When harvard business School professor Michael E. Porter founded the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City in 1994, he envisioned a symbiosis: one between entrepreneurial companies seeking overlooked opportunities and struggling urban neighborhoods needing a shot in the arm. That relationship is manifest in the ICIC's annual list of fast-growth companies. The 2007 Inner City 100 boasts an average four-year revenue growth of 535 percent and record average revenue of $39 million. Nine percent report sales exceeding $100 million. The list has a record number of minority CEOs: 40 percent compared with 32 percent last year and a previous high of 38 percent in 2003. Twenty percent are immigrants.

In many ways these companies look typical. They are overwhelmingly in service industries (73 percent), draw on loans or credit lines for growth capital (81 percent), and seek to differentiate themselves on quality or service (68 percent). But there are distinctions. More than a third cite government agencies as primary customers. Fifteen percent say at least a quarter of their work force speaks a primary language other than English. Almost a third have employed former inmates. In its ninth year, the Inner City 100 continues to prove that business thrives wherever there is imagination, determination, and an eye for hidden potential.