A visit to her invalid parents in Indiana, where she treated them to a cooking frenzy, gave New York City actress Gretchen Cryer an idea. Two years and about $500,000 (a third from a bank loan, a third from the SBA, and a third from private investors) later, the Extended Family opened its doors. It currently ships 75 care packages a week (each containing one week's worth of home-cooked meals, for one or two, priced between $60 and $100). Shipping costs $5 within an approximately 350-mile radius of the company's Hudson, N.Y., headquarters. Cryer's goal is to open 6 to 10 kitchens around the country. Originally targeted to housebound seniors, the mail-order meals also appeal to new mothers and two-career families, Cryer reports.

-- Alessandra Bianchi