They met on a jet in 1998. He was an assistant professor in Oklahoma with a PhD in sociology. She had a PharmD and a job in big pharma. The chemistry between Eddilisa Martin and Marcus Martin was instant; they married a year later. Their entrepreneurial offspring is 2M Research, a health care-focused research and consulting firm. --As told to Coeli Carr

Marcus: When Eddilisa and I met, she had just gotten a job at Abbott Laboratories in Irving, Texas, a Dallas suburb. We settled in Arlington, and I kept teaching at the university--I commuted--and all Eddilisa and I talked about was how we could use our expertise to start a company of our own. Finally, we landed on doing clinical research for pharmaceutical companies--specifically, helping manage their clinical trials and track their outcomes.

To that end, I also got a master's in public health in 2003. That year proved to be a turning point. I got a call from the Foundation for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit, which asked me to help start its public-policy think tank. Many high-value Dallas entrepreneurs visited that organization, and I had the opportunity to speak with many of them. Those conversations validated my own startup plans. When I left my next job, in 2010, we knew this was our now-or-never moment.

I sat at our kitchen table 24/7 figuring out our strategy. That was literally the first time I had ever heard the term "government contracting." I researched that industry and became convinced government consulting projects had good scalability and could secure our reputation prior to our entering the commercial space. In 2011, we became 2M Research, with me as CEO and Eddilisa as president, even while she continued at Abbott.

Eddilisa: We used my 2010 end-of-year profit-sharing bonus to fund our legal and operational requirements, and Marcus used my saved-up airline miles and hotel rewards to conduct ongoing meet-and-greets and brain-picking in D.C. We took several small research jobs with local firms, too. In 2012, in anticipation of government work, I quit my job--which turned out to be premature. Getting a foothold was more competitive than we could have ever imagined, mainly because the government values past performance. We had none.

Marcus: Once we got that first contract, in 2013--it was for a year and worth $527,000--we rented an apartment and also shared office space in D.C., thinking we'd be inundated with projects. That didn't happen. Eddilisa returned to full-time work at Abbott. In 2014, we secured contracts to research economic and health policy for half a dozen agencies, which allowed Eddilisa to quit her job for good and us to hire 10 employees. In 2015, we won several more contracts. We doubled that amount the following year, resulting in revenue of $4.5 million. Last year, we again doubled both our number of contracts and revenue. Right now, 87 people work for us. Seven years after starting, we're seeing our original plan come to fruition.

Eddilisa: As we established ourselves and began to penetrate the commercial sector, my extensive experience within the pharmaceutical and health care sectors became critical to our company's growth.

Last year, about 60 percent of 2M's revenue came from government projects associated with health care, and 10 percent of that involved clinical trials. In 2019, we see the same proportion coming from health care but with 80 percent coming from projects that involve clinical trials and evaluating postclinical trial outcomes, with more of those in commercial.

Marcus: Our growth and innovation happened because our entrepre­neurial vision exceeded our resources.

I was a kid from Jennings, a small town in southern Louisiana, who grew up in a single-parent home with four siblings and wound up attending college on a football scholarship. When you grow up poor, you don't have anything to lose. Starting from nothing is a tremendous advantage. Every setback I faced as a child made me resilient and persistent.

Their Formula for Success? Being Way Too Ambitious

What's your single most effective time-management practice? Very early start times, around 4 or 5 a.m., make for no interruptions. --M.M.

What piece of media can you not live without? I'm a big fan of books on tape in the car, mainly for their entertainment value and as mini mental escapes. I average about two a month. --E.M.

How do you manage stress and anxiety? Diet cokes and prayer. --M.M.