2011 Finalists: America's Best Young Entrepreneurs

  1. Meet the Founders Behind 25 Promising Companies

    Meet the Founders Behind 25 Promising Companies

    When Businessweek.com asked readers over the summer to suggest the most promising companies run by entrepreneurs 25 or younger, more than 200 people responded. We've narrowed the suggestions to 25 finalists whose stories are told here. Please take a look and then vote, through Oct. 20, for the one you think is most promising. We'll announce the top five readers' picks on Oct. 27. Photographer: H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

    Note: Revenues are self-reported. To be considered, founders had to be aged 25 or under when the nomination period closed in late July.

  2. Airsoft Megastore

    Airsoft Megastore

    What it does: Sells recreational airsoft guns and gear online
    Founder: Mike Zhang, 21
    Website: airsoftmegastore.com
    Based: Baldwin Park, Calif.
    Revenue 2010: $10 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): over $10 million

    When Mike Zhang started Airsoft Megastore in 2004, he wanted to cut the price of the lifelike toy guns and plastic BBs used in airsoft games—similar to paintball, though less messy—from about $400 a set to $150. An airsoft enthusiast, he found that the gear was being sold for a lot less in China during a family trip to visit relatives there. Zhang convinced his parents to buy a container of airsoft product and began selling it online. After he graduated high school in 2008, he attended University of California-Berkeley's business program for a few months, then dropped out to run the business full-time. He's kept prices down by shopping around among suppliers in China. "[Improving access is] how you take it from a hobby to a real sport," he says. In October, Zhang plans to move Airsoft's headquarters into a 47,000-square-foot space, nearly double its current location. —Sommer Saadi
  3. Always Prepped

    Always Prepped

    What it does: Online math practice for elementary students
    Founder: Fahad Hassan, 25
    Website: alwaysprepped.com
    Based: McLean, Va.
    Revenue 2010: n/a; launched in March 2011
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $100,000

    Fahad Hassan sold his first company, which developed an online calendar tailored to college students, while attending Virginia Tech. After working for the buyer, Intelliworks, which makes software to help universities recruit students, he left to start a new business providing online math practice for younger students. “I felt like: Hey, this is 2011, there is a lot of opportunity out there,” Hassan says. Launched in March, the Always Prepped website provides worksheets, curricula, and game-based testing to elementary schoolers. Hassan says he's focused on selling to parents who pay $9.95 per month for unlimited access to content and analytics. Hassan says Always Prepped has raised $250,000 in angel funding and aims to raise a round of venture capital this fall. —Joel Stonington
  4. Angaza Design

    Angaza Design

    What it does: Develops solar products for households without electricity
    Founders: Lesley Silverthorn, 25, (left, with camera) and Bryan Duggan, 25
    Website: angazadesign.com
    Based: San Francisco
    Revenue 2010: n/a; started selling its products in July 2011
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $30,000

    After interning at Lab126, the Amazon (AMZN) subsidiary that developed the Kindle, and then working for an engineering consultancy, Lesley Silverthorn wanted to do more with her skills than “designing the next sexy consumer electronic for the U.S. market.” The Stanford-educated mechanical engineer co-founded Angaza Design last summer to make household products for poor people living off the grid in the developing world. Angaza’s solar lighting system, meant to replace kerosene lamps, wholesales for $45; its solar cell-phone charger goes for $20. This summer, the five-person startup started shipping the devices, which are made by Chinese contract manufacturers, to customers in Afghanistan, India, and Uganda. Silverthorn says it is planning to ship to Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania by the fall. Silverthorn expects to close an $800,000 round from angels by November and reach $430,000 in revenue in 2012. “People who live on less than $2 a day are actually paying more money for a far-inferior toxic product: kerosene,” says Silverthorn, 25. “We’re not giving aid. We’re providing access to products that [individuals] can use to lift themselves out of poverty.” —Nick Leiber
  5. Appleton Learning

    Appleton Learning

    What it does: Tutoring
    Founder: Glenn Clayton, 25 (second from left, with senior managers)
    Website: appletonlearning.com
    Based: Huntsville, Ala.
    Revenue 2010: $1.8 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $4.2 million

