Call it luck, call it intelligence, but Julie Lewis managed to launch her company into a totally new market using capital she got for free. About two years ago Lewis decided she wanted Northwest Quality Innovations, her then eight-year-old home business in Lake Oswego, Ore., to go green. A recycling activist, she imagined making shoes out of recycled material -- "footwear with a past," as she puts it. But she knew little about raising capital, nothing about manufacturing, and less about shoes.

Her solution: to simply seek "donations." From a local government agency in Portland, she won a $110,000 grant to develop the product. From Bill Bowerman, cofounder of Nike, she got a tutorial in the shoe business. Other Nike people helped her cost-out the shoe and put her in touch with a designer. Amoco Fabrics & Fibers pitched in to develop fabric from recycled polypropylene material to make the shoe. Lewis's new product -- a women's walking shoe called DejaShoe -- hit the market this spring.

"It's hard for me to determine how much is luck and how much is savvy," Lewis observes. But she chalks it up to experience. "If you practice a lot, one day you'll get it right."

-- Anne Murphy