Tech

How Shayna Atkins Founded Atkco, Which Was Named The Third-Fastest-Growing Company In The Midwest Of 2024 By Inc. Magazine

Shayna Atkins is a multi-generational entrepreneur now leading the third-fastest-growing company in the Midwest and the fastest in Illinois of 2024, according to Inc. magazine.

She credits her interest in entrepreneurship to her mother, who owned several businesses on the West Side of Chicago, IL, including a pager shop in the early 90s. During this time she recalls being exposed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as she would program beepers at the shop.

“I used to program beepers when I was young. Like those were some of my early science experiments for school, and also help her out at the shop,” Atkins shared in an interview with AFROTECH™. “I would actually program, like turn on and turn off, pagers using a DOS program at a very, very young age. Those two things I think really reduce the barrier of fear around both STEM as well as entrepreneurship.”

In high school, Atkins developed a liking towards physics and selected the field for her studies in higher learning at Spelman College. In 2010, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and aspired to become a scientist, according to Inc. magazine.

However, Atkins chose to settle into a corporate role, serving as a product portfolio manager at Accenture for nearly seven years. While on the job, she participated in one of their rotational programs, which permitted her to work abroad in Jamaica. There she spent some time connecting with entrepreneurs in the area to help them with process improvement using technology. Considering the impact at the time, Atkins came to the conclusion that she wanted to continue the work when she went back to the United States.

“I probably could have more impact from where I was, from doing what I did there in my own community where I would be able to kind of carry that out over a long period of time,” Atkins reflected, per AFROTECH™. “That was the light bulb for me. I would love to do something like this ’cause it was a lot of what I was doing, a lot of what I was passionate about, it was about process improvement. I was using a lot of the scientific method and experimentation and teaching that to entrepreneurs and helping them to work on their business in digestible ways and sort of achieve very specific outcomes and goals. That’s an industry, there’s science to that.”

These observations would ultimately lead to the inception of AtkCo. in 2015, a process improvements firm that focuses on the “science of work,” while Adkins still was employed at Accenture. The company began as a side hustle, and she was supported by her employer to fund some community work in Chicago. This would be the stepping stone for securing additional connections.

Though Accenture encouraged Atkins’ efforts, to go out on her own and avoid a conflict of interest, Atkins leveraged the connections in her volunteer cohort to create work that would be reflective of her company’s direction. She began hosting trainings and workshops in Chicago alongside a friend from Barbados and in partnership with a University of West Indies professor and organization to create a curriculum similar to what she had used while in Jamaica.

This period would open the doors to the company’s first string of clients and solidified AtkCo.’s direction.

“I learned early with the entrepreneurs that I was working with from 2015 to 2017 that what would make the work that I was doing with them unique was to address some of the platforms and technologies they were using,” Atkins explained. “So, expose them to more products thinking, product management, and setting up a roadmap and implementing tools. Around this time the barrier to entry for setting up a business online went to zero. You could start a Shopify shop instantly… You can also kind of go national with the brand really quickly and with social media.

She added, “I did have the kind of larger corporate context to continue that work in corporations, and I just made that our secret sauce. A lot of process improvement firms don’t address digital anything. They just come in, they kind of give you your improvement strategy and they’re like, ‘okay well good luck.’ Whereas we can like really hold our own in the IT space and what that actually means for the systems and technology integration side of things.”

In December 2017, Atkins would turn her full attention towards AtkCo. after securing a major contract with a financial service company. She scaled her company from the ground up, hiring interns who became its first critical employees, then later full-time employees.

AtkCo. also transitioned from a business-to-consumer (B2C) model to a business-to-business (B2B) model. Today, its average contract size is valued at nearly $300,000. The company is now ranked third on Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies in the Midwest with 2,579% growth over the past two years. Black News reports this also makes the company No. 1 for the state of Illinois.

 

Some of AtkCo.’s success is attributed in part to its method of simplifying the digitization of non-digital products, services, and operations for organizations, with the objective of increasing value, fostering innovation, and enhancing customer experience, per its company website.

“We focus on like the science of work and how things work together,” Atkins detailed to AFROTECH™. “One of the things that really makes it powerful is that we work with an analytics company that measures a lot of baseline data around everything from people to technology to DevOps, and we’re able to get a lot of quantitative data from our clients around where they are and where they start in order to really define the journey of where they need to be. And then we back that up with qualitative data. We’re able to do that in a really concise way and accessible way for companies really quickly and give them a readout that they can really digest and make decisions on and decide what a good starting point is.”

She added, “I think No. 2 is we use a lot of customer success and customer service-type tooling. So we are a professional services company through and through, but I would say that our customer service looks more like a SaaS company that has a customer success department. We do too. And that’s how we feel like we can keep that white glove experience for customers.”

Looking ahead, Atkins shares that her future plans include establishing a partnership to start licensing tools to companies, positioning the company as a true solutions provider.

“We’re actually in communication with a few like really significant companies about how we become a true solutions provider in the sense of that gap from where we are now and where we wanna be, if whatever is in that gap is kind of sustainable, we can address that not only from a IT implementation standpoint but also from a software and hardware standpoint. So that is like exciting to me,” she expressed.



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