Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship interview with our CEO, David Johnson

Feb 20, 2018

Serial entrepreneur David Johnson ’98 created @Atlas_Certified to respond to a changing industry and workforce http://ow.ly/GDP1308accN

Duke I&E

David Johnson ’98 has always been entrepreneurial. While at Duke, he was unsure what to study in order to fulfill his direct interests and also prepare him to be a young professional, so he chose a course of study that he thought would help him in business: a psychology major and a certificate in markets and management.

After Duke, Johnson began his career in sales, gaining experience he continues to use in the two businesses he co-founded, Atlas Digital Solutions in 2004 and Raleigh-based Atlas Certified in 2014.

Atlas Digital Solutions was a boutique firm at the forefront of a technological revolution in corporate data storage and management. When Atlas Digital Solutions started, companies were focused on physical tape backups and offsite storage of important data. Johnson and his business partner had to convince companies to pay a premium for digital backups in a time when digital storage was not yet prevalent.

For over a decade, Atlas Digital Solutions has helped companies, from Fortune 500 companies to private equity funds, secure their information and ensure its high availability through providing digital backup infrastructure, co-location services and managed information services.

A few years ago, however, Johnson and his partner turned their focus more heavily to a new venture, Atlas Certified.

Atlas Certified seeks to address the problem of proper credentialing of job applicants and employees. For most companies, including recruiting firms, the credential verification process is performed by paid employees for companies. In some cases, it is not performed at all.

Through an innovative software solution, Atlas Certified automates the verification and monitoring of critical professional credentials for employers and personnel providers.

Johnson first realized this problem existed during a lunch with a client of Atlas Digital Solutions. The client had received almost 500 applicants for a networking engineer position. It took weeks for the client’s staff to manually confirm whether each applicant had an active Cisco certification, a threshold requirement for the position.

“The inefficiency and potential solution immediately popped into my head,” Johnson said. “That’s something we can invest in.”

While initially focused on technology certifications, Johnson and his partner soon realized the idea and Atlas Certified had a much larger market, especially for more regulated industries such as healthcare, pharmaceutical and insurance. Atlas Certified now targets credential verification for service professionals, nurses, brokers/adjustors, contractors, freelancers, pharmacists and drug distribution licenses.

Over time, the business has grown from the initial idea focused on technology-related certifications to licenses in all 50 states and even globally, covering over 10,000 verifiable credentials.

Atlas Certified not only automates the initial verification, but also provides constant monitoring to update the status of licenses/certifications and notifies of any change in active status.

“Our monitoring service allows our customers to continue their position as industry leaders and innovators, rather than maintaining static, potentially-outdated and time-intensive lists of their critical credentials,” Johnson said. “This way, our customers know whether their critical employees or contractors possess the represented skills or if there was a change in status for any reason, including a disciplinary issue or adverse event. This increases compliance and greatly reduces risk.”

Johnson made the leap to Atlas Certified in part because, as he watches the industry evolve, he enjoys identifying issues and developing solutions.

Although Duke had no “formal avenue for entrepreneurs” while Johnson was a student there, he dabbled in entrepreneurship by running small business such as a shirt-selling venture. He was also a part-owner of The Hideaway, the student-owned bar on campus. This was a great opportunity because he got to both work as a bartender and see a business from an operational standpoint, Johnson said.

For students who are seeking to become entrepreneurs, Johnson said his advice is that “there’s no shortcut.”

“When you start a business, you realize it’s a grind,” he said, adding that entrepreneurship is “a continual process of seeing problems and solving them.”

To learn more about Atlas Certified, visit its website.

To read about more Duke entrepreneurs, click here.

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