Founded in 1994 by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City is a nonprofit research and strategy organization and the leading authority on U.S. inner city economies and the businesses that thrive there. For the 2012 list, ICIC solicited more than 2,000 qualified nominations out of hundreds of thousands of small businesses using its database and the support of its nominating partners.

Over the past 14 years, the Boston-based Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) has collected 100 urban business success stories every year. These fast-growing inner city companies represent some of the most dynamic small businesses in the country, with winners hailing from 46 cities, rendering an image of the challenges that small operations face nationwide.

"This is a list of incredibly fast-growing companies, representing a diversity of industries … who have used every tool at their disposal to attract, retain, and grow a very committed workforce and who are giving back to their communities in many ways," says Mary Kay Leonard, president and CEO of the ICIC. Companies that made this year's list are clearly bucking the small business economy's downward trend. This is the fourth consecutive year NFF has received the Inner City 100 award.