    To earn extra cash while studying business at the University of Alabama, Glenn Clayton tutored high school students out of his dorm room. As more students signed up, Clayton hired friends to help. By the end of his sophomore year he was spending more than 60 hours a week managing his growing enterprise. “I realized if people were leaving big name tutoring companies to come to some college kid working out of a broom closet, there was a need in the market not being met," Clayton says. He left school, founded Appleton Learning in 2007, and says the company has been doubling revenues every year since. Clayton says Appleton uses a unique assessment to match students with tutors based on their individual learning needs and styles. Appleton currently employs about 1,000 tutors—a mix of college students, professionals, and retirees—and serves about 6,000 students. Clayton has raised $750,000 from investors to open 20 new branches across the southeast by 2014. —Sommer Saadi
  6. Blank Label

    Blank Label

    What it Does: Sells custom clothes online
    Founder: Fan Bi, 23
    Website: blanklabel.com
    Based: Boston
    Revenue 2010: $450,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1 million

    Fan Bi’s finance internship as a student at Babson College taught him one important lesson: The best-looking dress shirt is custom made. “But it’s also expensive,” Bi says, “so I thought: How can I make the luxury of custom affordable?” He took his last year off and used $35,000 he had saved from jobs in high school and college to launch Blank Label, an online custom men's dress shirt company, in 2009. Customers select fabrics, buttons, collar types, and stitching to design shirts on Blank Label's website. Their creations are stitched in Shanghai and shipped directly to customers for around $75—a fraction of the price charged for custom dress shirts at traditional retailers. Bi says the eight-employee business is profitable and he expects to break $1 million in revenue by the end of this year. To diversify, he plans to launch custom women's blouses this fall. —Sommer Saadi
  7. Business Empire Consulting

    Business Empire Consulting

    What it does: Digital marketing
    Founders: Bryan Young, 25; Brandon Blair, 24; Matthew Laster, 23 (pictured left to right)
    Website: businessempireconsulting.com
    Based: Raleigh, N.C.
    Revenue 2010: $750,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $5 million

    As a teen, Bryan Young was a serial entrepreneur: He started a lawn-care company in Okinawa, where his mother was stationed with the U.S. Air Force, and used the profits to start a trucking company in Fayetteville, N.C., when they returned to the states. At 22, he dropped out of North Carolina State to start an online marketing agency, Business Empire Consulting, that focuses on social media, mobile marketing, and reputation management. “We’re really more focused on creating conversations instead of [marketing] campaigns,” Young says. He bootstrapped the business with co-founders Brandon Blair and Matthew Laster, who both attended N.C. State. They now have 27 employees and about 20 clients, including Clinique, the Charlotte Airport, and clothing chain Belk. Young says most pay a monthly retainer from $10,000 to $50,000 and he projects $5 million in revenue in 2011. —John Tozzi
  8. Course Hero

    Course Hero

    What it does: Online network for sharing course materials
    Founder: Andrew Grauer, 24
    Website: coursehero.com
    Based: Redwood City, Calif.
    Revenue 2010: $1.1 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2.5 million

    A Spanish major at Cornell University, Andrew Grauer started Course Hero in 2006 for college students to share lectures, class notes, exams, and assignments that were typically tossed away each semester. With $10,000 of his own and his brothers' money, Grauer built a website on which subscribers can access such documents as well as online tutors and textbook rentals for $84 per year. To help accumulate materials, Course Hero offers free access to users who upload 40 documents per month. Those are checked by paid reviewers and rated by users. The site has 23,000 paid subscribers and 41,500 users who upload documents, Grauer says. Despite concern about the effects such websites can have on learning, as well as potential copyright issues, Grauer says educators and schools are coming around to the idea of sharing course materials. The company now works with 200 professors and such publishers as Macmillan and Ingram Digital. Course Hero has raised $2.3 million from investors, including Ron Conway and venture capital firm Maveron. —Venessa Wong
  9. Delta Produce

