Sundra Ryce initially planned to take over the family construction business. But her parents encouraged her to start her own company. So with $10,000 and relationships and expertise acquired in the family business Ryce struck out on her own in 1996. Soon she was doing work for the Air Force and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. September 11 almost sunk the business, but Ryce persevered. She so impressed one CPA, who had predicted SLR's demise, that he asked to join the company.
NO. 52 Christy Webber Landscapes
Chicago Landscape design and maintenance
G 283.5% R $9.3 million E 132
In a city that gets greener and more effusively flowery by the year, Christy Webber is riding high. Her company's showcases include the grounds of the Museum of Science and Industry and Navy Pier. No wonder Webber recently acquired 12 acres of land for a much-needed expansion. And she's opened an office in Sun Valley, Idaho.
NO. 53 Pangea Group
St. Louis Construction and restoration services
G 280.9% R $35.8 million E 82
Mike Zambrana had $1,000, an office in the basement of his home, and four children (including triplets) when he started Pangea in 1994. Today the company cleans up everything from radioactive waste to the detritus of Katrina. The bulk of the company's contracts are federal (which Zambrana credits to programs through which Pangea was mentored by large federal contractors), but last year it landed its largest private project to date.
NO. 54 Kira
Miami Facilities management
G 277.2% R $35.6 million E 300
Last year Kira won a 15-year contract to manage a Navy base in the Caribbean, a 10-year contract to operate parts of an Air Force base in the Southeast, and a 10-year contract to manage operations for an Army base in the Rocky Mountains. The company is also restoring homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. And its VC portfolio includes six companies in its industry. Not bad for a company whose founder, Carlos Garcia, was turned down by 23 banks when he started out.
NO. 55 High End Products
Santa Ana, California Motorcycle seat manufacturing
G 274% R $3.5 million E 44
How high end can a company be if its flagship product is called the "Buttcrack?" Plenty, if the business started out crafting one-off motorcycle seats from such materials as stingray, alligator, and ostrich hides. More recently CEO Lars Roulund has gone mass market as well; products like the Buttcrack are affordable luxury for the average rider.
NO. 56 Oakleaf Waste Management
East Hartford, Connecticut Waste management
G 262.5% R $164.3 million E 322
Oakleaf has programs for disposing of old computers and cell phones, customizing Dumpster schedules, and even puncturing and compressing tires (using a device known as the Tire Shark). Those offerings have so appealed to clients that the company is considering an IPO in the next few years, says CEO James R. Barnes.
NO. 57 American Christmas Decorations
Bronx, New York Holiday decoration services
G 244.1% R $6.3 million E 101
American Christmas Decorations is becoming more like Santa's workshop: a Yuletide-focused facility that's in production year-round. Toward that end Fred Schwam, who took over the business from his father in 1998, recently made 12 seasonal employees full-time and is upgrading his company's accounting systems. Halls decked by the company include those of Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, and the American Stock Exchange.
NO. 58 Cellular Specialties
Manchester, New Hampshire Wireless system manufacturing
G 237.9% R $13.6 million E 64
Now that people treat cell phones as a fifth limb, they expect their devices to work everywhere, including inside buildings and parking garages. Cellular Specialties makes sure they get what they expect with its amplifiers, antennas, and related wireless components for indoor use. Fred Goodrich hatched the company in the Amoskeag Business Incubator in Manchester.
NO. 59 Lozano Caseworks
Colton, California Plastic laminate manufacturing
G 236.9% R $13 million E 110
When Dave Lozano Jr.'s employer decided to relocate to Arizona, Lozano wasn't interested. His father suggested they start a family business--specifically a casework business, because Lozano Sr. had years of experience building specialized cabinets for displays. One high-visibility job: Lozano did the locker rooms at the Rose Bowl.
NO. 60 Extreme Pizza
San Francisco Pizza restaurant chain
G 230.3% R $10 million E 650
An extreme pizza, in case you haven't been to one of this company's 24 franchises in the western states, is one that has unusual toppings--think mandarin oranges and Thai chicken--and whose marketing invokes skateboarding, snowboarding, and the like. Founder Todd Parent expects to have 50 franchises within two years.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan