2007 Home-Based 100: We shine the spotlight on home-based entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are known for turning dreams into reality. We’re proud to recognize their accomplishments by publishing the first-ever, 2007 StartupNation Home-Based 100.

Entrepreneurs are known for turning dreams into reality. We’re proud to recognize their accomplishments by publishing the first-ever 2007 StartupNation Home-Based 100.

The inaugural StartupNation Home-Based 100, which ranks and categorizes the nation’s top-performing home-based entrepreneurs, is the first of its kind. While larger companies have been tracked by Fortune and other outlets for years, no one until now has shone the spotlight on the millions of Americans who call home “the office.” At StartupNation, we decided to change that. We set about creating an annual ranking competition that focuses strictly on the first frontier—and for many, the preferred frontier—for entrepreneurs.

16.5-million home-based businesses exist in the United States today – an all-time high. According to the Small Business Administration, home-based companies contribute more than $530 billion to the U.S. economy and represent 50% of all businesses registered in the United States. No matter how you slice the stats, it’s a huge chunk of the American economy and growing fast.

And it’s no surprise—after all, recent Federal Express and Yahoo! studies reveal that more than two-thirds of Americans have considered starting their own businesses, and nearly half have taken initial steps in that direction.

StartupNation organized the Home-Based 100 ranking as a series of ten Top Ten categories, each with a unique theme. To reflect the true nature of home-based businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them, we ranked companies on qualities that go beyond financial data. Playing to emerging trends, we created categories to highlight the greenest, worldliest, and boomer-run businesses. For fun, we also share the wackiest and “most slacker-friendly.”

But above and beyond our categories, one theme dominated the submissions – passion.

We’re talking bleeding passion. The work of these entrepreneurs is literally and figuratively close to home. We learned that home-based entrepreneurs don’t separate who they are and what they do. Instead, they see their enterprise as part of their identity. They live for the triumphs and plug away at the challenges with incredible tenacity. At stake? Their name, their vision, their lifestyle.

The 2007 field of entrants had other, more tangible things in common.

Many were baby boomers who had worked for years, successfully, at large corporations, and decided for whatever reason that it was time for a change. Some people had great ideas or goals that they were never able to implement because of their demanding work schedules. Others were interested in choosing a career that allows them to spend more time with their families. Some found they could make a lucrative, fulfilling living without leaving their homes. Larry Murphy, the operator of Murphy Outdoors of Gladstone, Mo., and the winner in our “Boomers Back in Business” category, took it one step further. He incorporated his love of fishing into a tour business after retiring from a software company at age 47.

In fact, some of the most financially successful home-based businesses in this year’s ranking actually made a conscious, strategic decision to transition from a traditional office environment to a home-based operation. They did this for efficiency. They traded in the commute and corporate cubicles for home-brewed coffee, blue jeans, and a high-bandwidth Internet connection.

Across the board, technology proved to fuel the exodus from the office to the home. The Internet, where you can hang a shingle almost instantly, combined with communications advances such as Internet-enabled cell phones with Star Trek-like capabilities enable “home-preneurs” to operate more viably than ever before.

Other observations from the Home-Based 100 Best Financial Performers include the rise of “virtualization,” where entire teams of people are home-based, banded together by communication and data-sharing technologies.

The winner of the Best Financial Performers category, Tempe, Ariz.-based nurse-staffing company Medical Solutions International, and the runner up, Surefire Marketing of Potomac, Md., are both virtual operations that rely heavily, if not completely, on technology.

This trend redefines home-based businesses, really, by adding employees to what was once a largely go-it-alone business sector. And these companies are generating millions of dollars in revenue.
Outsourcing also looms large as a business practice used by the best financial performers in our ranking. It seems like almost anything can be contracted out these days, making a home-based enterprise a more sane and elegant operation that can be run effectively from an extra bedroom. Accounting services, manufacturing, telephone answering, Web site design and maintenance – the sky’s the limit – even lunch, outsourced to the local pizza parlor and provided to you by express delivery, are all candidates.

That’s not to say that the 2007 submissions didn’t offer their share of surprises and differences within the individual Top Ten categories.

If there were a word wackier than “wacky,” it very well might have described some of the outrageous contenders in this category, which proved the most difficult for our judges to pick a winner.

At StartupNation, we labored over whether the world’s largest water bottle or a service that lets you enjoy happy hour with your dog should win. Of course, a “tech-gear” entrepreneur, with a whole new level of pocket-protector geek fashion, was also worthy, pitted against an accessories line inspired by an evil-eye talisman (don’t ask). And then there was the home-based entrepreneur that sells the 10-foot-long drill bits made for routing wires from an attic to a crawl space, and the handicap school bus converted into a mobile workout gym that pulls up in front of your house. If you ever questioned whether American innovation was alive and kicking, you’ll take heart in the finalists of the “Wackiest” category. Eventually we selected Nashville Lappy Hour, a Nashville, Tenn., event company that allows folks to share cocktails with their canines.

That’s not to say that it was easy to choose winners in the other Top Ten categories. Submissions for the greenest were aplenty. We selected a company called Sweet Onion Creations of Bozeman, Mont., which makes environmentally friendly building models for architectural firms.

Our “Grungiest” selection also qualified as a green business, but since Northwest Redworms of Camas, Wash., deals with worms and compost, we had to place it in the former category. The “Most Slacker-Friendly” was a little easier. We picked Snoloha, a Traverse City, Mich., clothing company inspired by Jimmy Buffett.

For the “Most Innovative,” our challenge was making a clear case for one company over another – the vast majority of entries were innovative to their core. To overcome this challenge, we awarded a company that was not only innovative but important to families. Our judges selected Child Shield, U.S.A., of Tucson, Ariz., which offers a service aiming to educate and protect children and families from child predators.

Another takeaway from the submissions—perhaps the most surprising—was that almost no one wanted to boast about how much money his or her company made. Getting those stats was next to impossible. Like the bragging-right revenue stats you find in other rankings, we figured that giving home-based entrepreneurs the opportunity to flaunt their success would be a huge hit. However, that was the last thing they wanted published. Releasing that information publicly is often OK, even encouraged, in traditional business circles. But for home-based entrepreneurs, this treads on the personal and private. There are limits to what they’re comfortable allowing the public to know about them financially. Respecting the finalists’ privacy, we publicly released the financial performance of only the winner and runner-up “Best Financial Performer.”

So why did they enter the HB 100 competition in the first place? Because they want a piece of the spotlight. In any way other than financially, home-based entrepreneurs flooded us with their attributes and tales of their exploits – things they were thrilled to brag about, like their achievements, their breakthroughs, their environmentally sustainable practices, or the screaming needs they address.

Finally, on a promising note for entrepreneurs based at home, we were surprised by the amount of support this first ranking of home-based businesses received from major corporations. For years, the big companies made other big companies their sole priority. But no longer. They’ve woken up to the fact that huge growth potential exists in serving the relatively untapped market of small business and the millions of home-based businesses within that sector. Nameplate brands such as Microsoft Office Live Small Business, Dell, and Southwest Airlines all jumped on board to encourage participation and support the ranking. It proves that these corporations now see home-based entrepreneurs as a priority. That means more solutions, more products, and more services are being made available to home-based businesses today—and even more options will be available in the future.

View the 2007 winners

See the 2008 Competition

More featured 2007 StartupNation Home-based 100 articles:

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