The Right Remedy

Entrepreneur's success is a matter of life and death

Leah Brown is helping to save lives. When pharma-ceutical companies want to conduct clinical trials to see if specific drugs or treatments will relieve certain symptoms, her company, Aten Solutions Inc., finds the staff to make it happen. “Our mission is to specialize in therapeutics that fight diseases that have the highest impact in communities with healthcare disparities,” says Brown.

Launched in 2004, the Cary, North Carolina-based company, often referred to as A10, is off to a good start. In 2007, it surpassed the $3 million mark, earning between $25,000 and $1 million per clinical trial, depending on the scope of the project. A10′s role sometimes consists of hiring one person to go to a physician’s office to make sure he or she is following the protocol for a clinical trial, or finding as many as 15 people to collect data from patients. The significance of A10′s role is not lost on Brown. “If I’m selling office supplies and I miss the delivery, then the delivery is missed,” she says. “But when you’re in clinical trials and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, patients can be harmed.”

With so much at stake, Brown had to convince pharmaceutical companies that A10 could do the job. “The field is extremely competitive,” she says. “It’s inundated with very large clinical research organizations.” To counter this, Brown positioned herself to meet pharmaceutical executives by sitting on committees and volunteering to work at trade shows. Through the National Minority Supplier Development Council, an organization that links minority-owned businesses with corporate America, she met with executives at Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson, all of which later became clients.

To counter this, Brown had to go through several layers of management to reach key decision makers, but in 18 months she was getting contracts with these companies. “You’ve got to show up at meetings and network, and they keep seeing you come back and they say, ‘OK, she’s not going away,’” Brown says. “Once you get the trust of those representatives they’ll introduce you to the right people. Then you go in and pitch to them.”

Brown expects 2008 to be a banner year for the company, which employs 11 in the corporate office, and contracts out to about 40 staffers to handle the various clinical trials. She projects that revenues will reach $5 million partly because in October 2007, A10 won the Make Mine a Million $ Business (www.makemineamillion.org) competition. A program designed to help women-owned companies grow. Sponsored by microloan provider Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence and OPEN from American Express, prizes include up to $50,000 in financing, and $20,000 in consulting and coaching services.

With the global pharmaceutical market growing 7% to $643 billion in 2006, according to the Norwalk, Connecticut-based market research firm IMS Health, Brown is optimistic about her goal of reaching $10 million in revenues by 2010. But more importantly, she hopes to help save lives in the black community. “Black women-especially in Africa-are dying of AIDS each day,” she says.

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