NAME: Vimala Anishetty, 41; Dennis Karl , 48, co-founders
BUSINESS: Environmental Compliance Office (ECO), a Detroit firm that helps businesses comply with environmental and safety regulations
HOW WE GOT THE IDEA: "I worked at Ford Motors for 23 years; Vimala for 15," says Karl.
"In our positions - mine as a regional manager for environmental compliance, Vimala's as principal engineer - we'd get calls from suppliers having trouble complying with EPA standards. We heard it enough to know there was demand."
GREATEST CHALLENGE: "We had no idea how hard it'd be to get the attention of larger companies," Anishetty says. "Thanks to caller ID, people rarely answer their phones."
BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT: "We reached our first customer through a referral," she adds. "That got us a meeting, which got us a commitment."
HOW IT HELPED US: "After that, we developed a system to try to get meetings," Anishetty explains.
"We call a potential client every three days and send e-mails in between. If we're introduced by someone, I mention it right away in my voice mail or in the subject line of the e-mail.
"In my first message I say I'm the president of ECO and ask for a call. By the third message I add four lines of background - including our experience and who we've worked with. We keep a war room in our office to track progress and keep us motivated."
ADVICE TO OTHERS: "When breaking into a market, be persistent, not pushy - it's a delicate balance," says Karl.
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