    Delta Produce

    What it does: Food distribution
    Founders: Kosta Dionisopoulos, 24, and Christos Marafatsos, 24 (pictured left to right)
    Website: delta-produce.com
    Based: Washington
    Revenue 2010: $1.9 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2.6 million

    Most produce distributors stick to delivering fresh food, but Christos Marafatsos' Delta Produce also does online marketing for its customers and helps them reduce costs by pairing them to buy in bulk. Marafatsos, who completed finance studies at the University of Maryland, started Delta Produce in September 2009 with Kosta Dionisopoulos, a UMD classmate who worked through college delivering produce from a van. They now employ 18 people, including a full-time engineer who helps customers build websites and market on social networks. “Both my partner and I are young, so [interacting online is] something we’re accustomed to doing,” he says. Their customers range from restaurants to grocery stores to small wholesalers in the Washington area. —Joel Stonington
  10. Desmos


    What it does: Software for online tutoring
    Founder: Eli Luberoff, 24
    Website: desmos.com
    Based: New Haven, Conn.
    Revenue 2010: $45,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $200,000

    Aware that educational software compatibility plagues students and teachers, longtime tutor Eli Luberoff took a year off from Yale to work on software to help people collaborate remotely. Today, his company, Desmos, makes browser-based software for sharing material so that teachers and students can work in real time with colleagues in any location that has Internet access, regardless of what technology they're using. Luberoff says he tested the software last year with publishers, including McGraw-Hill (MHP), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson (PSON:LN), and launched the first version in May 2011. The company gives the software away to teachers and makes money from publishers' licensing fees. Luberoff raised $125,000 from friends and family, followed by a seed round totaling $850,000 from venture capital funds and private investors. —Joel Stonington
  11. FUNK-tional Enterprises

    FUNK-tional Enterprises

    What it does: Sells portable shoes
    Founders: Katie Shea, 24, and Susie Levitt, 24 (pictured left to right)
    Website: cityslips.com
    Based: New York
    Revenue 2010: $1 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1.2 million

    After watching countless women walk home barefoot at the end of a long night in heels, New York University finance students Susie Levitt and Katie Shea started a company to make easily portable shoes. Working with contract designers and manufacturers in the U.S. and China, they created a pair of flats that fold up to fit into a pocket-sized zip pouch. When women pop on the shoes, the pouch unfurls into a tote bag to carry the high heels they just shed. The pair began selling CitySlips in 2009 and are now in 500 retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Dillard's, and Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY). Shea says they have broad appeal: “A 16-year-old leaving her senior prom will grab a pair of CitySlips and put them in her clutch bag, and then there’s my grandmother who will wear them leaving church." Launched with $15,000 in personal savings and a $100,000 private loan, CitySlips sells shoes that retail for $10 to $58, depending on the style and material. Shea says the company turned a profit in 2010 and now has about five independent sales reps, but Shea and Levitt remain the only full-time employees. —Victoria Stilwell
  12. Fwix


    What it does: Organizes website content by location
    Founders: Darian Shirazi, 24
    Website: fwix.com
    Based: San Francisco
    Revenue 2010: $1 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $5 million

    Darian Shirazi was on a train in Bosnia during a trip through through Eastern Europe when homesickness set in. He not only wanted to know what was happening back in his native California, but also in the lands he was passing through. He began thinking of ways to organize news online by the places to which it was relevant. Shirazi, a veteran of Facebook and eBay (EBAY) who dropped out of University of California-Berkeley, launched Fwix in October 2008 as a news aggregator that attaches locations to online content, a process known as geotagging. “We take an article and determine that piece of content’s location or where it’s talking about,” Shirazi says. Fwix then sells that data to companies, including Groupon, the New York Times (NYT), and NBC, that use it to target online ads to local consumers. The 25-employee company has 10 clients and handles 300 million data queries per month, Shirazi says. Although he's raised $6.75 million in venture capital, the name Fwix is a mark of leaner days. “I didn’t have a ton of money, and I wanted to buy a cheap domain [name],” Shirazi says. It doesn’t mean anything. —Victoria Stilwell
  13. GSM Nation

