Former gang member
Former gang member
Entrepreneur: Ryan Blair
Business: VISalus

Ryan Blair's journey from L.A. crack house to corporate boardroom began when an entrepreneur crossed paths with the orphaned gang member. "This man took me in and believed in me until I believed in myself," he said.

Blair went from ward of the court to owner of his first business, earning him his first million, but not his last. A later company manufactured weight loss shakes and when it was failing, he sold it to an investor who abandoned it during the market collapse.

Blair used his last few dollars to buy the company back, tweaking the model by issuing a 90-day weight loss challenge, providing the first testimonial by losing 40 pounds himself.

Now 50,000 people monthly undertake the Body By Vi Challenge. The company earns $20 million annually. "I couldn't ever accept failure as an option," said Blair. "Give your idea a shot. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

By Kitt Walsh, contributing writer @CNNMoney - Last updated December 29 2011: 5:49 PM ET
Join the Conversation
Cool companies

Bored? Turn your passions -- whether they are juggling chainsaws, chasing tornadoes or walking on fire -- into cool and profitable companies just like the following 12 entrepreneurs did.