Just a decade ago, Ryan Vesler was selling vintage clothing on eBay from his parents' basement. He used that income and his credit cards to launch Homage.

Just a decade ago, Ryan Vesler was selling vintage clothing on eBay from his parents' basement. He used that income and his credit cards to launch Homage.

"At the beginning, I was putting shirts on credit cards, shipping them, sending invoices to stores," says Vesler. "There was an attitude of 'How can we do more with less?' We had to be nimble and creative without putting too much into marketing."

Today, the apparel company is on a steady growth track. From college campuses to corporate happy hours, men and women of all ages wear Homage's vintage sports and pop-culture gear. Homage has four, soon to be six, stores in prime shopping districts. Originally an online-only retailer, Homage maintains a thriving e-commerce business.

The young company's captured a market that larger apparel brands hunger for.

One such Columbus-based brand, Express, invested $10 million to buy a minority stake in Homage in August. The partnership with the Fortune 1000 retailer will fund Homage's expansion.

"Capital and access to resources has always been a challenge," says Vesler. "With the Express investment, we have some runway and opportunities now that we didn't have previously," Vessler adds.

The Express partnership is already "adding gasoline to the fire" of Homage's organic success. The investment signals Express's willingness to innovate and will be a model for other brands, he believes.

"Investing in a smaller brand shows a lot of forward thinking on the part of the Express board and leadership team," Vesler says.

Vesler is himself a forward-thinker whose life has revolved around his work for the past ten years.

"Big growth can be scary if it's not managed correctly," says Vesler. He managed to grow his company during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; he hasn't laid off a soul.

How has Homage continued to grow through market challenges that have leveled other retailers? "One of the benefits of being small is you're immune to those kinds of things. I think as we grow they will be more of a factor."

Vesler and his executive team are turning their focus to preempting the declining revenues that have hit retailers hard in the age of Amazon.

"I think as the nature of brick-and-mortar changes, we need to pay attention to the store of the future," says Vesler. Over the next five years, he anticipates a singular organizational challenge:"How does Homage find a place in front of the consumer?"

Homage may have the outward appearance of a startup venture, but the culture Vesler has established through leadership is more down-to-earth SME than trendy startup.

"For us, it's important to be grounded and humble because we have so much more to do," he says. Vesler spends his days in the production shop, not out pitching VCs. He's not focused on selling to a retail giant or on landing an IPO. He's focused on sustainably growing his "baby."

"I have an intense emotional attachment to Homage. Looking out over the office and seeing all the new faces here-people looking to me for guidance or the next great idea. It can be stressful at times," says Vesler.

Since his first T-shirt sale, Vesler has been buried in every operational detail at Homage, but its growth required that he take take a higher-level view of his role within the company, which has been his biggest challenge. The Express investment prompted Homage to put together a board of directors. Vesler's learned to work with that board and to empower employees to make decisions on his behalf.

"What it means for me in this organization-compared to being a creative in my parents' basement-are two different things," he says. "People can give you advice and you can read business books, but you really don't get it until you feel it on your own."

His chief inspiration is another Columbus retailer who built his company into a legacy brand. Les Wexner is the reason the city is fertile ground for a small retail company like Homage, Vesler says.

"He's incredibly innovative and always evolving. There's a spirit of curiosity that's in the water here that stems from him," says Vesler. "That has inspired me."

Does Homage have the genetic makeup to grow into the next L Brands? "We'll see how I continue to evolve as a leader," says Vesler.

Kitty McConnell French is a freelance writer.

Finalist: Darla King, owner & president, King Business Interiors, Inc.

Darla King has been in the contract office furniture business for more than 30 years and has been running her own company since forming King Business Interiors, Inc. with husband Dave King in 1998. The years since have seen the commercial furnishing, floorings and design company grow from a five-person team to a 65-employee business today (including the couple's two adult children).

In addition to serving its customers, King Business Interiors supports those in need-and diverts waste from landfills-with Connecting the Dots, a program King established that collects reusable pre-owned furniture from clients purchasing new furnishings and distributes it to local organizations and nonprofits. King also donates labor and trucks to the Worthington Food Bank, and, for the last 13 years, has hosted Create for a Cause. This annual private event has raised over $75,000 for local nonprofits.

A member of the Columbus Chamber Small Business Council since 2013, King is on the Columbus Chamber Board of Directors, and has served on boards for Recreation Unlimited, COSI and City Year Columbus. A member of the Women Presidents' Organization, King is past president of the National Association of Women Business Owners Boardand was recognized with a Visionary Award from NAWBO in 2013.

Finalist: Catherine Lang-Cline, president & co-founder, Portfolio Creative

After years of working as a freelance and full-time graphic artist, Catherine Lang-Cline founded Portfolio Creative with Kristen Harris in 2005 with a goal of helping match talented professionals with employers at corporations, retailers and large creative agencies. Eleven years later, the firm, with locations in Columbus and Pittsburgh, has helped more than 4,000 people secure temporary, temp-to-hire or direct hire jobs in the creative industry.

Clients in need of staffing solutions can find speedy service-Portfolio Creative says it can sometimes make a placement in only hours. On the flip side, talent working with Portfolio Creative are considered its benefit-eligible W2 employees and, in addition to weekly pay, can be eligible for health, dental and vision insurance, paid time off, tuition reimbursements and more.

Lang-Cline is on the board of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and ischair of its Small Business Council, president-elect of the National Association of Women Business Owners Columbus Chapter board, on the board of trustees for the Greater Columbus Arts Council and a member of the American Staffing Association.

Finalist: Caroline Worley, owner, Worley Law, LLC

Caroline Worley's five-person law firm is committed to helping entrepreneurs, owners, human resources professionals and employers navigate the challenges of business. Beyond attorney-client relationships, Worley Law hosts popular monthly HR Lunch & Learn sessions and quarterly workshops that typically draw a crowd of 70-90.

Worley, whose interest in business began as a teen working in her family's hardware stores, realized her dream of ownership when she started Worley Law in 2009. She also co-founded the Women's Small Business Accelerator in 2012. The nonprofit, for which Worley also serves as a board member, provides office space, mentoring and training to women-owned businesses. Worley also is on the boards of the Columbus and Westerville chambers of commerce and is a past president of the Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Worley Law has more than 800 clients in different areas and this year was named Best Law Firm (fewer than 50 employees) byColumbus CEO readers.