What drove Marie Van de Mark, 27, to become an entrepreneur? A rough childhood: She spent four years in a New York State group home before settling in securely at 16 with a foster family, and always felt owning a business would provide the stability she had lacked. Why promotional products? Simply because a friend introduced her to the trade when she moved to Los Angeles six years ago.

At first she assembled keychains in her garage for a small marketing company. Before long, Van de Mark began experimenting with design, shunning most new technology in favor of a handmade look, and by last year she'd saved enough to equip a factory. Today, her products include book-shaped pushpins for Amazon.com Inc. and pewter sunglass cases for A/X Armani Exchange. What's next? Handcrafted gift and stationery products. Certainly she has something to write home about.

By Naween A. Mangi

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