    GSM Nation

    What it does: Sells unlocked cell phones
    Founders: Junaid Shams, 25, and Ahmed Khattak, 25 (pictured left to right, with head of technology Enam ul Haque)
    Website: gsmnation.com
    Based: New Haven, Conn.
    Revenue 2010: $8 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $35 million

    During a year off spent working in London, Yale student Ahmed Khattak saw that Europeans commonly used cell phones free of contracts with wireless carriers. In 2008, after he returned, he started a business selling unlocked phones online with friend Junaid Shams, a student at George Washington University. The pitch: Customers get cheaper, contract-free service and save hundreds of dollars each year, says Shams, giving GSM Nation an advantage over retailers that sell phones only with expensive, multiyear commitments. With about $150,000 of their own and their families’ money, plus free office space and support from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, the two launched GSM Nation in March 2010. The site sells mobile devices such as iPhones and BlackBerrys that have been unlocked by the manufacturers and can be connected to any wireless carrier. “The whole point was to educate the consumers,” says Khattak. Clients range from individuals to government agencies such as the U.S. State Dept. GSM Nation, which has 12 employees, has sold 50,000 phones since it launched, according to Shams. A large share of sales come from abroad, but Shams expects U.S. sales to increase as consumers become more familiar with contract-free service. —Venessa Wong
  14. Her Campus Media

    Her Campus Media

    What it does: Online magazine for college women
    Founders: Stephanie Kaplan, 22; Annie Wang, 22; Windsor Hanger, 22 (pictured left to right)
    Website: hercampus.com
    Based: Boston
    Revenue 2010: $40,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1 million

    When Harvard undergrads Stephanie Kaplan, Annie Wang, and Windsor Hanger moved the university's style magazine, Freeze, from print to online in 2008, advertisers followed them eagerly in hopes of reaching female college students on the Web. To tap into that demand, they expanded nationally, creating a new website called HerCampus.com in September 2009, and adding local and national articles on topics like health, relationships, and careers. They recruited a corps of unpaid writers that now includes 2,000 people at colleges across the country. Besides conventional ads, the site runs a marketing program called Campus Trendsetters, in which clients pay to send sample products to students who promote them on social media. Her Campus, which gets about 2 million page views a month, has worked with more than 80 advertisers, including Ann Taylor LOFT, Pinkberry, and The Body Shop, according to Kaplan. “A company can come to us, and we can make a program happen for them at 150 schools,” Kaplan says. Her Campus booked $200,000 in revenue in the first half of 2011, and she expects the five-employee business to reach close to $1 million in revenue this year as the site expands to new schools this fall. —Victoria Stilwell

    Corrects to show that HerCampus is a separate venture from Freeze.
  15. My Funky Planet

    My Funky Planet

    What it does: Sells toys with virtual counterparts
    Founder: Sebastian Abondano, 24
    Website: myfunkyplanet.com
    Based: Port St. Lucie, Fla.
    Revenue 2010: $1.3 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2 million

    Sebastian Abondano was fascinated by the success of Webkinz, stuffed toys that came with a corresponding online persona for kids to play with in a virtual world. In 2008, while a junior at Babson College, he started his own line of toys that bridge the physical and digital worlds. My Funky Planet sells remote-controlled cars and helicopters that come with codes to unlock virtual replicas in an online game. Targeted at boys aged 6 to 12, the toys are manufactured in China and sold through U.S. retailers such as Toys R Us, Sears (SHLD), and Discovery Channel Stores. They retail for from $20 to $120 and come with virtual currency that can be used to soup up the online avatars. Though selling virtual goods is not a big source of revenue right now, Abondano expects it to grow as the user base expands and players can eventually interact with each other in a game world. Abondano says the nine-employee company has raised $400,000 in seed money and has been profitable since its first year. —John Tozzi
  16. Next Big Sound

    Next Big Sound

    What it does: Software for musicians to track fans online
    Founders: David Hoffman, 24; Alex White, 25; and Samir Rayani, 24 (pictured left to right)
    Website: nextbigsound.com
    Based: Boulder, Colo.
    Revenue 2010: $1 million to $2 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2 million to $4 million

