Fortune Small Business:
Zero to $1 Billion  
49 companies batting a billion
These big hitters started off small, but reached $1 billion in sales last year. See the full list, including revenues and stock returns for each company.
by Richard McGill Murphy, FSB senior editor

NEW YORK (FORTUNE Small Business) - What do a cheesecake chain, an online broker, a green energy company and a medical software firm have in common? They are among 49 U.S. companies that hit a special milestone last year: $1 billion in annual sales.

Many of these superstars are companies you've probably heard of - like restaurant The Cheesecake Factory (Research) and broker Ameritrade (Research).

FSB: Zero to $1 Billion

Others are less well-known, such as Headwaters (Research), an alternative energy company in Salt Lake City, and Cerner (Research), a medical software firm in Kansas City.

All 49 of these businesses started small, grew rapidly and profitably, and - while in vastly different industries - followed many of the same seven management practices, says David Thomson, a former technology executive and management consultant, who spent the past three years of his life figuring out exactly what it takes for a startup company to reach that magic revenue threshold of a billion dollars.

Could you build a billion-dollar business? Take the quiz.

Thomson, 52, calls these fast-track firms Blueprint companies in his new book Blueprint to a Billion, because his research revealed that they all followed a similar plan for growth.

Thomson found Blueprint companies in nearly every industry, although the top three sectors were consumer goods (26%), information technology (18%) and financial services (15%), closely followed by health care (13%).

The key: Each Blueprint company operated in a market big enough and fast-growing enough to support more than one billion-dollar enterprise.

Below is the class of 2005. Top of page

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