Forget the high-flying venture-capital-funded starts; we wanted to know what was going on at the grass roots of new-business creation. So we got on the phone to 20 of the nation's small-business-development centers (SBDCs) to ask staff members about interesting start-ups they've come across. Here's a sample of what we found:
Upper Darby, Pa.: A blind musician has founded Dancing Dots, a company that develops software to automate the production of Braille music scores.
Mansfield, Ohio: Courtland Industries manufactures safety radar devices for school buses that alert a driver when animate objects are near the bus.
Plymouth, Minn.: A victim of downsizing has launched Aloft Photography, an aerial-photography business featuring pictures taken from a small helium blimp.
Springfield, Mo.: Advanced Cart Technology is selling patented lockable change carts, designed to replace casino employees' money belts.
Ontario, Oreg.: Karing's founders saw a market in the nightmare of medical paperwork: the company makes binders designed to help patients and their families organize the many records that accompany long-term illness.
Bishop, Calif.: The Root Seller's product is a compress that contains herbal remedies and can be heated in a microwave to become a hot pad.
Alamogordo, N. Mex.: Whimsies markets a "nursing cradle" designed to sit alongside and at the same height as the mother's bed for middle-of-the-night feedings.
Nashua, N.H.: Molecular Knowledge Systems boasts that its software, using molecular modeling and artificial intelligence, helps scientists and engineers discover new chemicals.
Benton Harbor, Mich.: Roxy's Showboat targets Lake Michigan boaters -- with a floating "drive-in" restaurant.
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf and Alessandra Bianchi* * *