How one small business found its niche and doubled in size

5AM's focus on health IT made its business bloom

Nearly doubling your revenue in one year is remarkable in itself. That 5 AM Solutions Inc. did it in an uncertain economy and with less government contracting dollars is one of the reasons the Reston, Va.-based company holds the No. 41 spot on this year’s Washington Technology Fast 50 list.

Between 2009 and 2010, 5 AM’s revenue rocketed from $7.2 million to $13.9 million, and its compounded annual growth rate over the past five years is 140.29 percent.

“We bring some really unique talent to the field where there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Brent Gendleman, president and CEO of 5 AM. The company develops software for life science and health professionals, and health information technology is a burgeoning field.

“I think our brand of transparent process and high-quality folks and team players has some resonance,” he added. “There’s just a huge opportunity for our government clients to take advantage.”

Good workers are great, but only if there’s work for them to do. Contract wins that put the company in the thick of two of the country’s biggest health IT initiatives have ensured that the 5 AM team stays busy. Since July 2006, the company has been handling software engineering for the National Cancer Institute’s caArray open-source Web-based array data management system, under a $9.25 million contract. The system helps translational cancer research by acquiring, disseminating and aggregating information that can be shared via the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid.

In April, 5AM won a $5.1 million contract to provide software engineering for the National Health Information Network’s CONNECT open-source software, which enables secure electronic health data exchange among health care providers, insurers, government agencies and consumer services.

With those customers and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of the Surgeon General established, Gendleman said he is setting his sights on the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

“We are hopeful that some of the things that we have learned at the other agencies can be applied there to a very important and direct population that we would love to get engaged with directly,” he said of VA.

Some of those lessons include being transparent to establish trust. “That trust is between not just two individuals but between the company and the client that they’re serving. There’s a partnership – and it really is a partnership – that they’re trying to achieve,” Gendleman said.

Knowing when to quit is also crucial. “You want to fail as quickly as possible,” he added. “The longer you wait, the more expensive it gets and who wants that? Nobody. It’s not everybody’s instinct but failing as fast as possible is absolutely the most important thing to do. When you’re talking about medicine, you want to know if something’s not working now so you can try something different and don’t hurt someone. On the science side, it’s the same thing.”

Besides adding to its workload, 5 AM plans to add to its employee roster. The company, which has lost only three workers in the past four years, started with two employees in 2003, now has 48 and aims for 70 employees by next summer. Most of the hires will be in the engineering department.

Going forward, federal budget concerns will be the company’s main challenge, Gendleman said.

“People are very reluctant to say ‘Let’s do this initiative or that initiative’ when they don’t know if they’re going to get the funding or not,” he said.
But even that could be an opportunity, Gendleman added. “Sometimes the cuts really do allow for people to take a breath and reevaluate and reprioritize, and sometimes you’re in the plus part of that.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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