Investment: $6,000 2003 sales: $1.8 million 2007 sales: $16.5 million
  29. Outcomes Health Information Solutions LLC

    Health-care data retreival, auditing & reporting Charlottesville, VA outcomesinc.com

    Wanda Kochhar

    Began: 1996 Initial Investment: $60,000 2003 sales: $3.5 million 2007 sales: $24.5 million
  30. MurTech Consulting

    IT services Independence, OH murtechconsulting.com

    Ailish M. Murphy

    Began: 2000 Initial Investment: $100,000 2003 sales: $685,700 2007 sales: $10 million
  31. Stratix Corp.

    Mobility solutions Norcross, GA stratixcorp.com

    Bonney Shuman

    Began: 1983 Initial Investment: $750 2003 sales: $38.2 million 2007 sales: $106.3 million
  32. Application Development Resources Inc.

    IT services Alpharetta, GA appdevinc.com

    Daksha Choksey

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $5,000 2003 sales: $697,000 2007 sales: $9.7 million
  33. Ricochet Fuel Distributors Inc.

    Fuel distributor Euless, TX ricochetfuel.com

    Kelly Brett-Roberts

    Began: 1988 Initial Investment: $20,000 2003 sales: $7.4 million 2007 sales: $36.2 million
  34. Logical Choice Technologies Inc.

    Education technology integration Duluth, GA logicalchoice.com

    Cynthia B. Kaye

    Began: 1994 Initial Investment: $0 2003 sales: $19.1 million 2007 sales: $65.4 million
  35. SaltWorks Inc.

    Sea salt Woodinville, WA seasalt.com

    Naomi Novotny

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $1,500 2003 sales: $264,000 2007 sales: $5.7 million
  36. Icon Information Consultants LP

    IT staffing Houston iconconsultants.com

    Pamela O'Rourke

    Began: 1998 Initial Investment: $250,000 2003 sales: $23 million 2007 sales: $72 million
  37. SwervePoint

    Promotional products & services Danvers, MA swervepoint.com

    Juli Sinnett

    Began: 2003 Initial Investment: $125,000 2003 sales: $1.9 million 2007 sales: $15.5 million
  38. Strategic Staffing Solutions

    IT consulting Detroit strategicstaff.com

    Cynthia Pasky

    Began: 1990 Initial Investment: $60,000 2003 sales: $67 million 2007 sales: $148 million
  39. Butler/Till Media Services Inc.

    Media research services Rochester, NY butlertill.com

    Susan R. Butler, Tracy E. Till

    Began: 1998 Initial Investment: $10,000 2003 sales: $7.1 million 2007 sales: $32.3 million
  40. IBT Holdings LLC

    Design, building & consulting services Norcross, GA ibtenterprises.com

    Mylle Mangum

    Began: 1985 Initial Investment: Undisclosed 2003 sales: $15.8 million 2007 sales: $53.2 million
  41. Carolina IT Professionals Inc.

    IT staffing Mount Holly, NC citpinc.com

    Phyllis Friday McConnell

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $500 2003 sales: $3 million 2007 sales: $19 million
  42. Vignon Corp.

    IT staffing Dallas vignon.com

    Kathy Hodgins Blanck

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $20,000 2003 sales: $144,600 2007 sales: $3.6 million
  43. Warrior Group Inc.

    Modular construction DeSoto, TX warrior-group.net

    Gail Warrior-Lawrence

    Began: 1997 Initial Investment: $1,000 2003 sales: $11.4 million 2007 sales: $41.7 million
  44. Greenlite Lighting Corp.

    Energy-efficient lighting products Pointe-Claire, Quebec greenlite.ca

    Nina Gupta

    Began: 1994 Initial Investment: $1 million 2003 sales: $6 million 2007 sales: $28 million
  45. BrightStar Healthcare

    Medical/nonmedical home-care & medical staffing franchisor Gurnee, IL brightstarhealthcare.com

    Shelly Sun

    Began: 2002 Initial Investment: $100,000+ 2003 sales: $1.4 million 2007 sales: $11.8 million
  46. Bett-A-Way Pallet Systems Inc.

    Transportation solutions & pallet management South Plainfield, NJ bettaway.com

    June Delany, Tracey Ursini, Betty Vaccaro, Laura Vaccaro

    Began: 1996 Initial Investment: $6,000 2003 sales: $10.6 million 2007 sales: $26.2 million
  47. ProActive Solutions Inc.

    IT solutions Mission, KS proactivesolutions.com

    Melissa Cather-Thiede

    Began: 1996 Initial Investment: $0 2003 sales: $9.6 million 2007 sales: $37 million
  48. ITI Inc.

    IT & business consulting Pearland, TX iti-ps.com/services

    June Reeder

    Began: 2000 Initial Investment: $0 2003 sales: $1.2 million 2007 sales: $10.5 million
  49. Trans-Expedite Inc.

    Freight forwarding El Paso, TX trans-expedite.com

    Keeli Jernigan

    Began: 2001 Initial Investment: $29,000 2003 sales: $3 million 2007 sales: $18 million
  50. LetterLogic Inc.

    Mailing services Nashville, TN letterlogic.com

    Sherry Stewart

    Began: 2002 Initial Investment: $50,000 2003 sales: $1.1 million 2007 sales: $9.8 million

 

Behind The Numbers

The 50 fastest-growing women-led companies ranking was compiled with the help of the Women Presidents' Organization, a nonprofit peer advisory organization for independent women presidents and CEOs. Entrepreneur and the WPO solicited applications from women-led businesses in North America and considered those that met the following criteria:

  • Must be a privately held, woman-led company in the U.S. or Canada.
  • Company sales in 2003 must be $100,000 or greater; 2007 sales must be at least $1 million.
  • Companies were ranked according to a sales growth formula that combines percentage and absolute growth. From this list, the top 50 were selected. (In cases where companies have multiple partners, only women are listed.)

Research was conducted by WPO director of communications Caitlin Jenkins, communications manager Kirsten Wynn and assistants Kat Piracha and Tanya Rosado. Entrepreneur research editor James Park also contributed to this listing.