The Hottest Small-Business Products of 2009
GATR Technologies, Huntsville, Alabama, No. 259
Soldiers in Afghanistan, a mobile medical unit in Haiti, and hurricane victims in Biloxi, Mississippi, have all gotten high-speed Internet and phone access thanks to the inflatable satellite dishes made by GATR Technologies. Satellite signals penetrate the sphere, reflect off the flexible dish suspended inside, and collect at the feed pictured here. The $100,000 system is about 8 feet in diameter, takes less than an hour to set up, and can fit into two small suitcases when disassembled. In 2004, founder Paul Gierow sewed an early prototype in his kitchen with the help of his 8-year-old daughter. Since then, 25 of the devices have been deployed.
Rennen International, South Ozone Park, New York, No. 435
Brothers Takang and Weizrung Lee founded Rennen in 2002, buying auto accessories from China and hawking them to retailers in New York City. Wheels, they soon found, sold better than muffler-shaped keychains. Now, the company sells 100,000 wheels a year -- most made in China, some in California -- in more than 200 styles. The wheels pictured here cost about $2,500 each. But that's nothing compared with Rennen's custom work -- in 2008, a set of four studded with Swarovski crystals sold for $40,000.
LesserEvil, Tuckahoe, New York, No. 355
Krinkle Sticks are salty and crunchy, with the same satisfying taste as potato chips (well, almost). But they have 75 percent less fat than most potato chips and 25 percent fewer calories. LesserEvil makes the crispy treats by packing dehydrated potatoes into a mold and exposing them to high heat until they expand. The company sells about a million bags of Krinkle Sticks and Veggie Sticks each year and another million bags of KettleKorn.
See Kai Run, Woodinville, Washington, No. 196
See Kai Run's shoes have been worn by eminent babies like Zahara Jolie-Pitt. Co-founder Cause Haun designs all the shoes in her collection, including the Paul, Larkin, and Boden models pictured here. Last year, the company sold 250,000 pairs to stores in 20 countries; most retail for $30 to $50 per pair.
Clear Align, Eagleville, Pennsylvania, No. 135
Clear Align makes custom surveillance equipment for national-security and military customers -- or, as founder and CEO Angelique X. Irvin says, "We do a lot of things to keep soldiers safe." One of the company's products, for example, detects chemicals that indicate the presence of an improvised explosive device. Others are mounted on submarines, satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, buildings, and cars. This lens is part of a night vision system that works at high altitudes -- Irvin won't disclose any more details than that. Last year, Clear Align sold 390 surveillance systems, at prices from $2,000 to $500,000.
Metal Mafia, New York City, No. 258
The tunnels and plugs pictured here are all intended for pierced ears, but Metal Mafia does not discriminate against other body parts. Its catalog includes jewelry for the navel, nose, lip, back, cheek, arm, neck, hip, wrist, nipple, hand, and fingers. Metal Mafia has more than 4,500 items in its collection, most designed in-house, and it sells about three million pieces each year to retailers around the world. Most wholesale for under $5 apiece.
Maxtorque, Limerick, Maine, No. 414
It's not easy to open or close a valve on an oil pipeline or water main. That's where MaxTorque's gearboxes come in. The guts of a gearbox are pictured here: With the turn of a handle, the cylindrical worm rotates to turn the gear, which opens or closes the valve. MaxTorque expects to sell more than 1,500 gearboxes this year, at prices from $500 to $80,000.