Leah Brown, founder of A10 Clinical Solutions, explains that she started the business as part of the grieving process when she lost a very close relative to HIV. She is neither a medical doctor nor a clinician; in fact she is an attorney by training.
A10 Clinical Solutions was incorporated in 2004 and has been up and running since 2005. They are hired by pharmaceutical companies to go to sites carrying out research studies on new drugs and monitor them. Their job is to be sure that everyone is following the protocol. In addition, they monitor and track adverse events such as side effects; and they monitor to be sure the drug is doing the job it is believed to be doing.
It’s not easy to start up a small company, Brown explains. Her first year was nerve wracking. She was in a transition from her job at a consulting firm to the head of a company focusing on clinical trials. She did not have the kind of business or personal advisers she has now; the kind of adviser she tries to be with other new companies starting up their business. Her big break did not come until the business had been up and running for two years. With a lot of effort they pushed and got a break with a small project that no one else wanted.
A10 Clinical Solutions has appeared on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing companies for two years running. Brown credits the success of her company in accomplishing this and maintaining the level of growth in these words: “I believe our success is because of the passion behind the company.” She further explains, “We hire not necessarily on skill level but on heart level, meaning that if your heart is into it you can always teach a skill. We look for very special people with entrepreneurial spirit but who really love the science, who really love the outcome of good health care.”
In addition, Brown explains, as a company run by an African-American woman, they had to “jump over more hoops” than some other companies to be recognized. But once they showed their competency and abilities, their company stood out from others and was recognized.
One of the methods that A10 uses to bring everyone into the collaborative process of improving the running of the company is what Brown refers to as “superthinking.” This is a brainstorming session with no ideas barred, no obstacles and no walls. Everyone is asked to come up with ideas on how to make their job run better. She explains, “We have implemented so many ideas using this process”.
Brown often speaks to groups and is happy to offer advice she has learned through experience.
In talking with women entrepreneurs, she tells them: “Remember that we women don’t have the luxury of having housewives.” Women have all the responsibilities of the family and the household in addition to their responsibilities running their business. And in particular, studies have shown that women of color are often over committed. Not only are they leading their business venture and taking care of the home and family, but they are likely to be leaders in their Church committees and have other civic responsibilities.
Brown has this advice for women starting a business: “pretend your business is a newborn baby.” Be hyper-protective of it, focus all your attention on it, get yourself the best advisers and the best help and products to make it grow and strengthen. And if you find yourself surrounded by nay-sayers, critics or people who are giving you bad advice, let them go. You have to rely on your gut instincts.
When asked about her personal methods of keeping up her strength and commitment, Brown explains that people should work to their own schedules. If the family is not right, then don’t come in to work that day. If you are stressed or tired, you are not able to be very productive. Lie down and take a short nap, you will be refreshed and more able to meet the challenges of your job. In the company offices there are “napping couches” scattered throughout, and Brown encourages her staff to use them.
On a personal level Brown enjoys refereeing youth basketball games. Not only does she get exercise running up and down the court but for a period of time she has to focus closely on the game and can’t think about anything else that may be worrying her. She explains that the next day her mind is refreshed and she is ready to meet the challenges that face her.
For the future, Brown says that we can expect to see A10 build a new and even better business model. She predicts the company will become international, since the pharmaceutical companies who are their clients are international in scope. A10 will face new challenges that will make them a better company. They will continue to run in a financially responsible manner and will have more technology in their functioning.