Since I live in New York and work in digital media I sometimes mistakenly feel like the entrepreneurial community is made up entirely of button-down wearing iPad-carrying 20- or 30-something guys who talk about the latest venture-capital deals, update their status around the clock through Twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn, and just last year—or last month—started some sort of online technology service or app that's still in beta or stealth mode.
The 650 attending the Women Presidents' Organization annual conference this year in Vancouver make one thing perfectly clear: That's not the whole start-up story. The entrepreneurs here don't fit that profile at all. (With the exception of social media. Check out Twitter #wpovancouver.)
Take a look at the 50 who sit atop the WPO's fastest-growing companies among them this year. For one, they're all women, naturally. They're also 47 years old, on average, and while 32 percent hail from the Northeast United States—more than any other region—26 percent are from the Southeast, 20 percent are from the Southwest and 16 percent come from the Midwest. (Silicon Valley is noticeably absent.) They didn't turn to VC for start-up capital: 68 percent dug into personal savings, while the rest went to friends and family (16 percent), bank loans (14 percent), or a line of credit (6 percent).
These 50 companies, which have been around 16 years, on average, are also thriving, according to the organization's survey, which found average revenue last year was $83 million, compared to $14 million (for a different group) in 2009. These women are creating a lot of jobs, too: Their companies project they will employ 557 staffers, on average, more than double the estimate in 2010.
A bunch of these women—like the head of the No. 1 fastest-growing company, Shelly Sun of BrightStar Franchising in Gurnee, Illinois—run staffing shops or other human-resources-related firms. But this crowd is not only working in conventionally female-dominated industries (not that there's anything at all wrong with that). Take Jill Becker, whose Cambridge NanoTech in Massachusetts produces atomic layers for semiconductors and flat-panel displays, Vicki Raport of Minneapolis whose Quantum Retail Technology seeks to align demand and inventory to optimize retail sales, and Dr. Lydia Bock, who creates high-precision positioning and navigation products for the civilian and military markets at her Geodetics in San Diego. Carole Borden and Vickie L. Wessel head up supply-chain firms—the former in trucking at C.B. Transportation in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, the latter in aerospace and defense at Spirit Electronics in Phoenix.
ALLISON FASS is deputy editor of Inc.com. A longtime business journalist at Forbes and The New York Times, she has also held roles in venture capital and innovation at Hearst Interactive Media and digital strategy at a start-up consultancy. @alliefass