Founded in California, Thriving in Iowa
One of the best decisions Iowa native Mark Darrah ever made was following through with his dream of starting a company and bringing it to Iowa. The Founder and CEO of Athena GTX, Mark had many options when deciding where to launch his wireless medical equipment company. Though he ultimately settled on southern California as Athena GTX’s original headquarters in 2001, a chance visit from fellow Iowans helped him realize that a return to his home state made too much sense to ignore – for his family and for the future of the business.
Q: What led you to found the company?
Mark Darrah (MD): It was something I had always dreamed of doing. What finally made me realize the time was right was my faith. The fear of remaining in corporate America no longer overwhelmed my fear of failing. Other than marrying my wife, it was the best decision that I ever made.
Q: What does Athena GTX do, and what makes the company stand out?
MD: We’re a remote critical care company that specializes in miniature wireless medical products aiding first responders in handling emergency situations. Our forward-thinking approach sets us apart from our competition, as does our keen eye toward product optimization for a wide variety of real-world response scenarios. We also focus on creativity and innovation in our product development strategy which is informed by real-time insights and an emphasis on eliminating redundancies.
We also pride ourselves on our culture. Teams need to enjoy what they do and know that they’re a critical part of fulfilling the company’s vision. From research and development of novel product concepts to production of the devices themselves, we’ve cultivated an environment that makes coming to work extremely enjoyable.
Q: Athena GTX was founded in Southern California. What inspired you to move the business to Iowa?
MD: My wife and I are Iowa State (ISU) graduates and our parents lived here in Iowa. There were very few career opportunities here when I graduated, so we moved to Texas and then to Missouri. After landing in Southern California, we were visited by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Greater Des Moines Partnership who were recruiting ISU alumni. The personal attention from them was instrumental in our decision. Plus, IEDA innovation funding helped launch us. We felt welcomed and desired.
After a trip to the Greater Des Moines area, the move made perfect sense. The cost of doing business was much more attractive, and I could recruit some great Iowa-based students to stay home. We also had local support and could raise our children close to their grandparents. We considered Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Florida, but Iowa still made the most sense for opportunity. Our main facility and corporate headquarters remain here in Johnston.
Q: What are some of the perks of operating and manufacturing products in Iowa?
MD: We’ve had great success recruiting in the Midwest and have convinced several regional candidates to relocate to Iowa. State universities have also provided an excellent source of interns, allowing us to build an in-state talent pipeline. Beyond that, Iowa’s low cost of doing business gives more flexibility in terms of re-investing in the business and its central geographic location allows for easy travel across the country.
Q: What’s next on the horizon for Athena GTX?
MD: Athena was ahead of its time on wireless medical connectivity and mass casualty solutions. However, one critical focus moving ahead is expanding our product portfolio and ramping up sales. We experienced record sales in 2022, but we realize there’s always room for growth. We’ve introduced a unique telemedicine strategy and innovative sensing technologies to fuel that market. We’ll also be launching a miniature autonomous critical care suitcase with artificial intelligence and automated decision support.