    As record labels try to find their footing online, Next Big Sound is selling bands a tool to get more out of their social media marketing investments. Conceived in an undergraduate entrepreneurship class at Northwestern University, the service tracks fans’ activity on Twitter, YouTube (GOOG), and other online destinations for hundreds of thousands of bands, then packages the information in an online dashboard. Co-founder Alex White says hundreds of artists pay $79 a month to overlay their album sales with their fans' data and thereby compare themselves with other performers. A music lover who grew up learning the cello from his professional cellist father, White got the idea for the service while managing a small band on a nationwide tour. “We realized that all the numbers we cared about as a band weren’t being tracked,” says White. With about $1 million in venture capital, White says the 10-employee company is adding “designers and developers and quants we can steal off Wall Street to the team as quickly as we can,” flying them in to show off “our massive untapped data set.” —Nick Leiber
  17. On the Beaten Path Trail Contractors

    On the Beaten Path Trail Contractors

    What it does: Builds hiking trails in national parks
    Founder: Tyler Johnson, 24
    Website: beatenpathtrails.com
    Based: Fairborn, Ohio
    Revenue 2010: n/a; launched February 2011
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $3.3 million

    The Wilderness Act of 1964 protects millions of acres of wilderness across the U.S. to keep nature untrammeled for current and future generations. While serving a two-year stint as a Forest Service firefighter in Wyoming, Tyler Johnson learned that the law prohibits the use of motor vehicles and machinery to build and maintain trails, making it hard to attract laborers. “The government has all of this money to do this work, but no one to do it,” says the 24-year-old outdoorsman. Johnson started On the Beaten Path Trail Contractors earlier this year, offering $17 an hour to off-season ski resort workers and college students on summer break. Now employing 63 workers in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, he says On the Beaten Path has secured some $3.3 million in contracts to build and maintain trails for the National Parks Service. Mindful of government spending cuts, Johnson isn't worried about trail construction in public areas getting whacked because of bipartisan support for wilderness access and job creation. —Nick Leiber
  18. Peer2Peer Tutors

    Peer2Peer Tutors

    What it does: Tutoring services
    Founder: Erik Kimel, 25
    Website: peer2peertutors.com
    Based: Rockville, Md.
    Revenue 2010: $500,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $750,000

    When Erik Kimel was a senior in high school in Rockville, Md., in 2004, he started tutoring a sixth-grader in math. Then he recruited students in his calculus class to tutor other local kids. He continued to build a network of instructors while getting his business degree at New York University. There, he began enlisting local teachers as part-time managers to help refer students and he built proprietary software to manage the training, matching, scheduling, and other tasks. Parents pay Peer2Peer $40 to $45 per hour to assist children in subjects ranging from math to foreign languages and even college essay writing. $12 to $18 of that goes to tutors. Peer2Peer is in suburban markets around Washington, New York, and North Carolina and has recruited 3,500 tutors since Kimmel started. He’s also started an online-only tutoring service, which he expects to help the company grow more quickly in the future. “The model that’s going to take us to $1.5 million in revenue won’t be the model that takes us to 50 or 100 times that,” he says. Kimel has bootstrapped the business and says it’s been “profitable since day one.” —John Tozzi
  19. Quirky


    What it Does: Crowdsourced product development
    Founder: Ben Kaufman, 24
    Website: quirky.com
    Based: New York
    Revenue 2010: $1.1 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $ 7.2 million

    Ben Kaufman wants more people to try to become inventors. "It's a great feeling to see your product being used by a complete stranger," says Kaufman, who founded and sold an iPod accessories company before he launched Quirky in 2009. The site turns two community-submitted ideas into sellable products each week. Hopefuls pay $10 each to post an idea online for the 85,000-member Quirky community to vote on. Ideas must be be physical goods (not software) that can retail for less than $150. An in-house team of engineers and designers examines the two most popular submissions and builds a prototype. If enough units are presold to cover the cost of bringing a product to market, Quirky will contract to have it manufactured and distributed. Kaufman says Quirky retains all rights to the products and takes 70 percent of the revenue; the rest goes to the creators, many of whom earn tens of thousands of dollars from their ideas. The company has completed nearly 200 products, including such best-sellers as a power strip with a flexible body, a collapsible hanger, and a modular pocket knife. —Sommer Saadi
  20. ReGreen Corporation

