Cover Story

It may be hard to see, but there is a line. On one side of the line are people who have started their own businesses, who take unambiguous responsibility for their own economic destiny in the world. On the other side is the rest of the world: salarymen and salarywomen, people who pick up a paycheck every couple of weeks, who may think about starting their own businesses but haven't. Not yet.

The line is often hard to see clearly because the journey from one side of it to the other is as varied as the people who make the trip. Sometimes a business begins quietly -- as a hobby maybe -- in a spare bedroom. Sales may be made for years before the founder awakens to the notion that this is a company -- or could be, given a little more investment, a little more energy and time. And so an old job is abandoned, and a new business is thoroughly embraced. Of course, sometimes a business doesn't begin quietly at all; it starts with a huge gamble of cash -- millions of dollars perhaps -- and the wagering of a career even before there's the hint of a moneymaking transaction. Sometimes businesses begin in college dormitories or during business-plan competitions or when a few highly successful corporate executives get together as friends and end up simply dreaming. Together. Dreaming of the life that exists on the other side of that line.

In the five profiles of start-up founders that follow, you'll find all those paths, plus a few more. We have captured the founders at the beginning of their journey, and in coming issues of Inc. we'll watch how they proceed. Some may grow successful, even rich. Some may fail. Some will experience a fate in between.

But none will forget the ride.