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Growing Breakthrough: The Birth of a Business

By: Monique Muldrow, Senior Marketing Director

Being in the right place at the right time makes for business opportunities.

But creating your right place and knowing that it’s your right time – that’s what can launch and grow a business, as it did for Breakthrough Technologies.

For Doug Wilson, Randy Knapp and Jonathan Monroe, founding partners of Breakthrough Technologies, that time was 1998 and the place, Abbott Laboratories. The three were senior software engineers working in Abbott’s diagnostic division and about to launch the company’s Architect Diagnostic Platform –a massive, multi-year project the three had worked on nearly from the start.

“That product has achieved billions in sales over the course of its lifetime,” says Wilson. “It was a huge success for Abbott and really, it was as good as it was going to get for a software engineer there.

“We had a choice. We could either hang around and support that project for the next 15 years, or we could do something else.”

Spending a career devoted to three or four projects was hardly uncommon then, but 1998 was seeing a technology Renaissance.

“The Internet was exploding. Dot coms were hot. Literally everything was happening in technology, and happening over a course of months, not the course of a decade. And we wanted to be part of it,” says Wilson.

On the face of it, the time appeared ripe for three software engineers to set off on their own. But far more research into the shape of a fledging business was needed. Fortunately, they were in the right place to exploit learning opportunities. A valuable one came in the form of an outside consultant to the Abbott project.

“Back then, consultants were generally frowned upon (by companies) because they usually are former employees who make more money than they used to,” says Wilson. “The perception is, ‘Hey, they drive their fancy cars, they make 50 percent more than I do, and basically, they do the same job as me.’

“Staff often looks down on consultants and sometimes makes it their job to disparage them.”

However, one consultant was brought in to solve a very particular problem. He quoted them a fair price for three days work, completed it in a day-and-a-half, and billed for 12 hours.

“Then he was gone, and we said ‘Wow!’ This consulting could be an honorable profession if you do it right. You could have a bit of expertise, come into a company, deliver excellent services that are fair and reasonable, and leave that client better than you found them. And get paid for it.”

The three engineers reached out to this independent contractor. A lunch meeting revealed that he had a client in need of a software engineering team to build out their assessment platform.

“We decided to create a company and join this consultant,” says Wilson. “We didn’t know anything about business. We didn’t have a marketing plan or sales strategy or anything except, ‘Hey! This is a web-based, high stakes kind of product development opportunity. We have some basic technical skills to do it in terms of databases and Web and application development. So let’s take those skills and see what we can do here.’”

Next: Why the name Breakthrough fits.

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