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Making Sense of the Inc 5000

An in-depth analysis of the Inc 5000 companies listed in 2019.

4 Minute Read

Every year, Inc. releases its popular list of the fastest-growing, privately-held companies. The list started as the Inc. 100 back in 1979, but has grown to more than 5k listings in recent decades.

When companies are featured on “the 5000,” they often see sales spike and press mentions pick up, but what does the list mean for the rest of us? We decided to find out.

We broke down all 5,000 rows of data to discover what cloth these companies were cut from. Our analysis allows you to pick your own adventure: filter the data based on your own needs, or glean insight from the learnings we’ve laid out

Here’s what we found:

15 in a Million

Making it onto the Inc. 5000 isn’t easy. Do the math and you’ll find that there are only a mere 15 companies that make the cut per million people in the United States.

We wanted to know specifically where this innovation was coming from. While you likely won’t be surprised to know that California had the greatest number of companies on the list, it might surprise you that, on a per capita basis, Utah, Virginia, and Colorado emerge as the most innovative states.

Similarly, an unlikely group of innovative cities emerged: Atlanta, Clearwater, and Richmond top the list, while Alpharetta, Mclean, and Boca Raton stand out across cities with less than 100k population.

You Like Growth? We Like Growth

Although Business Products, Advertising, and Software had the greatest presence across the list, it was the categories Software, Health, and Consumer Products that had the strongest presence among the top 100 highest-growth companies. This set of 100 all grew more than 3,000% in the last three years.

The fastest-growing industry…

As we took a deeper dive into the top 100, we noticed a trend. Many of these extremely high-growth companies fell into the specialty food sector. We kept digging and compiled over a dozen of these in our analysis, but here’s a glimpse into a few topping the list.

Specialty Food CompanySpecialtyInc. 5000 Ranking3-Year Growth
Cece’s Veggie Co.Organic vegetable meal add-ons323,880%
NutpodsPlant-based creamer1311,623%
Skinny DippedThinly dipped chocolate-covered almonds326,642%
ChompsHealthier versions of popular snacks (ex: grass-fed meat sticks)624,469%
4th & HeartGrass-fed ghee butter products704,283%
Sweet Loren’sCookie dough with “clean ingredients”1143,026%

30+ Signals

Inspired by the list of companies on the Inc. 5000––specialty food or not––we pulled out 34 Signals to watch, like vegan ice cream, real estate technology, and non-dairy creamer. This tab in the database allows you to easily toggle through each of these signals, both branded and non-branded, to visualize how they’re trending over time. 

Repeat Winners

106 companies made the list not once or twice, but a whopping 10+ times. The exponential nature of the distribution of instances reinforces the difficulty to continuously land a spot.

The data from these 100+ battle-tested companies shows that sometimes, slow and steady wins, with many of them growing consistently between 100 and 200% annually, even through the last recession.

$1B+ Companies

It’s an amazing feat to make it to $1B as a private company. It’s an even greater feat to do so and still be growing at a pace where you’re hanging out on the Inc. 5000. 10 companies were able to do exactly this, including Allied Universal, Epiq, and Fortis Construction. These companies have been able to hold their spot on the list almost every year since they first appeared and we mapped out their rankings over time. 

Making the Future 5000

Not everyone made the Inc. 5000 this year, but we can all learn from it. Perhaps you’ll use this analysis to justify buying real estate in one of the most innovative cities or invest in a specialty food company. Maybe you’ll build your own company off of the 30+ signals identified or dig further into the list to find your own. With Inc. promising to deliver this data yearly, we hope that our analysis teases out tangible trends, so that you can take action and find yourself on the list in coming years.


PS: We love data. Sometimes we produce it and sometimes we take what’s out there and parse out the important trends. If you have a dataset or source that screams “Trends”––send it our way to [email protected] and we just might analyze it for a future issue.

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