By Alison Bailin Batz
Necessity is the mother of invention.
A mother who knows this all too well is North Valley resident Mary Purkiss.
Rewind to the year 2000. At the time, Mary and husband Ed Purkiss were parents to three children under age 10 and enjoying running a successful business together.
“We had a group of call centers at the time,” Mary says. “We had over 500 employees and it was approaching the holiday season, so we planned a big company party to fete the entire team. The mood was joyous, at least at the start of the evening.”
It was that night, as the Purkisses rushed to get ready after prepping the big party, that Ed noticed a lump in Mary’s breast, quite by accident.
“We figured it was nothing. Obviously only in her 30s she was far too young for it to be anything bad, but I urged her to get it checked out just in case,” Ed says.
A few weeks later, the couple sat in a doctor’s office thunderstruck.
“I had breast cancer and they needed to schedule a full mastectomy and begin treatment immediately,” Mary says.
The family battled the disease with Mary for years. She had six surgeries during that time. They made the decision in the midst of the battle to sell their business to focus on their children and healing.
“Far too much of all of our lives revolved around doctors’ offices at that time. It was in those doctors’ offices Mary and I noticed something very odd,” Ed says. “We were mystified on a weekly basis at how busy the specialists and doctors were dealing with the business of cancer—and its technologies—and how it took precious time from patient care.”
Because they had experience running a business and were comfortable with rapidly changing technology, the Purkisses ended up as paid consultants to radiation oncology practices, eventually handling their doctors’ technology and electronic medical records needs as well.
“We quite literally fell into this consulting role over and over, helping because as patients we felt doctors get into this business to save lives and understand medicine and science, not to deal with office technology and filing systems,” Ed says.
With Mary’s cancer in remission, the Purkisses continued to study the issues that doctors faced with cloud, online storage and other technology issues. By 2008, they founded Iron Medical Systems.
“That first year, the business was primarily a cloud infrastructure for the radiation and medical oncology arena, but then we realized that a managed cloud solution, able to store, share and protect critical applications, as well as patient data, was something that was needed across most medical disciplines,” she says.
So in 2009, the couple launched its Managed Medical Cloud, which enables software companies that don’t have the resources or time to develop their own the ability to offer a private-labeled cloud solution to their customers.
In those first few years, the Purkisses worked from their home and had three clinics as clients, becoming friends as well as colleagues with many of the doctors at the various practices, including Dr. Coral Quiet, who—thanks to her cutting-edge research in breast cancer treatment—is a national celebrity in Arizona.
“I was so happy to be in remission, but the memories from the years of treatment stuck with me. So despite in the midst of getting our business up and running, when Coral told me about the nonprofit she was heading, I jumped at the opportunity to help,” Mary says.
The nonprofit was called Arizona Institute for Breast Health (AIBH), and its mission was to provide a free second opinion service for women and their families recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Mary served on the board of directors and headed most of the organization’s major fundraising endeavors for nearly a decade, notably the Breast of Scottsdale, a pink-themed party held for years to raise critical funds for the organization.
By 2015, the Purkisses went from counting their doctors’ appointments to counting their blessings as Iron Medical Systems counted customers from across North America until it became the largest infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider in the radiation oncology field, at the same time helping hundreds of women gain access to free second opinions on their breast cancer diagnosis.
“A lot of what we did dealt with technology and storing information. As a natural extension, I was heavily involved in how technology communicates information as well,” Ed says. “So much so, we decided to open another business to expand what we could do for all people, beyond the medical community.”
The business, launched in 2018, is called SMS Gorilla, and it focused on effective text message and marketing campaigns for businesses of every shape and size.
“The term ‘text message’ comes with multiple acronyms, with two of the most popular being SMS and MMS. SMS—short message service—is limited to 160 characters and what many consider the text message, while MMS—multimedia message service—does not have a character limit but is restricted by the amount of data available,” Ed says.
“Given their limited use of data and direct nature, SMS can work for almost anyone, even small mom and pops like us.”
From making technology easier for doctors to making it easier for all of us to access, the Purkisses are looking to their future with optimism and hope.
“And empty nest syndrome,” says Mary, noting their children are now all full-grown adults. “Our businesses are our legacy to them and hopefully to our many grandchildren one day.”