updated 10/20/2005 9:35:08 AM ET 2005-10-20T13:35:08

Surveying the landscape of the Inc. 500 is a little like reading a science-fiction novel. It’s populated with both the familiar and with strange new concepts you’ve never considered.

Eventually some of these companies will become household names, such as Inc. 500 alumni Microsoft and Oracle, but thus far most of the private companies that have grown the fastest since 2001 have been flying under the radar of the mainstream business press. Which is one reason you can expect to find some companies on the list that have business models that didn’t come from any textbook.

Ever thought of giving stuff away in exchange for signing people up for trials of other stuff? That’s how Gratis Internet (No. 18) took in $20.5 million last year. Got a great product but a not-so-great marketing plan or distribution system? Dynetech (No. 127) will supply both -- in exchange for half your profits. Intelliseek (No. 476) gets paid to measure buzz online, no doubt capturing some of the work of New Media Strategies (No. 154), which gets paid to create it. Thinking big but thinking you can think bigger? Maybe you need a session in the Rockies with Starizon (No. 226), where you can run your notions by Galileo, Jefferson, and Einstein. You get the idea.

Game on
The idea behind Video Gaming Technologies (No. 1) was hatched 26 years ago over a foosball table. Back then, Jon Yarbrough, now 48, was an engineering student at Tennessee Tech, fresh from an internship with NASA. When he moved out of a house he had been renting, he had nowhere to put his beloved foosball table, so he lent it to a local game parlor. Then he watched people line up to pay money to play with it.

"I was just amazed at how quickly it generated revenue," Yarbrough says. "The light went on right then." That light is still very much on. South Carolina-based VGT, which Yarbrough founded in 1991, makes touchscreen gaming machines and leases them to Indian casinos in Oklahoma. Last year the company had revenue of $99.8 million. Since getting its first machines into the casinos in 2001, it has had growth of 9,720.5 percent.

Yarbrough traces his success to two things: one, being first to the Oklahoma market with touchscreen gaming machines. And two, producing a slim cabinet that allows casinos to fit twice as many machines in the same space. Yarbrough says an average touchscreen machine generates roughly $50,000 in revenue a year, and a large Indian casino can hold as many as 2,000. "Video gaming is like a permit to print money," he chuckles.

Currently VGT has about 30 percent of the Oklahoma market, according to Yarbrough, but instead of looking to other states, he's looking abroad. Next for VGT are South America and China, which Yarbrough expects "will dwarf the American market." Coming from him, that's probably a tip worth checking out.

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