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Lofty ambitions set woman-owned firms on fast-growth path

Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran, chief executive of Ampcus in Chantilly, heads one of the fastest-growing woman-led businesses in the nation, according to a list published by the Women Presidents' Organization, a peer advisory organization for women entrepreneurs.
Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran, chief executive of Ampcus in Chantilly, heads one of the fastest-growing woman-led businesses in the nation, according to a list published by the Women Presidents' Organization, a peer advisory organization for women entrepreneurs. (Jeffrey MacMillan - For Washington Post)

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By Marjorie Censer
Monday, May 17, 2010

Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran was perfectly happy as a headhunter at a consulting firm. But she couldn't put out of her mind her plan to eventually open her own business.

So in 2004, Ramakumaran left her job, invested $10,000 of her own money and opened up her own technology consulting and engineering firm, Ampcus. Working out of her home, she began as a subcontractor to various consulting firms.

Today, she heads one of the fastest-growing woman-led businesses in the nation, according to a list published by the Women Presidents' Organization, a peer advisory organization for women entrepreneurs.

Ampcus posted $6.6 million in revenue in 2009 and hopes to be in the $10 million range this year, according to Ramakumaran. It splits its work between commercial clients such as Verizon and Experian and government work for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and the Defense Department, among other agencies.

The firm strategically looks for opportunities set aside for female- and minority-owned businesses and continues to forecast growth, Ramakumaran said. She'd like the business to post revenue of between $80 million and $100 million within four to five years.

Working toward that goal, Ampcus is responding to four to five requests for proposals every week, Ramakumaran said. In February, Ampcus moved to a larger office within its Chantilly building to ensure enough space for its corporate headquarters of just over a dozen employees.

"There's always a feeling that we need to do more," she said.

Ramakumaran started her career as a headhunter in India, focused on helping companies staff new operations in the country. The work didn't just mean finding employees; Ramakumaran assisted the companies with whatever they needed to get started, including information technology requirements.

In 2001, after marrying, she came to the United States and took a similar position at a Northern Virginia firm. But by 2004, Ramakumaran was antsy and eager to start her own business.

Though she launched Ampcus from home, she was able to rent a shared office in Reston by the end of 2005. In 2006, she moved to a two-room Chantilly office and hired her first employee.

She continued to add employees and relocated to a larger space in Chantilly. Last year, Ampcus established its federal practice and has since won four prime contracts for the federal government. Before setting up the practice, the company worked as a subcontractor on federal projects.

The Women Presidents' Organization said this year's ranking of the fastest-growing companies owned or led by women is its third. The rankings are based on a sales growth formula that combines percentage and absolute growth, and companies must have reached revenue of at least $500,000 by the first week of 2005 and $2 million in 2009.

Placing just above Ampcus on the rankings was DMS International of Silver Spring, a consulting and training firm headed by Magdalah R. Silva. DMS posted revenue of nearly $9.1 million in 2009, up from about $5.3 million in 2007.

Roughly 80 percent of the company's work is government contracting -- about evenly split between prime contracting and subcontracting to larger firms. DMS, founded by Silva and her husband in 1994, works primarily with the Federal Aviation Administration and the State, Defense and Housing and Urban Development departments, Silva said.

Like Ampcus, DMS is aggressively positioning itself for growth; Silva's goal is to double the company's revenue this year.

Silva had spent 11 years working in Citibank's credit department before she and her husband founded DMS. Her husband was already working as an individual consultant, so she took over the management strategy while he oversaw the technical elements.

Despite the company's rapid expansion, Silva said there is always anxiety about whether it will continue to succeed.

"It's one of those things in the back of your mind that never goes away," she said. "There's nothing that gives you any guarantees."


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