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Another Path to a Billion

Another year, another list of billionaires. But their wealth-making secret hasn't changed. Entrepreneurship remains the surest path to riches.

Oh, to be an owner
Especially now. Of all the changes to Forbes' list of the nation's 400 richest, most notable is the northward march of the Google twins. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are now tied for fifth, while the heirs to Sam Walton's fortune have fallen from the top 10.

Let's look, once again, at that top 10. How many entrepreneurs are there? Six! Microsoft's Bill Gates is first, Oracle's Larry Ellison is fourth, and Dell's Michael Dell is eighth. Real estate mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose fortune is comprised mostly of stock in Las Vegas Sands, remains third.

And there are many more business owners among the remaining 390. Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX  ) co-founder Peter Peterson ranks 165th with $2.5 billion. Tom Ward, who along with current CEO Aubrey McClendon founded Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) in 1989, is 220th with $2.1 billion. Danaher's (NYSE: DHR  ) founding brothers, Mitchell and Steven Rales, rank 117th ($3 billion) and 135th ($2.8 billion), respectively. And former presidential candidate, Dana Carvey favorite, and Electronic Data Systems (NYSE: EDS  ) and Perot Systems (NYSE: PER  ) chief H. Ross Perot is 76th with a $4.4 billion fortune.

Invest with owners
Feeling envious? I don't blame you. Wouldn't it be great if we were all billionaires, unencumbered by the need for money? Of course it would be. But that's not how the world works.

Still, I find it reassuring that, as rich as Gates is, the bulk of his wealth comes from staying invested in the company that brought him to the billionaires' ball. Why? Because anyone with a brokerage account could have enjoyed similar percentage gains.

In fact, many did. So great is the story of Microsoft's ability to generate wealth that it has a name -- the uprising of the so-called "Microsoft millionaires." At least hundreds of them must still exist. Consider this chart. A $1,000 investment in Mr. Softy at the dawn of 1990, four years after his debut on the Nasdaq, would be worth roughly $65,000 today.

Searching for the next Microsoft
That's why Motley Fool Hidden Gems co-advisors Tom Gardner and Bill Mann focus on the stocks of up-and-coming firms in which the managers own a significant stake. Some of their best performers still feature meaningful insider ownership.

Consider Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD  ) . Tom first recommended the stock to subscribers in July of 2004 and he's re-upped his pick twice since, all with market-crushing results. Yet Fools weren't the only ones to profit -- insiders still own more than 12% of the business.

So, don't envy the billionaire owners. Invest alongside them. They're the ones who really have the best chance to create the next Microsoft, and make you millions in the process. Want help identifying promising prospects? Click here to join Hidden Gems free for 30 days.

This article was originally published on Oct. 12, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Buffalo Wild Wings and Oracle at the time of publication. Dell is a Stock Advisor selection. Chesapeake Energy, Dell, and Microsoft are active picks for Inside Value. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy always takes ownership.

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