Making Their Mark

Athenahealth, Shore Publishing & Power Moves

Jonathan S. Bush, 36, & Todd Park, 32
Waltham, Massachusetts
Projected 2005 Sales:
$38 million
Description: Internet-based revenue-cycle management provider for the health-care industry

Wisdom and War: Athena is the goddess of wisdom and prudent warfare. Athenahealth brings both qualities to its internet-based billing and revenue-cycle software solutions for medical providers. Wisdom is a quality the founders have picked up over the varied life cycles of the company. According to Jonathan S. Bush, "The prudent warfare is using technology to get large, impersonal insurance companies to pay their claims properly."

A Business Is Born: In 1997, Athenahealth as it is today was just a gleam in the founders' eyes. Originally, Bush and Todd Park bought an OB-GYN clinic in San Diego county that they refer to as "the baby company." They both had backgrounds in health care and had met while working at strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "We believe the battle for health care will be won or lost in the doctor's office, so we wanted to be close to that," says Park. But they didn't expect the jungle of red tape that came with getting claims paid.

Growing Pains: Burned out and frustrated with the baby company's withering finances, they went looking for an internet-based billing solution to ease their woes. They couldn't find one, so they built one themselves--and discovered a larger truth. "Billing is killing and frustrating physician practices across the country," says Park. The founders realized they could do more good on a larger scale by making their technology available to physicians everywhere, and Athenahealth was born. Several rounds of VC funding got them growing.

Beyond Billing: "We believe passionately that we are on the same mission we were on when we started the baby company, which is to make health care work the way it should," says Park. That mission doesn't stop with billing. Athena-health is rolling out a major new project for 2006 that will bring the same process control to the clinical side, helping to keep track of lab orders, results and prescriptions.

Athenahealth is the dominant online revenue-cycle management company in an industry that remains highly fragmented. "After all this success, we have less than 1 percent market share," Bush says. That leaves a whole lot of room for Athenahealth to grow. --Amanda C. Kooser

Ryan Duques, 29, & James Warner, 29
Shore Publishing
Madison, Connecticut
Projected 2005 Sales:
$7.5 million
Description: Publisher of 16 community newspapers in Connecticut and Rhode Island

Class Act: Walking around the halls of their high school together, childhood friends Ryan Duques and James Warner knew they wanted to start a business. They'd already tried their hands at lawn care and tie-dye T-shirts, and in 1994, just as both turned 18, they started a publishing company to help businesses market to the local community. Eventually, they produced promotional fliers and even a local restaurant guide. While attending college, their deep ties in the community as well as Duques' experience at his college's newspaper led the two to set their sights on something bigger--a community newspaper. Says Duques, "The first edition went out in March 1996, and we fell in love with the newspaper publishing business."

Set It Free: The basic revenue model for Shore Publishing was to sell ads to local businesses and distribute the paper gratis to everyone in the community. But when Duques and Warner launched their second newspaper, they went the paid-subscription route. They quickly saw their mistake, as both advertisers and readers balked, and the company lost revenue. "We realized just how fragile things can rapidly become," says Duques. "You may feel that [your choice] is right, but if your customers aren't feeling the same way, you have to adapt." After re-evaluating the business model, they went back to what originally worked and re-launched the free paper.

Playing Nice With Others: Employee morale and passion are paramount to Warner and Duques. "We cultivate a corporate culture that is fun, creative, high-energy, aggressive and entrepreneurial," says Warner. The pair also entered into a partnership with New London, Connecticut-based Day Publishing, which took on an equity stake in the company in 2003, giving Shore myriad new resources, from IT support and better printing rates to capital and equipment.

Poignant Press: Covering 9/11 through the eyes of a local businessman who traveled to New York City to distribute flashlights was a particularly moving moment for Duques. He and Warner love the niche they've carved out with Shore's 16 titles and plan to expand into even more Connecticut and Rhode Island communities. --Nichole L. Torres

Shawn Prez, 34
Power Moves Inc.
New York City
Projected 2005 Sales:
$3 million
Description: Street promotion, marketing and event-planning company

Self-Promoter: As senior director of promotions for Bad Boy Entertainment, Shawn Prez promoted CD and record releases for Sean "Diddy" Combs' label. Impressed clients sought out Prez to handle additional work after the initial projects with Bad Boy were completed. In 2002, Prez felt it was time to start his own business. "I knew promotions inside and out and was at a point where I made more money on the side than with my salary," he says. Combs supported Prez's entrepreneurial endeavors and became Power Moves' first client--he hired the company to be the marketing force behind his "Vote or Die" election campaign. Says Prez, "That was really my proudest moment."

Testy Waters: Even with Combs as a client, startup wasn't totally smooth for Prez. Four months into business, a big client abruptly pulled out. "We lost a big chunk of our revenue, and it was sink or swim," Prez recalls. Rather than give up, he sat down with his staff and his accountant to strategically map out the next six months. Power Moves not only pulled through lean times, it flourished and has now served diverse clients ranging from those in the music industry to HBO to a labor union.

Street Smarts: Prez knows traditional advertising doesn't work with Generation X and younger groups. Power Moves instead targets lifestyle locations, such as barber-shops, bodegas and even street corners, to embed clients' products in consumers' minds using posters, CDs and more. The company's handpicked "street teams" consist of hip, trend-dictating urbanites between the ages of 18 and 27. They're paid to report on what's hot and what's not, covering 31 markets in the U.S. as well as Europe and Japan. Prez stresses that the urban consumer isn't confined to a particular color or race. Says Prez, "It's a mind-set, a lifestyle." --April Y. Pennington

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This article was originally published in the November 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Making Their Mark.

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