SCRATCH BENEATH THE SURFACE OF MOST SUCCESSFUL SMALL BUSINESSES AND YOU'LL DISCOVER AN ENTREPRENEUR WITH A PASSION TO BRING SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING DIFFERENT, SOMETHING EXCITING TO MARKET. BUT WHERE DO THEY GET THEIR MILLION-DOLLAR IDEAS? AND HOW DO THEY TURN THEM INTO A VIABLE BUSINESS? CHECK OUT THESE FOUR COMPANY FOUNDERS AND THE BUSINESSES THEY CREATED.
LIGHTING THE NIGHT Zelco Industries
Year founded 1976
Headquarters Mt. Vernon, NY
Start-up funds $80,000
1st year sales $300,000
Projected 2004 sales $15 million
Number of employees 40

Eureka Moment The rise of Zelco Industries bears some resemblance to a NASA shuttle liftoff. The first spark came in 1976 when Noel Zeller, prospecting for new ideas in the aisles of a hardware store, heard a woman complain that there weren't any decent-­looking flashlights that fit in her purse. That got Zeller and his wife, Adele, off and running with a line of small flashlights for women.

The Zellers continued to come up with, and introduce, more designs, but Zelco really took off in 1982 with a strangely named product Noel dreamed up in bed one night when he and his wife failed to see eye to eye. She wanted hers closed to go to sleep. He wanted his open to read in bed. To address what he figured to be a widespread nocturnal problem, he designed a tiny light that clipped onto a book and concentrated the light solely on the page. Adele named it the "itty bitty" Booklight. Noel thought that name might be too frivolous. Fortunately, Adele won out.

First Real Hit The "itty bitty" Booklight roared off the shelves in its maiden year, bringing in $1.5 million. Now available in six ­models, this flagship product continues to earn $1 million a year.