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2013 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Carol Curran

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curran-1-1col.jpg Carol Curran (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Carol Curran was serious when she named her company. Like the mythological bird that rose from the ashes, her 2001 startup, Phoenix Data Corp., rose from what would have led a weaker-kneed entrepreneur to give up.

“I had just sold another company and I decided to start over and kick it up a couple of notches on the technology side,” said Curran, at the time a single mother with three children. “I approached a number of banks for a loan for payables to be able to hold us over until we got our first contract. Twenty-nine banks said ‘no.’”

Rather than give up, she doubled down.

“I cashed in my insurance,” she said. “I sold as much stock as was reasonable. I sized down. And the company was funded for the short term and we limped along.” Even after landing a 10-year state contract, the banks said no. Too risky.

Those negatives proved a blessing in disguise: “So I’ve never borrowed any money,” Curran said. “We’ve been totally self-sufficient. We fund our own bidding and payrolls and receivables.”

It taught her, by necessity, to be frugal. And smart. When Phoenix Data Corp. launched, Curran saw that the company’s future demanded securing business certifications to get access to government and military contracts. Seeing the potential in a process called particle swarm optimization, she sought out and hired the co-inventor of the process to be Phoenix’s chief technology officer.

So what is particle swarm optimization?

“I’ll use airplanes as examples,” Curran explained, patiently. “If you have planes heading in the same direction and the first set are the good guys and the second set are the bad guys, swarm intelligence searches for the bad guys in the air. It allows the flier to zone in on the bad planes and take them out in nanoseconds.”

There are non-military uses as well. “We worked on the logistics side for a big trucking company to help it load and stack in a much shorter time. We cut the time in half using swarm.”

Business boomed. For Phoenix, 2011 marked 16 new hires, a more-than-50-percent increase over the previous year. In 2012, the company added 21 more, with another 33 expected once 2013 is tabulated.

A presenter at the 2013 Indiana Governor’s Conference for Women, Curran is a member of the startup chapter of Women Presidents’ Organization and serves on the board of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. She’s on KeyBank’s advisory board and also serves on the National Association of Women Business Owners committee that, in January, will launch Young Entrepreneur’s Academy (YEA!), designed to take high school students through the process of starting a business over the course of an academic year.

The Phoenix environment, by her design, includes flexible hours for working mothers, a wellness club, and on-the-job training. Her employees select a charity to raise money for and Curran matches those funds.

“Honesty and integrity are two primary things that I feed on,” she said. “I’m very proud of our reputation. We keep a clean slate. We stay under the radar. And we do a hell of a job.”•
 

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  1. You are correct that Obamacare requires health insurance policies to include richer benefits and protects patients who get sick. That's what I was getting at when I wrote above, "That’s because Obamacare required insurers to take all customers, regardless of their health status, and also established a floor on how skimpy the benefits paid for by health plans could be." I think it's vital to know exactly how much the essential health benefits are costing over previous policies. Unless we know the cost of the law, we can't do a cost-benefit analysis. Taxes were raised in order to offset a 31% rise in health insurance premiums, an increase that paid for richer benefits. Are those richer benefits worth that much or not? That's the question we need to answer. This study at least gets us started on doing so.

  2. *5 employees per floor. Either way its ridiculous.

  3. Jim, thanks for always ready my stuff and providing thoughtful comments. I am sure that someone more familiar with research design and methods could take issue with Kowalski's study. I thought it was of considerable value, however, because so far we have been crediting Obamacare for all the gains in coverage and all price increases, neither of which is entirely fair. This is at least a rigorous attempt to sort things out. Maybe a quixotic attempt, but it's one of the first ones I've seen try to do it in a sophisticated way.

  4. In addition to rewriting history, the paper (or at least your summary of it) ignores that Obamacare policies now must provide "essential health benefits". Maybe Mr Wall has always been insured in a group plan but even group plans had holes you could drive a truck through, like the Colts defensive line last night. Individual plans were even worse. So, when you come up with a study that factors that in, let me know, otherwise the numbers are garbage.

  5. You guys are absolutely right: Cummins should build a massive 80-story high rise, and give each employee 5 floors. Or, I suppose they could always rent out the top floors if they wanted, since downtown office space is bursting at the seams (http://www.ibj.com/article?articleId=49481).

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