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Stephanie Odegard, 56: President of Odegard Inc

How did you get into the rug business?
I'd been working with textiles all my life—when I was a child, my mother and my grandmother would teach me stitches. In 1976 I was in the Peace Corps in Fiji, and I came up with a project to develop traditional industries to produce items, including textiles, for a high-end customer.

Why did you launch your own company?
When I started to work with the carpet industry in Nepal, I realized you need a certain kind of sensitivity. Finally I thought, 'Not only could I do this myself, I have to do this myself, because they're just not getting it and I am.'

What's been the hardest thing?
Putting together the financial structure. It was the part I knew and cared the least about; no bank would help me. I developed my own alternative bank, borrowing small amounts from people who believed in me. I was able to pay them back in four years, and by that time I was bankable.