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THE BEST OF INC. 2013

Companies That Won Big in 2012

We take a look back at the entrepreneurs and companies that made a splash over the past 12 months.

As the economy continued to recover and tech innovators came of age, 2012 proved to be a momentous year for business. We've regularly acknowledged the fastest-growing companies and the most promising young entrepreneurs, but this year, we also recognized other business leaders, too, including the CEOs leading job creation and the entrepreneurs willing to take on ideas that could change the world. Here are some of the highlights from our coverage over the last 12 months.

America's Coolest College Start-Ups
In March, after receiving over one hundred nominations, we named 18 companies to our annual list of the country's coolest college start-ups. The honorees included the maker of a super-efficient electric bike and a company that converts shipping containers into mobile clinics. But we weren’t the only judges. Readers were invited to view elevator pitches from each company and choose their own favorites. The winner? Endless Entertainment (formerly Arizona Pro DJs), founded by Will Curran, a senior at Arizona State University.

Best Industries for Growth
After consulting analysts and poring over economic data, in May we identified 11 industries with ripe opportunities for growth in 2012. Though several, such as mobile and social gaming, have gotten prominent coverage in the past, the list included a fair share of less obvious picks--among them residential construction and supply chain services. Big data has proven to be an especially big winner. The intelligence software company Splunk, for instance, went public in April.

30 Under 30
For our 30 Under 30 list in July, we honored young entrepreneurs behind some of the hottest companies in business today, including Spotify, Codecademy, and Pinterest. Many of them have continued to drive innovation within their industries, such as Ben Milne of Dwolla, which offers a cheaper, more secure platform for financial transactions, and Jeremy Johnson of 2U (formerly 2tor), which is launching a program for students to take online courses from top-tier colleges for credit. One honoree has already made a successful exit: Amber Case's location-services company, Geoloqi, was acquired in October.

Inc. 5000
This year marked the 30th anniversary of our Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., and five years since its expansion to the Inc. 5000. Unified Payments, a financial services company based in North Miami Beach, Florida, landed the No. 1 spot. We profiled its founder, Oleg Firer, who emigrated from Ukraine as a child and worked his way out of poverty in Brooklyn, as well as five other entrepreneurs whose grit and resilience led their companies to success. We also picked out a few of our favorite companies from the list.

World's Coolest Offices
In our third annual World's Coolest Offices package, we highlighted 20 companies around the globe who recognize the importance of office design for company culture and productivity. Though the list includes bold-faced names such as Microsoft, Google, and AOL, many of the creative spaces were commissioned by young companies. And while the office projects for Twitter and Facebook have grabbed headlines for their massive scale and significant city investment, not all of the featured spaces carried a hefty price tag. San Francisco analytics company Quid spent just $25,000 on its office design.

The Immigrant Edge
In recent years, observers have fretted that U.S. immigration policy has thwarted the ambitions of many promising entrepreneurs--including one founder who is facing deportation due to visa woes. But many immigrants are still making it big. Ireland-born John Collison has become a Silicon Valley darling with his payment processing company Stripe. And Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish founder of yogurt manufacturer Chobani, has seen his company's sales skyrocket to more than $600 million in less than seven years.

Big Ideas
Jim Collins frequently talks about the importance of having BHAGs, or big, hairy audacious goals. Perhaps no one embodies the term more than Richard Branson, who we interviewed for our Big Ideas feature in November. We also profiled eight other companies with vast ambitions, including Ekso, the designer of a wearable robot that restores mobility to paraplegics, and Modern Meadow, which is developing a process to generate meat and leather through 3D printing.

Hire Power
In December, we introduced the Hire Power Awards, which recognize the private companies that have created the most jobs over the past three years. Topping the list was Universal Services of America, a security and janitorial services company based in Santa Ana, California, which added a whopping 17,330 jobs from 2008 to 2011. Other honorees included Go Daddy and Smashburger--both of which also made appearances on the Inc. 5000.

Company of the Year
This year turned out to be a milestone for several companies, including Airbnb, Square, and Kickstarter. But after narrowing down dozens of contenders, we've named Zumba Fitness as our Company of the Year for 2012. Valued at $500 million, the company has licensed more than 100,000 fitness instructors around the world--several of whom told their stories about becoming entrepreneurs themselves.

How I Did It
For our How I Did It video series, entrepreneurs told their stories of overcoming obstacles and finding success. Leah Busque, the founder of TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for errands, detailed how she raised $17.8 million to scale her company. Dan Porter, the CEO of OMGPOP--which was acquired by Zynga--told how he made the decision to go after developing games for Facebook. And Paul English, the co-founder of Kayak, which raised its IPO in July, explained how he motivates his company's engineers to care about customer service

 

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