Savvy Entrepreneur

Danielle Burnett

Danielle Burnett ’00, M.S. ’05, information systems management, wasted no time putting her UMBC degrees to work. In 2001, a newly-minted college graduate, she founded Applied Technology Services (APS), a technology services company serving commercial and government clients throughout Maryland. Since Burnett launched the company, it’s grown exponentially, recently exceeding 10 million dollars in revenue, and earning her a spotlight in the Baltimore Business Journal. Natural business acumen accounts for much of Burnett’s success, as does the preparation she received at UMBC, she says.

“The information systems program I was in at UMBC was very project-management oriented. And those process-driven skills really did help me in dealing with [business] challenges. That’s where I was able to focus to gain my credibility – my ability to execute,” Burnett says. She also credits the availability of certificate programs at UMBC, such as the one she earned in Electronic Government (she was the first student at UMBC to receive it) as useful to honing the skills she’d eventually apply to her company.

Burnett started out small, with one employee and one consultant. In fact, she remains surprised at the rapid-fire pace growth of ATS. She didn’t always see herself heading up a traditional company with on-site employees. But the contracts were coming so quickly that the accompanying paperwork required to complete them drove ATS from a virtual company to a brick-and-mortar one in 2010.

“All these deals we were working, we needed the paper to move through the organization, from the quote to the order to the invoice,” says Burnett, who took advantage of special programs for minority and small business owners to boost her client base. As a woman-owned company with under 50 employees, ATS qualifies for both. So while most of the country was reeling from the effects of the recession, ATS continued to thrive. Between 2006 and 2011, ATS doubled in size every year.

Burnett is proud not just of her business’ growth, but of the measured way she’s nurtured it. “I’ve never had to let a single employee go,” she says.

For now, the company remains small. She has 12 employees and is contemplating hiring two or three more in the near future. While some employees are family members – including her husband, father and sister-in-law – Burnett says she works to extend the feeling of a family business throughout the company.

Of all of her employees, Burnett says, “I make sure they’re treated fairly, and that they know their importance in the business. And I give them the flexibility to do different things.”

One of the benefits of working for a small business such as ATS, notes Burnett, is that employees can acquaint themselves with various aspects of the organization fairly easily. In fact, it’s an element of the business she conscientiously promotes. “Particularly for younger employees, during performance review, more than anything else, it’s about: ‘What else would you like to be doing?’”

While Burnett feels content about the progress she’s made as a businesswoman, she acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy. Being a female executive in the IT industry, says Burnett, is challenging. “It’s difficult to earn credibility,” she says, as the field is upwards of 80 percent male.

But she’s plugged on, undeterred. Neither her style nor her company is particularly flashy or trendy, and that’s a point she tries to drive home to young college students whom she mentors through UMBC’s Alex.Brown Entrepreneurship program.

“I try to explain to them that you don’t have to come up with the next Angry Birds to find success as an entrepreneur,” Burnett says.

— Elizabeth Heubeck ’91