Click here to view the Forbes slideshow of the top 20 winners, including Liz Elting, TransPerfect.
While female small business owners continue to battle the “cupcake” stereotype that all women-led companies are fashion-, fitness-, or beauty-focused, a new list created by theWomen Presidents’ Organization and American Express OPEN reveals that the 50 fastest-growing women-led companies in America are anything but.
The 50 companies on the 6th annual list, revealed this week, generated a combined $3.2 billion this year and, on average, $64.5 million in revenues over the past 12 months—up from an average of just $24.9 million in 2008. The average number of employees per company is 641. The number of women-led firms making $10 million or more has jumped by 57% in the last decade.
To generate the list, the Women Presidents’ Organization and AMEX tapped their mutual extended networks to scour the country for women-led companies. “It’s not just WPO members and AMEX card-holders,” jokes Marsha Firestone, the president and founder of WPO. To qualify for the ranking, businesses are required to be privately held, women-owned or led companies in North America and have reached two benchmarks: at least $500,000 in revenue by 2007 and $2 million in revenue by 2012. All eligible companies were then ranked according to a sales growth formula that combines percentage and absolute growth.
At the top of the list is Happy Family (also on FORBES America’s Most Promising Companies list this year) a line of organic meals for kids led by Shazi Visram. “She’s just 26,” Firestone says enthusiastic of CEO Visram, whose 10-year-old company experienced a quadrupling of revenue in just two years ($13.3 million in 2010 to $62.3 million in 2012). At number two, Strategic Communications, a Louisville technology firm reinforces a shift in traditional “womens’” businesses. The infrastructure solutions firm has tripled its employment numbers in the past two years and revenues doubled in the same time. Government contracts, of course, haven’t hurt.
“It’s refreshing to see the variety of companies represented on this year’s list,” says Firestone. “From global security to transportation to IT and recruiting, these companies represent the real breadth of talent in the female business community.” There are, of course clusters—a number of companies in both healthcare and human resources appear o the list, she says, “But even if you look at the staffing firms we’re seeing variety.” Case in point: at number five June Ressler leads Cenergy International Services, which manages staffing on offshore oil rigs while Tracy Balazc’s Federal staffing Resources serves the U.S. government.
90% of the women leading these businesses are founders, a number that Firestone says has not changed in the six years she’s studied the group. And perhaps most remarkably, the average age is 47. “We find that a lot of our women leaders have gone out, gotten corporate experience and then realized that not only could they do it on their own,” she says, “but that they could do it better. “ 71% of women business owners start companies that are based on or rooted in the technology of their previous employment, meaning that for many of the woman leaders of the 50 fastest-growing companies in America, entrepreneurship is, in fact, their second act.
And judging by the growth seen by the companies on this list, that second act can be exceedingly lucrative.