Growth can be deceiving. Too often, we gape at companies with outsized top-lines or great marketing or tons of venture-capital funding and believe these are the best in breed for companies.

But that kind of thinking is archaic with the access to data we have nowadays. Looking at growth rates absent a range of other factors is too simplistic and doesn’t reflect the reality in our marketplace. High growth doesn’t automatically equate to success. Fast companies crash. Hot companies burn out. It takes more than a single data point to figure out what makes a strong – and, more importantly, sustainable -- entrepreneurial company.

That’s why we developed the Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index, the most comprehensive analysis ever attempted on private companies in America. No other list, no other analysis has been able to really understand the world of private enterprises.

The results have been profound.

With the help of Gary Kunkel, senior research fellow at the Business Dynamics Research Consortium at the University of Wisconsin, our researchers and editors looked at roughly 10,000 companies that showed growth -- not just in top and bottom line, specifically in employment growth. That gave us great insight into companies that exemplify sustained growth, the Holy Grail of what American enterprises want to achieve.

Many media organizations would have stopped there, but we took it a step further. We invited hundreds of companies to submit to an analysis where we asked the entrepreneurs who founded or managed the business pointed questions about market sector, sales territory, target growth rates, expansion planning, business processes, culture and other company functions. These companies had to be based in the U.S., had to be privately owned, be focused on profits, and have at least three years within a five-year period where they added employees. We defy you to find a more complete, 360-degree look at entrepreneurial companies in this country. We honored the hard work and commitment to innovation shown by these companies with the most intensive and innovative evaluation of successful entrepreneurship ever undertaken. In the end, we determined what we believe are the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America.

There is so much to learn from our effort. Key among our findings was the discovery that America’s most entrepreneurial companies fall into six broad categories:

Best Practicers

These are the kinds of companies that execute on everything you read about in management textbooks, from meeting aggressive growth targets to taking appropriate risk to attracting the best employees. They would be voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school. Their competitors are jealous of their good looks.

Data Champions

These companies know their numbers. Not only do they rely on performance metrics, they share data across their organizations, getting buy-in from employees. They not only collect data. They learn from it.

Controllers

Think of these as the organizations that manage their environment. They have close relationships with their suppliers and customers. They know what their customers want before their customers even ask.

Classics

Classics don’t stand out, except when it comes to consistently strong performance. These are the kinds of organizations that put a premium on the art of selling. Competitors may be lulled into a sense of complacency – until they lose customers to these companies’ superior salesforces.

Forward Thinkers

When it comes to applying new technology or innovative processes, these companies shine. The aggressiveness in how they approach management carries over in how lofty their growth targets are. Forward Thinkers will always try something new.

Contrarians

Some companies just don’t follow rules. Contrarians march to their own beat, often actively ignoring what we might consider best practices in management. They don’t care what you think.

Notice something? Successful companies have different paths to success. For all the buzz around words like “disruption,” many companies grow sustainably with basic blocking and tackling. For all the MBA programs that teach executives how to maximize their productivity or foster their employees, some companies succeed with practices that would make management professors wince.

You’ll also notice that most of the companies we’re highlighting in the Entrepreneur360 Performance Index aren’t household names. It’s tempting to build lists teeming with the names of whatever the hot company du jour is. We’ve never been into fads here. We aren’t about to start now. Instead, what we’re highlighting are the companies that represent the individual strands in the fabric of American business. They are in a wide range of industries. They vary in size. They differ in age. These companies operate in all geographies across our nation. They are rich in diversity.

Yet, these companies have much in common. They justly can be called the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America because each one was founded on the principle that individuals could identify problems in the world, come up with a solution no one else ever dared and build an enterprise around it. These organizations aren’t the product of idle thinkers who talk of what others should do, nor the mindless workers who punch clocks in their 9-to-5 days. No, these companies are the offspring of entrepreneurs who melded dreaming with doing, who took risks, who dared to challenge convention. And, most envious of all, they have found a way to enjoy sustainable growth.

This is our American entrepreneurial experience and we celebrate it unreservedly. And, now, we are closer to being able to quantify what makes them so successful and share those practices with other aspirants looking to join the ranks of our country’s entrepreneurial elite.