    ReGreen Corporation

    What it does: Energy savings for businesses
    Founders: Sean Neman, 25; Kevin Refoua, 25; and David Duel, 24 (Pictured left to right)
    Website: regreencorp.com
    Based: Los Angeles
    Revenue 2010: $9 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $15 million

    David Duel and Sean Neman, business students at the University of Southern California, started Regreen with their friend Kevin Refoua in 2008 to convince business owners that going green could be profitable. Backed by $400,000 raised from family and friends, ReGreen audits companies to identify ways they can lower energy costs and then provides engineering and construction teams to install enhancements such as reduced-flow toilets and low-energy lighting. “Most companies don’t have the in-house expertise to understand how to integrate these new technologies,” Duel says. ReGreen has worked with about 3,000 clients, including property managers such as Douglas Emmett and Transwestern. ReGreen now has about 110 full-time employees and Duel says its next big push will be designing, engineering, and installing solar power systems. —Victoria Stilwell
  21. scoreAscore


    What it does: Brokers music
    Founder: Jordan Passman, 24
    Website: scoreascore.com
    Based: Los Angeles
    Revenue 2010: $75,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $250,000

    Los Angeles native Jordan Passman, the son of a music attorney, always wanted to be an agent for composers. In 2008, working in the film and television department for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, he began sketching a website that would broker deals between composers and music buyers for commercials, films, or other productions. “People were still scrounging Craigslist for composers, and I knew there were so many composers out there that didn’t have representation,” he says. He launched scoreAscore in May 2010 for filmmakers and video producers to post descriptions of the music they need and video they want scored. Passman selected 100 professional composers who can write music in response to the requests or can upload tracks they’ve already composed. Passman takes a cut of 20 percent (for custom work) or 40 percent (for existing scores) of the transaction, paid out of the composers' fees. ScoreAscore's clients include Disney (DIS), Electronic Arts (ERTS), Ogilvy, the Gates Foundation, and College Humor. Most transactions are over $1,000, but Passman, who runs the business solo, wants to expand to a broader base of smaller gigs and tap into the explosion of amateur Web video: “I want to be the go-to for YouTube filmmakers,” he says. —John Tozzi
  22. Sell Back Your Book

    Sell Back Your Book

    What it does: Buys and sells used books online
    Founder: Glen Nothnagel, 23
    Website: sellbackyourbook.com
    Based: Montgomery, Ill.
    Revenue 2010: $4 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $6.3 million

    At age 20, Glen Nothnagel dropped out of the College of DuPage outside Chicago to start his own business selling used textbooks after seeing college students frustrated by the high cost of books that they often couldn't resell. Using $2,000 of his own money, he leased a 1,000-square-foot warehouse, developed a website, and started buying books from friends and other students to build up inventory. The company, founded in 2008, resells books in online markets such as Amazon.com and Half.com for about 20 percent to 30 percent of the list price. Sales jumped from $200,000 in 2008 to $4 million in 2010, Nothnagel says. The 12-employee company makes most of its money from textbooks but also buys and sells nonfiction, fiction, CDs, DVDs, video games, and graphing calculators. Nothnagel plans to expand to electronics, including cell phones, tablets, e-readers and laptops in 2012, and intends to launch a new website so consumers can buy directly from his company. Despite fierce competition, Nothnagel is undaunted. “As long as we can compete on price, we’re viable,” he says. —Venessa Wong
  23. SouthernEco


    What it does: Sets up small-scale biodiesel manufacturing equipment
    Founder: Clay McInnis, 24
    Website: southernecogroup.com
    Based: Montgomery, Ala.
    Revenue 2010: $45,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $45,000

