How fast-growth Inner City companies succeed

These three tactics help the fastest-growing inner city companies stay ahead of the pack.

Here’s how Rohit Patel describes inner city Baltimore: “When I moved into the city sixteen years ago it was run down, but it had a vibrancy to it. You could tell, even sixteen years ago, that there was a change coming.”

Patel is CEO of Baltimore’s Intelect Corporation. He located his small growing business in inner city Baltimore because he had a vision of the community that few others could see. Now his business is one of the fastest growing in urban America.

Each year, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) compiles a list of the 100 fastest-growing inner city businesses in the U.S., recognizing the critical role they play in urban communities as both employers and community builders. The 2012 Inner City 100 is packed full of innovative businesses such as Intelect (#96) that are not only energizing their communities by generating dollars and jobs, but are growing at outstanding rates.

Hailing from 46 cities in 30 states, the Inner City 100 have average revenues of $15.3 million and an average 5-year compound annual growth rate of 39%. But a recent survey revealed that fast growth is not the only thing these companies have in common.

Here are three tactics – applicable to any growing small business - that contributed to these inspiring success stories:

Gain experience with smaller ideas.

These business owners moved up the learning curve when their businesses were still small. This is not their first rodeo. Some 38% of the Inner City 100 CEOs are serial entrepreneurs, and 69% already had experience in their industry. These entrepreneurs started small and learned about their market and its needs before scaling their business models.

Giuliana Maravelle, founder and CEO of New Haven-based Gelato Giuliana (#22) owns a gelato shop frequented by local Yale University students. When one student lamented that he would miss her gelato upon graduation, Giuliana saw an opportunity to expand into distribution. Gelato Giuliana is now a 24-person gelato manufacturing company with distribution across much of the Northeast U.S.

Kevin O’Brien, CEO of Austin-based Petrelocation.com (#38) was once owned a doggy daycare. His company now facilitates the movement of pets and animals worldwide, from cats to poison dart frogs. Kevin’s small business start helped him give his company a local feel and a heightened focus on the customer, which he thought was greatly lacking in the industry.

Take overwhelmingly good care of your employees

A whopping 96% of Inner City 100 winners offer health insurance, showing that businesses can grow without compromising competitive benefits for employees. In addition, 70% of the winners offer professional development and 40% offer tuition reimbursement.

Will Reynolds, CEO of SEER Interactive (#25), left his job at a large firm because his boss would not allow him to leave work a little early to volunteer at a local hospital. Now, after founding his own company in Philadelphia, Will makes it a priority to invest in his own workers: through outside training, through employee development, and through community service opportunities.

CEO Rob Miller developed MMO University, a professional certification program for employees and other healthcare workers in its Baton Rogue community. His company, MMO Behavioral Health Systems (#81), also makes sure to help its employees acquire their own certifications.

Oakland-based Revolution Foods (#2) is growing at a 5-year compounded annual growth rate of 144%, and is setting a new standard in the food industry by offering profit sharing to its employees. An impressive 30% of the Inner City 100 winners offer this benefit.

Use social media and networks to reach your customers

The Inner City 100 companies are driving business and connecting with potential customers through multiple channels. Ninety-five percent of the Inner City 100 companies use social media. Of those, 74% use Facebook, 68% use Twitter and a surprising 40% have their own blog.

Orbit Media Studios of Chicago (#45) uses its company blog to offer advice to the world (including current and potential clients) on Web strategy, usability and design. Andy Crestodina, Orbit’s co-founder and strategic director, uses blog posts and tweets to be more publicly visible and accessible than a big-company executive could easily be.

Chicago-based Coyote Logistics (#1), uses social media to reinforce its “work hard, play hard” philosophy. Twitpics show the company’s hockey team holding up a championship banner, and the company’s Facebook page shows its activities at a recent university career fair.

Mary Duggan, Amanda Maher and Alex Rodriguez contributed to this article.

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