A year loading circuit boards in a windowless Silicon Valley factory convinced Laura Ferrell, at 21, to enroll in a carpentry apprentice program. Ferrell later started two companies with partners, then broke out on her own. To "give back," she employs four apprentices, who help the team in its award-winning restoration work on historic homes. Typical projects top $500,000, although Woodenwings offers $3,500 annual maintenance contracts to key clients.

Ferrell's team has so figured in her success that when she retires in five years at 55, she plans to give them the company. "My company is great because of the people who work with me," she says. Because the team knows they'll be owners, they readily shoulder responsibilities and make decisions.