Introduction

Introduction
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They may not be dressed to the nines and striding down the red carpet on Oscar night, but these 10 entrepreneurs deserve some recognition. From starting a business in college to recovering from a drug addiction, they've done some amazing things. So, with no further ado, here are our 10 Oscar-worthy entrepreneur performances …

Best startup founded by college students

Best startup founded by college students
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Most college students get a part-time job at a pizza place or the college book store. These two decided to launch a new company that just may change the way the world gets its oil and gas.

Equitable Origin, a startup founded by David Poritz, 23, who serves as founder and president, and Christian Seale, 24, its chief operating officer, has created an innovative certification program designed to promote higher social and environmental standards, greater transparency, and more accountability in oil and gas exploration and production.

Poritz is running the company while finishing his senior year at Brown and next year will be a Rhodes Scholar. Seale, a Brown grad, has delayed his admission to Harvard Business School to help Seale run the company.

Best unexpected career switch

Best unexpected career switch
Women's shoe designer Anyi Lu started her career as a chemical engineer working at Chevron and DuPont. The idea for her company came to Anyi while attending her sister's wedding in 2005.

"Why can't there be a pair of shoes for women that are both beautiful and comfortable?" Lu wondered. She set to work solving the problem using her engineering background to design a line of couture comfort shoes.

She launched her line, ANYI LU International, in 2005. Her collection is now sold in Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and 150 other fine retailers. Lu has designed 12 collections and is still responsible for the design and manufacturing of the footwear from early stages to completion. The company, which had $5 million in sales in 2008, is expecting to reach $12 million in sales this year.

Best life turnaround

Best life turnaround
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Alesandra Rain, founder of Point of Return, a nonprofit in-home program for dependence on sleeping pills, anxiety medications and antidepressants, started her company after becoming addicted herself.

"There is nothing like personal experience to drive a commitment. I've had 34 surgeries, with 14 on my spine. I was permanently disabled and placed on a multitude of medications to treat my pain, insomnia, anxiety and subsequent depression," she said. "One day I woke and actually saw what I had become. I had gone from a successful international businesswoman to one that was afraid to leave her home. I wanted more."

She eventually kicked the habit and invested $500,000 to initially develop her program.

"We did not show a profit for the first four years and it was seven years before either myself or the other co-founder took a salary," she said.

It was worth the sacrifice, though, she said.

"You must love your work and have a devotion that goes beyond money. For a nonprofit this is especially true, and although the money is not what the private sector can yield, our rewards are the lives that are changed from our efforts," Rain said.

Best use of $10 as startup money

Best use of $10 as startup money
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Becky Blanton, whose company, RSBPublishing, does copy writing, ghost writing, e-books, graphics and speech writing, started her company with $10. That's what it cost her to join elance.com, the freelance website.

She was fired while home on medical leave from her job as a photojournalist and journalist for a major newspaper chain.

"I started getting jobs within two weeks and was able to make enough to cover my living expenses (rent, utilities and groceries) the first month after that," she said. "I had to take my laptop to the library because I didn't have Internet at home. That was my 'commute,' down the block to the college. It took about a year to generate enough income to cover expenses, taxes and anything over that. There were definitely lean months!"

She said her business is getting better every day.

Best use of a 401(k) to start a business

Best use of a 401(k) to start a business
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Alan Wetsell and his wife, Ann, owners of an Anytime Fitness franchise in upstate New York, cashed in both of their 401(k) retirement plans and invested the $200,000 in starting a business.

"Both my wife and I were downsized from our careers," said Wetsell, who said they decided to take a chance because the economy had shrunk their 401(k), making it unlikely they would be able to officially retire on it, anyway.

Now, with their business estimated to be worth $750,000 to $1 million, they plan to sell the business in a few years and use the proceeds for their retirement.

Best entrepreneurial use of a retirement

Best entrepreneurial use of a retirement
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David Horn, a former head of global private client marketing at Morgan Stanley, had been retired for five years when he decided to get back to work by starting a new online daily deal company for women.

His company, CoupTessa, harnesses the power of social media to achieve group- buying targets, encouraging customers to share their deal preferences on Facebook, Twitter and email. Since merchants often limit the number of participants due to the significant discounts they offer, CoupTessa customers must act quickly to take advantage of the deal.

Horn said that starting a business after retirement is just part of who he is.

"When you have spent a career building businesses, you are never complete again unless you are building something ... all the time," Horn said. "That is, in essence, the good thing, and perhaps the bad thing, about being an entrepreneur. You see opportunities everywhere you turn."

Best recovery from a tragedy

Best recovery from a tragedy
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Most startups aren't inspired by tragedy, but that was the case for Laura Wellington. She started her company after her husband died.

"At 35 years old, I lost my husband to cancer after a three-year fight," said Wellington, owner of The Giddy Gander Company, which created the television show "The Wumblers" and is currently being acquired by Next One Interactive Inc.

"Left with four very young children to raise and two ailing businesses to turn around (fearing the loss of my family's income on the back of the loss of their father), I became highly aware of the pain other families were coping with in the loss of their own loved ones during 9/11 just months earlier. Wanting to help other children and families cope and move on just as I wanted to help my own, I launched 'The Wumblers.'"

The hardest part, Wellington said, was not letting the business completely consume her.

"It is difficult not to spend too much time on business, which eats into family time and other activities," she said.

Best entrepreneurial inspiration from a personal experience

Best entrepreneurial inspiration from a personal experience
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"Our own personal experiences with caring for family members who have had various health issues helped point the way for us to this career change as we were looking to begin another business as well, said Randy and Debi Kyle, owners of a ComForcare Senior Services franchise, which provides nonmedical in-home care for people of all ages.

The hardest part, they said, was trying to find a franchise that was a good fit for them.

After operating their own sporting goods store for 20 years, they decided they wanted the support of a franchise for this venture.

"The initial investment has been well worth it. After having started our previous business from scratch, it has been refreshing to have someone else's expertise to lean on. "

Best recovery from a corporate career

Best recovery from a corporate career
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Steve Menth, owner of Menth Enterprises LLC, which operates Maaco and Meineke franchises, said he worked for 37 years at a Fortune 500 company before setting out to start his own business. After nearly four decades, he'd had enough.

I wanted to do something completely new," he said. "I also wanted to run a company that was not dependent on outsourced foreign cheap labor. I wanted something that had to be done with U.S. employees."

The hardest part, he said, was learning to do everything himself. He had to learn how to apply for licenses, get permits, set up the employee payroll, lay out the financial programs for tracking all the expenses, and more.

Even though his franchises have been open less than a year, Menth says they are already profitable and going strong.

Best relocation to open a business

 Best relocation to open a business
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"I had a very successful 25-year career in the health insurance industry as a Fortune 50 marketing and product development executive and as owner of a health-care consulting firm," said Andy Grim, owner of Home Care Assistance of Central Virginia, which provides 24-hour in-home assisted-living services.

"We were living in Indiana at the time, [but] we made the decision to start the franchise. For both personal and business opportunity reasons we decided to move to Virginia to start the new business. Making this move with my wife and three children, starting a new business, in a new industry, in a new market location, created some very unique challenges."