Every summer, the CEOs of the Inc. 5000 respond to an exhaustive (and, we've been told, exhausting) survey comprising more than 80 questions about themselves, their companies, and their views of business and the world. Those responses, over the years, have contributed to an understanding of the entrepreneurial experience and character that is at once mutable and remarkably consistent. Hot industries have cooled; marketing strategies morphed; and employee benefits proliferated. But always, these founders build organically and build to last. Whether unemployment is near zero or in double digits, finding great talent is hard. And while they pay more attention than ever to their teams, at the end of the day, they agree, it is lonely at the top.

Something else that hasn't changed much is the demographics. American entrepreneurship is growing more diverse, the Kauffman Foundation reports. Fast-growth founders, however, remain largely male (83 percent), white (77 percent), and U.S.-born (77 percent). Almost half grew up around family businesses; 35 percent are the first entrepreneurs in their families. Despite the popular conception of 20-something tech moguls, these founders are at least flirting with middle age: Seventy-two percent are between 35 and 54. That partly explains their success: They've had time to develop networks and expertise (54 percent started their business after working in the same industry). You think it's hard running one company? Imagine running two or more. Fifty-eight percent have started earlier businesses, and almost half of those are still running at least one in addition to their Inc. 5000 achiever.

Politically, they lean right (44 percent) more than left (21 percent); and more than a quarter are proud independents. As the election approaches, their front-burner issues are rebuilding the economy (65 percent) and taxes (41 percent), which edges out ending the pandemic by 3 percent. (At least that was the case in late June, before the hot spots started multiplying.)

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