In WebPort Global’s search for women cross-border entrepreneurs, we discovered Dr. Kimberly Brown, owner of Amethyst Technologies, located near Baltimore, Maryland. Amethyst, founded in 2006, provides quality program development and comprehensive compliance services and products to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, healthcare, food and beverage industries, as well as to the federal government.
The company’s work includes providing technical assistance to fight Ebola, malaria, HIV, and other diseases. Amethyst Technologies has annual revenue of $2 million, and a long list of impressive clients, which include Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Coca-Cola, US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, and numerous biotechnology companies.
Amethyst Technologies’ core services include quality program development worldwide, custom quality management software, equipment calibration and validation, process optimization and validation, laboratory assessments and consulting services, and environmental monitoring system management. Brown’s team includes engineers, physicists, technical writers, social scientists, scientists, and management personnel. She said, “The diversity in our group allows us as a small business to provide a variety of targeted quality assurance and compliance services to our clients.”
In to Africa
“Our expertise has allowed us to provide support for different projects,” said Dr. Brown. “That support includes developing thousands of standard operating procedures for labs, training in Liberia and Tanzania, stakeholder engagement to develop a cancer center in East Africa, assessing laboratories in East and West Africa for malaria and HIV programs, validating software developed by the US Army laboratories for training and management of clinical studies, and developing software to decrease the incidents of Malaria in US and Africa militaries.”
She added, “We began by supporting Department of Defense laboratory programs in the US and Africa. Now we’re continuing to explore opportunities overseas with additional agencies, and also have diversified into the commercial sector. We love the work that we do here at Amethyst Technologies. We are helping our clients to improve laboratory programs and compliance.”
Brown was recently appointed as an advisor to the doing business in Africa initiative, sponsored by the Department of Commerce.
Brown has profited in more ways than one by teaming up with federal government agencies. Indeed, federal agencies provided the opening to the international marketplace by paying for her service markets that could not otherwise afford them. As is common in these situations, once in the market, you establish important local contacts and see for yourself the opportunities otherwise invisible to people looking from the outside. Brown did get a contract directly from the Zambia government, only because she had experience there and had developed her own connections. Because the business done there generates revenue from another country, the amount is counted towards the US trade balance and classified as a service export, in which the US a substantial trade balance surplus in contrast to goods, where the US has for decades run a substantial deficit—becoming a major political hot potato.
Piggybacking on Uncle Sam
Brown agrees that not enough businesspeople take advantage of government contracts in foreign countries. She found the competitive contracting process not as onerous as she first believed. Plus, federal agencies are often required to target a certain percentage of contracts to small businesses. The fact that Brown is an African-American woman provides an additional competitive advantage.
Though not funded by the Department of Commerce, whose programs provide market entry assistance to small businesses like Brown’s, she nevertheless learns from their experts and gets appointed to voluntary advisory positions which generate more knowledge, networking opportunities and other benefits.
In addition to her work with government agencies, she has started contacting big U.S. corporations that work overseas. Though she describes herself as shy, she makes a point of going up to people at conferences and trade shows and asking for advice. “Small companies need to do what the large ones are doing. Creating jobs here by doing work overseas is our model.”
Any barriers to doing so? Not so far. She says that in Tanzania documents need to be translated into Swahili and occasionally she engages an interpreter for that language. “Other than that, it has been a smooth transition,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest benefit from doing business in the world is an intangible one. “It’s great to be doing something that is very beneficial, very needed, and it will change lives. Small things can make a very large difference.”
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