A skyline view of the innovation hub we know as Silicon Valley. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. 

Silicon Valley has been part of the tech lore for well over a half-century. From Gordon Moore and the rest of the "traitorous eight" that formed Fairchild Semiconductor, to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founding Apple in a garage, to Mark Zuckerberg leaving Harvard to grow Facebook, the Valley is home to some of the most remarkable stories in the history of business.

And it's still a major commerce center. Each year, Silicon Valley's various companies produce hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and tens of billions in profits. Apple and Facebook alone accounted for $212.3 billion in revenue and $47.4 billion in profit. 

A good portion of that is then funneled back into the community in the form of research and development and venture capital. The quarterly MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers put first-quarter 2015 VC investment in Silicon Valley at just over $6 billion, or 45% of the U.S. total. In Silicon Valley, chasing the next big thing is a way of life.

The best of the best
How do you single out the cream of such a rich crop? Easy: you take subjectivity out of the equation. The following three Silicon Valley businesses had the highest revenue growth last year. 

  1. Depomed (ASRT 4.33%). A sort-of junk dealer for the biotech industry in that the company acquires rights to approved treatments that go largely unused, and then markets the heck out of them. In 2014, that strategy pushed revenue up 191%. More recently, the company acquired narcotic pain reliever Nucynta for $1.05 billion. With the company's first-quarter product sales soaring 47% without the new drug's help, it's looking like 2015 will be just as good -- or even better -- than 2014.
  2. Pharmacyclics. Founded in 1991, the old biotech found new life in 2014 as revenue soared 180% year over year thanks to the popularity of its signature cancer treatment, Imbruvica. That attracted a suitor: AbbVie (ABBV -1.10%), which earlier this month completed its $21 billion purchase of the drugmaker.
  3. FireEye (MNDT). The cybersecurity supplier that specializes in "vector-specific" defense grew revenue 163% last year as dozens of companies suffered high-profile data breaches. Appliances for handling Web, email, files, and mobile devices, among other things, appear well positioned as corporate America prepares boosts its spending on network defense. Gartner expects total information security spending to grow 8.2% this year, to $76.9 billion.

Death and disease: the ultimate growth catalysts
If there's a pattern here it's that many of Silicon Valley's top performers operate outside the information technology industry. Four of last year's fastest growers specialize in some form of biotech. Surprised? I wouldn't be. The Valley has always been home to pioneering biotech researchers, including no-longer-independent Genentech.

Maybe that's as it should be. For all its peculiarities, the human body has survived hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. You might even call it the ultimate technology. Silicon Valley's would-be biotech barons are finding ways to tune it.