YOGA: STRETCHING AN EMPIRE

When the Internet boom came crashing down, high-tech entrepreneurs Rob Wrubel and George Lichter were left with bad backs from too much time on airplanes and in front of computers. To recuperate, the duo--who'd previously led the software company Knowledge Adventures and the search engine Ask Jeeves--turned to yoga. And while casting about for their next business venture, they bypassed ideas like water-purification technology and instead became the co-CEOs of Yoga Works. Their goal: to launch a national chain of high-quality yoga studios.

Since last year they've bought up established studios in Los Angeles, New York and Orange County, Calif.; they currently operate 14 locations and are working the kinks out before expanding nationally. They compare their business to Whole Foods Market, which brings healthy food to the masses while earning nice profits. Fifteen million Americans already practice yoga, according to Yoga Journal, and 20 million others intend to start. "It's not a fad," says venture capitalist Corey Mulloy of Highland Capital Partners, which is backing Yoga Works. If this start-up succeeds, its founders may invent a new pose to perform alongside the downward dog and the lotus: counting the coins.