By the time Robert Workman was 52 years old in 2007, he was already a successful business owner with over $100 million in revenue.

But, he felt, that success wasn't enough. So after selling his business, he dramatically switched gears and headed to the Congo. There, he saw a need for reliable power. Meeting with local aspiring entrepreneurs, he asked, "If we could get you the means to reliably power your phone, lights, and other needs for a business, could you make a living for yourself?"

The answer was a resounding yes. So Workman set out to develop the solution: a portable solar power source.

What began as a humanitarian effort based on one product gradually evolved into Goal Zero, a business with over $33 million in revenue in 2012 and a growth rate of more than 16,000 percent. Based in Bluffdale, Utah, Goal Zero sells everything from smartphone accessories to 30-watt solar panel kits, and is one of the companies vying for a spot on the 2013 Inc. 5000. As applications arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of these fast-growing private companies. (For more information and to apply, go here.)

As it turned out, Workman's product wasn't only useful in the Congo. He noticed an interest in the United States from emergency workers, outdoorsy types, and gadget gurus.

He developed more Ground Zero products using his own savings, and grew the company with a $2 million investment from the company he had formerly owned, Provo Craft. His big break came when three companies, Cabella's, REI, and BassPro, agreed to carry his products--starting with one of his solar kits, a gadget that uses solar power to recharge mobile phones, AA, and AAA batteries. Similar retailers now carry a range of products from Goal Zero's three main product areas: electronics and accessories, battery packs, and solar power.

While Goal Zero continues its efforts in the Congo, the company's shoppers are now mostly in the United States. Most sales, 65 percent, are through retailers, but 30 percent come from what Atkin calls "hand-to-hand combat"--road shows and demonstrations where employees demonstrate and explain new products to customers. The remaining 5 percent is from direct-to-consumer efforts, mostly via Goal Zero's website.

"Solar is well over a $1 billion opportunity, so we invest millions every year into product development," Atkin says. "We really have a pipeline of products for the next 10 years."

Published on: May 20, 2013