Atlas Research provides consulting and research services to health care organizations, many of which work closely with the federal government. (Brian Barclay/ATLAS RESEARCH)

Mark H. Chichester and Ryung Suh had both spent years studying and lecturing students on the ins and outs of health care policy and health system management at Georgetown University. Eventually, Suh said, they were both itching to get their “hands a little dirty.”

“We had studied it, we had taught it, we had talked about it a lot, but we wanted to start a company that was actually out there making an impact on the populations we had studied for so long,” said Suh, co-founder and chief executive of Atlas Research. “I think that’s a large part of why we’ve been pretty successful, because we’ve had a lot of senior-level people who have had success in their respective fields come together to build these well-developed health care programs.”

Based in Georgetown, Atlas Research provides management consulting and research services to health care organizations, most commonly those that work with the federal government. The company conducts research to determine what type of health programs are needed among various populations, builds pilot programs to meet those needs and later works with agencies to implement and perfect those programs.

The company has grown year-over-year since the pair bootstrapped its start in the middle of 2008, and this past March, Chichester and Suh were awarded the Small Business Administration’s 2012 Persons of the Year award for the District of Columbia.

“We were both pushing 40 years of age, and we wanted to find a way to pursue our entrepreneurial interests and at the same time touch the community in a positive way,” said Chichester, who previously served as a vice president with the Aspen Institute. “On the back of an envelope sitting at a Baja Fresh in Foggy Bottom, we quite literally mapped out the plan that led us to our first major contract, which laid the foundation for the success we have had as a company.”

Atlas Research now employs about 28 full-time employees (more than half of which hold college faculty posts) and works with nearly 100 contractors. Moreover, after recently securing a series of new contracts, the company is currently hiring.

Chichester and Suh have continued to focus largely on initiatives supporting veteran health and wellness, and while they have added a commercial business division, roughly 80 percent of their contracts still come from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services . In the past few years, for instance, they have worked on a program that supports veterans on the brink of homelessness and another that trains family members on how to care for disabled veterans.

More recently, the company expanded its repertoire to study alternative treatments for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Understandably, the team’s work with returning soldiers hits particularly close to home for Suh, who served for more than two decades as an infantry and medical corps officer throughout the Middle East.

“Our body of work trying to improve the lives of both veterans and their family members, obviously that has a personal meaning to me beyond just our corporate mission,” Suh said. “I am particularly proud of that.”

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An accidental CEO comes out on top