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The Geek Goddess: Audrey Rice, AR & Associates

When Rice sold her software company, Integrated Business Solutions, in 2000, it was worth more than $12 million. The mother of three continues to run her own consulting firm, AR & Associates.

Aiming high: "In sixth grade, our teacher gave us an aptitude test. She came to me and said, 'It looks like you could be a telephone operator.' I told my mother, and she said, 'Maybe you should think about being president of the telephone company.'"

Mother knows best: "When I was in high school, there was discrimination, and there were no jobs we could just go into, like McDonald's or Burger King. So I got a gray uniform with a white collar and I cleaned toilets. My mother told me, 'Whatever your job is, do the best job. If you're cleaning toilets, they have to sparkle.'"

An eye for opportunity: "I was working for the government in minority business development when I realized that soon there would be a personal computer on every desk. I decided to start a full-service computer systems agency, developing software and providing hardware for both government and private companies."

When the going gets tough: "Starting Integrated was hard as hell! I was a woman in a man's world, and an African-American woman, so you've got to prove you are reasonably intelligent before anything happens—and then they want to see who owns the business, because you couldn't really own it. It was like a hit in the face. But having to prove your capabilities makes you stronger."

Secret weapon: "I surrounded myself with top-of-the-line talent, some of the most astute people in technology. Their skills were passed on to our customers. Great service was the formula for our success."