Pain and gain Severe health problems prohibit regular hours for Anna Bradley. So, in 2001, she starts Criterion 508 Solutions, a virtual consulting firm.

Home at last A survivor of China's Cultural Revolution, Ping Fu is exiled to the U.S. at 23. Fifteen years later, she founds the software firm Geomagic.

Ruble trouble The ruble crashes in 1998, taking Amity Technology's farm equipment exports with it. But Howard Dahl sticks it out. Millions in sales later, he is glad he did.

Saint Dad When Kenny Kramm's daughter refuses to take her foul-tasting seizure medication, he makes it taste better. In 1995, he launches FlavoRx to sell the flavors.

Always open In 1989, Dorothy Julian is raising six kids. She sets up Henry Marine Service so she can run it all by phone -- and mind the kids.

The new you Her ex-husband's arrest almost destroys her pizza chain. Rather than selling, Terry Wyman-Picurro leads a brand makeover.

Downs and ups As a teen, Bob Williamson is arrested for possessing heroin. He cleans up and now runs a $26 million software company.

Less is more Sir Walter Lindal, raised by poor farmers in rural Saskatchewan, knows about scarce resources. After World War II, he applies the Army's quick-building tricks to make affordable prefab houses.

Inspirational ingenuity A brain injury puts Alison Schuback in a wheelchair. She responds in 2002 with a bid to regain her dignity: a bib for the disabled.

Down but not out When Jerry Jones buys the Dallas Cowboys, in 1989, the team is coming off a 3-and-13 season. Four years later, it wins the Super Bowl.

Fool for wool In 1992, David Blumenthal, CEO of Lion Brand, learns that Vanna White loves to crochet. Soon, millions of other women love to crochet, too.

Cleaning up Hurricane Katrina ruins young Jerome Boykin's employment prospects. So, in 2006, he creates his own job -- founding JB Sweeping Services.

Moving up In 1983, Bob Jones realizes that his family farm is on the ropes. He responds with Chef's Garden, which grows microgreens for gourmands.

Digging out Agricultural equipment maker Behlen is $7 million in the hole when Tony Raimondo buys it, in 1984. A radical new business plan puts the company back on track.

Tiger by the tail When Jack Ma starts his first website, in 1995, few in China know the Web at all. In 2007, his company,, raises $1.5 billion.

Fly, girl In 2001, Kathleen Wehner's husband dies. Then, 9/11 nearly sinks her company, Cirrus Aviation. Wehner digs in -- and pulls her business out of a nosedive.

Survivor A plane crash in 2000 helps William Wang put things in perspective. His company, Vizio, now sells billions of dollars' worth of flat-screen TVs.

Take this job and... When Robert Schmidt pushes his risk-averse boss too far, he gets the ax. In 1991, he launches his own research lab so he can innovate to his heart's content.

Learning curve In the early '90s, Datatec realizes that many employees don't know enough English to do their jobs. The company offers free lessons.

Mobilize the faithful When jacked-up royalty rates threaten Web radio business Pandora, Tim Westergren gets 1.7 million users to complain to Congress.

Immigrant song Junki Yoshida lands in Seattle with nothing but a great recipe for teriyaki sauce. The Yoshida Group is born.

Tough guy A shot to his chest during a 2003 battle in Afghanistan ends Jerry Torres's Special Forces career. While recovering, he starts a business instead.

Local motion The terms tech start-up and Africa are seldom seen together. But that doesn't stop Herman Chinery-Hesse from starting SOFTtribe in his native Accra, Ghana.

On the case In 2001, Jeff Grady has no prospects -- but he does have a new iPod. He makes his own case, then launches a company to sell iPod accessories.

Start young The future looks dim for high school dropout Barbara Lynch. Then she lands a job cooking for parish priests, and now she runs her own restaurant group.

Zero to hero At 21, Joe Cirulli has nothing but a list of 10 goals. He opens a health club and achieves them all by 33.

It's personal When cancer strikes, Dom Meffe Jr. hits back -- with Triad Isotopes, a start-up that makes drugs that help with diagnosing cancer and heart disease.

Forget the fire sale Baby Jogger is bankrupt when David Boardman buys it, in 2003. He shifts the focus to specialty retailers -- and saves the brand.

Do it yourself The music business spurns Chip Davis's new project, Mannheim Steamroller. He goes on to sell millions of albums -- on his own label.

Perfect fit In 1999, no one thinks of buying shoes online. Tony Hsieh gets people to reconsider -- by offering free returns.