To begin, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the obvious way in which the Impact 50 are unique: These are the women entrepreneurs of the Inc. 5000 whose companies have shown the largest growth in revenues. The first company on the list, Avella Specialty Pharmacy, led by CEO Rebecca Shanahan, grew by $469 million during the last three years, to about $800 million in sales. Pretty impressive.
But it’s also instructive to look at the not-so-obvious ties that bind these women together: the inventiveness, the belief that by starting small you can eventually upend the bigger players, and the embrace of unconventional strategies for growth. Here, three members of the Impact 50 who epitomize these traits--and show the rest of us the way forward.
Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, Drawbridge (No. 39)
The Bridge She Built -- and All It Can Do
"I'm chuckling thinking back to how this all started," says Drawbridge founder Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan: She never imagined she'd be an entrepreneur. "I'm really a mathematician," she explains. "I got my MBA on the job." Mobile ad company AdMob hired her straight out of Stanford, where she earned her PhD after getting her master's at Boston University. Google bought AdMob in 2010--and Sivaramakrishnan left six months later to start Drawbridge, whose technology anonymously follows individuals across their desktop and mobile devices to serve them more relevant ads. "A smaller company would have the opportunity to come to market faster," she says. Today, the Bay Area company has 100 employees. Its revenue hit million, and Sivaramakrishnan, 39, now wants to use Drawbridge's data to create a more personalized internet for everyone. She won't need another degree to do that.
Patricia Bible, KaTom Restaurant Supply (No. 42)
The Best Way to Honor a Co-Founder
A bereft Patricia Bible sat on her porch in 2004, three years after her husband, Tim, had died, thinking about quitting KaTom, the restaurant-supply company the two of them had co-founded in their garage in 1987--even though it had grown from million to million since Tim's passing. "I was working 16-hour days to get through my grief," she recalls, but her pain still made her want to leave. Then she wondered, "If I did this being mad"--from her loss--"what could I do with a plan?" Tim had embraced the internet when, Bible says, cell phones "were the size of a woman's purse," and she decided to put her focus on that as well. Along with selling KaTom's 130,000 products online, Bible added content and marketing teams--and the company's 1,000 customers grew to well over 100,000. "Being tech-savvy keeps us ahead of the pack," says Bible, 59, and the proof is in the numbers: In an industry that averages 5 percent annual growth, KaTom is averaging 21 percent.
Limor Fried, Adafruit Industries (No. 43)
The Do-It-Yourself Entrepreneur
It all started for Limor Fried when she made an MP3 player from a box of Altoids and blogged about it. "People started asking for kits," says Fried, an MIT-trained engineer. "And Adafruit was born." That was 2005. Today, the New York City-based company has 85 employees and a 25,000-square-foot factory that produces hardware kits that allow you to make anything from a robot to a GPS dog collar or an LED wig. It also offers more than 850 free online lessons for engineering and electronic projects--and sells the parts for each project. (Instructions on how to make all the products sold in the kits are also available online.) "We're actually a tutorial company," Fried says, "with a gift shop at the end." That gift shop's revenue is million--and Fried, 35, still hasn't taken any outside investment. "Historically, the way electronics were taught was, 'Here's an electron,'" she explains. "Adafruit is like, 'Here's how you build a motor.'" --Liz Welch
The Inc. Impact 50 measures absolute revenue growth from 2011 to 2014 among Inc. 5000 companies run by women. To qualify, companies must have been founded and generating revenue by March 31, 2011. Additionally, they have to be U.S.-based, privately held, for profit, and independent--not subsidiaries of other companies--as of December 31, 2014. The minimum required 2011 revenue is $100,000. Inc. reserves the right to reject applicants for subjective reasons. The Inc. 5000 can be found in its entirety on Inc.com.