Do you marvel at the degree to which your life story inspired your business? Do you think you've faced challenges as an entrepreneur?

Meet Victoria Tifft, president and CEO of ClinicalRM, a Hinckley, Ohio-based government-contract medical-research firm. On Monday, Tifft was named "Small Business Person of the Year" at National Small Business Week in Washington, D.C.

Tifft's entrepreneurial journey began in the West African nation of Togo in 1992. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, she contracted malaria and experienced first-hand the challenges of battling infectious diseases. Upon her recovery and return to the United States, she helped create the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Clinical Trial Center--which develops vaccines for infectious diseases such as E. coli and malaria--and launched her firm, Clinical RM.

Starting with three employees in 1994, ClinicalRM, which supports the development of FDA-regulated medicines and devices for both government and commercial customers, has grown to 331 employees today. The company earned $40 million in revenue in 2010, up from $17 million in 2007.

Accepting the award, Tifft marveled at the opportunities she had to help bring solutions to the difficult medical condition she endured first-hand.

"Lying in a makeshift hospital bed in conditions that would make most of us queesy, and thinking it's the bite of a mosquito that brings me to my knees, I thought that I could do something to help prevent this disease and other diseases," Tifft said. "Only in America do we have the chance."

National Small Business Week, hosted by the Small Business Administration, is a week-long networking and educational event focusing on small businesses' accomplishments. Tifft was one of 52 state small business winners of the year (with a liberal interpretation of the word "state," of course, that includes the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), all of whom were honored at the event.

The spectrum of personal stories, industries, and business models represented was broad.

Darrin Swanson, president and CEO of Kit Masters and Swan Machine, two related Perham, Minnesota, companies that specialize in manufacturing and servicing components of the cooling systems on heavy-duty vehicles, which have 50 employees and had $20 million in sales last year, was named first runner-up.

Michael Cote, president and CEO of Look's Gourmet Food Company, which is based in Whiting, Maine, was the second-runner up.

Criteria that the SBA used in choosing winners included staying power, growth in number of employees and sales volume, financial performance, innovation, response to adversity, and contributions to community-oriented projects.

(Hey, small-business owners: I'll be at National Small Business Week in D.C. on Tuesday, so if you're here and have a great story to share, please feel free to contact me.)