    As a social entrepreneurship major at Auburn University in 2009, Clay McInnis mapped out a business plan to provide his family's construction company with low-cost fuel. Convinced he could produce biodiesel for about one-third the price of diesel, he bought a small-scale system capable of producing a few thousand gallons a year. Along the way, he realized he could both sell biodiesel and build small-scale biodiesel plants himself, which he sells for $9,000 to $50,000. He has built four systems for customers that include local businesses and an area school. With $30,000 invested in equipment, McInnis now has one full-time employee and expects 2012 revenue of $100,000. "[Biodiesel] is a long-term solution," McInnis said. "It pays off but you have to pay up front." —Joel Stonington
  24. Texts From Last Night

    Texts From Last Night

    What it does: Humor blog
    Founders: Lauren Leto, 24, and Ben Bator, 25
    Website: textsfromlastnight.com
    Based: New York
    Revenue 2010: $1 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2 million

    Intended for readers trolling for a quick laugh, Texts From Last Night is an irreverent blog that collects raunchy cell phone texts and posts selections without attribution. Started for fun in 2009 by friends Lauren Leto, now 24, and Ben Bator, now 25, while attending law school at Wayne State University in Detroit, the blog has grown into a popular franchise, including a book of the same name and paid mobile apps that have been downloaded more than 1 million times. Seizing momentum from the blog’s success, Leto has raised nearly $1 million for her latest venture, Bnter, an online software platform for individuals who want to save and share memorable text messages or other digital exchanges with friends or family. Launched in February with co-founder Patrick Moberg, 25, Leto says Bnter (pronounced Banter) will earn money through advertising. While she runs both businesses, Leto is also working on a book of essays for Harper Perennial titled Judging a Book by Its Lover. —Nick Leiber

    Corrects spelling of Bnter.
  25. ThinkLite


    What it does: Manufactures energy efficient lighting
    Founders: Dinesh Wadhwani, 21, and Enrico Palmerino, 22 (pictured left to right )
    Website: rethinkrelite.com
    Based: Framingham, Mass.
    Revenue 2010: $500,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $3.5 million

    Babson College dorm mates Dinesh Wadhwani and Enrico Palmerino got the idea for their company from an ad for an energy efficient light bulb: They thought they could sell businesses on going green by putting the bottom-line savings up front, rather than the environmental benefit. ThinkLite, founded in 2009, manufactures custom energy-saving light systems. Clients typically pay ThinkLite about 40 percent of the estimated two- to three-year savings. ThinkLite licenses its technologies from private laboratories in Germany, uses components from Korea, designs them in Boston, and assembles them in China. After ThinkLite installs the lighting system, the client’s lighting bill drops on average by 50 percent to 80 percent, Wadhwani says. The company has about 100 clients, including AT&T (T), Kodak (EK), and Babson College, as well as smaller businesses ranging from restaurants to offices. —Venessa Wong
  26. United By Blue

    United By Blue

    What it does: Clothing and accessories brand
    Founder: Brian Linton, 24
    Website: unitedbyblue.com
    Based: Philadelphia
    Revenue 2010: $330,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $800,000

    During summers in college, Brian Linton would drive from Key West to Maine, selling jewelry he imported from Thailand to shops along the coast. He donated some profits to ocean-conservation groups, but the self-described lifelong ocean-lover wanted to create a for-profit business that would benefit the environment through each sale. In May 2010, he launched United By Blue, a clothing and accessories brand that pledges to remove a pound of trash from oceans or other waterways for every product sold. The company co-hosts clean-ups with its retailers and recruits volunteers to help pick up trash, salvaging recyclables and weighing all the garbage they pull out of the water on an industrial scale. The events boost the brand: "We have customers that double their orders the next season because of the cleanups," Linton says. So far, more than 50 cleanups have removed almost 30,000 pounds of garbage. United By Blue's clothing, bags, and jewelry are designed in-house and manufactured in India. They're sold in about 350 retail stores in the U.S. and the Caribbean, including at some Whole Foods (WFM), stores, Urban Outfitters (URBN), and Dillard's. Linton's goal for the four-employee company in 2012: Raise outside capital and pick up 1 million pounds of trash. —John Tozzi
  27. Time to Vote!

    Time to Vote!

    Now that you've browsed the finalists in our seventh annual roundup, vote for the business you think is most promising. Voting ends on Oct. 20. We'll announce the top five readers' picks on the Small Business channel on Oct. 27.