Rochester, New York Machined parts manufacturing
G 230.1% R $6.7 million E 31
Spex has been part of the Rochester landscape since 1948. The company produces metal parts for 22 large clients--it makes nuts and bolts for the windshield wipers of GM vehicles, for example. Future growth will likely come from international clients, says CEO Michael Nolan. The company already distributes in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Austin Furniture importing and manufacturing
G 223% R $22.7 million E 54
Four Hands has an inner city headquarters and an international spirit. CEO Brett Hatton opened his first furniture shop in England, specializing in wares like those he had seen in Asia. Now he sells furnishings from India, the Philippines, and China through companies such as Crate & Barrel and Costco, as well as through show rooms in Austin, Atlanta, and High Point, North Carolina. Hatton is establishing a foundation to build schools in rural villages in India.
Boston Events and concierge services
G 222.6% R $24.5 million E 287
Not many entrepreneurs have customer anecdotes that feature live sheep, but Janet Kraus has two. Kraus is CEO of Circles, a concierge service that she founded with Stanford business school classmate Kathy Sherbrooke. The company was born in Kraus's apartment ("I would put on my shoes when walking into the office bedroom to signify I was going to work," says Kraus) and originally it did things like snag tickets to hot events for time-strapped consumers. Today, Circles' customers are chiefly Fortune 1000 companies that hire it to do whatever cherished employees or customers desire--"so long as it's moral, legal, and nice," says Kraus. Eighty percent of the time that's still stuff such as making dinner reservations, sending gift baskets, and arranging housecleaning. But as for that other 20 percent…. In sheep story No. 1, a customer gave the company two days to assemble a live manger scene complete with sheep, camels, and actors playing the principal parts. In sheep story No. 2, a client traveling to Kenya asked Circles to come up with the appropriate gift for a tribal chief. "We delivered the flock right to the chief's farm," says Kraus.
Reading, Pennsylvania Footwear and apparel retail
G 219.9% R $24.5 million E 165
Chris Lutz was a crane operator and his wife, Ruth, was a waitress when the two launched a suburban footwear store in 1989. Their oldest son, Jason, joined the company full-time after college in 1995, and at his urging the family opened a location in central Reading, with merchandise reflecting the burgeoning hip-hop culture. Sneaker Villa continued to open urban stores around Pennsylvania and added apparel to the mix. In Philadelphia, where Sneaker Villa has seven of its 14 stores, kids get a 5 percent discount for each A on their report cards.
Rockford, Illinois Cosmetic design and manufacturing
G 209.3% R $2.1 million E 30
Mass customization was the rage in the '90s, and Mary Swaab knew that women would be as eager to dictate the color of their lipsticks as the contents of their macchiatos. Exclusively private label at first, the company now sells its own brands and does contract design and manufacturing.
Baltimore Online human resource management
G 206.4% R $16.1 million E 45
Brian McComas's mother ran one of Baltimore's largest staffing services for years until it was gobbled up by a competitor. Pamela McComas bestowed upon her son both industry knowledge and seed money, and in 1998 he launched an HR outsourcing company providing such services as benefits administration and payroll fulfillment. Two years later, McComas relaunched Getintegrated as a dot-com, offering services through customized Web portals.
St. Louis Construction management
G 201.3% R $4.4 million E 62
Abe Adewale builds roads, many in his own life. An immigrant from Nigeria, Adewale and his wife (and fellow engineer), Nicole, started ABNA Engineering in 1994 with $45,000 in savings. ABNA's current projects include work on St. Louis' MetroLink light rail system and the 3,000-foot Mississippi River Crossing Bridge. ABNA also provides an annual $1,000 scholarship to the National Society of Black Engineers.
Oakland, California Technology services
G 200.4% R $6.3 million E 173
Computing is increasingly mobile, but moving IT systems when a company relocates is an enormous headache. ProActive Business Solutions helps soften the pain by managing the technology component of corporate moves. The first company DeeDee Towery moved was her employer's. When that business was acquired she started her own.
Portland, Oregon Security software development
G 200.4% R $23.4 million E 119
The story of Tripwire, a maker of network security software, is a mini tour through recent business history. The underlying software was created by Eugene Spafford--a significant figure in the development of the Internet--and Gene Kim. The company was the first investment of dot-com mover and shaker Garage Technology Ventures. And its fortunes of late have soared with a new enterprise product that helps customers comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.
Boston Advertising and marketing
G 198.1% R $1.4 million E 12
Zamawa Arenas and Lucas Guerra enjoy the advantages of leading the city's sole high-profile Latino-owned advertising agency. Argus handles both Spanish-language and English-language advertising and marketing, much of it in the areas of education and public health.
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