There comes a moment every year when we're putting the finishing touches on the Inc. 500, and we have to stop and wonder: Who knew that you could sell more than $4 million worth of saunas online? Or $68 million in smoothie blenders? Or more than $300 million in scooters for people who don't get around so well?
The vast potential of some winners also heightens our excitement. Consider InPhonic, the top company on this year's list, and NetSuite, which is No. 12. They remind us of the big-name, market-changing companies like Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Oracle that have graced the Inc. 500 in the past.
Our brains are trained to follow the money. But it's the personal stories that truly resonate. After Jordan Rubin learned he had Crohn's disease, he invented a dietary supplement that helped him recover -- and began selling it to others out of his garage. Michael Eilts traveled to Paraguay to install the technology that warns villages when flooding is likely to occur. Robert Sacco, whose company processes payrolls, once drove nine hours roundtrip to personally deliver paychecks after a screwup. You won't find these people in corporate America. But you will find their stories on the following pages.