Inventor of the Week Archive
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Computer Database Systems
Louise Kirkbride, pioneer of computer technologies for customer
service, showed her promise as an innovator at age 17, when,
against her parents' wishes, she left her Philadelphia home
for southern California. She had been awarded a full scholarship
to the California Institute of Technology where she would
be a member of the school's first class that included women.
She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering
from the school, all the while waiting tables on campus to
earn enough money to pay for books and suppliesas well as
learning to fly.
After her graduation in 1977, Kirkbride joined the staff
of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that year the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration began its civilian
Space Shuttle Program. She applied along with 8,000 others,
and though she made it to the final 80, she didn't make it
to the final cut. Disappointed, she left the JPL to join private
Within a few years Kirkbride married. After working as a hardware engineer for an
aircraft-components corporation, she and her husband founded their own company,
CADRI. They started the enterprise to provide computer-automated design and
manufacturing (CAD/CAM) services for the aircraft industry, but Kirkbride became
very interested in the problem customer service and technical support posed for companies
like hers and their clients. In 1989 she founded her next company, Answer Systems,
to address this issue.
At Answer Systems Kirkbride developed and patented problem
resolution technology for customer service, which enabled
businesses to better communicate with their customers and
other constituents through help-desk automation. J.C. Penney
signed Answer Systems to run the customer service center for
its 1,400 retail stores. Other major companies, including
France Telecom and Prudential Securities, signed on as well,
further cementing the company's success. Finally, in 1995,
Platinum Technology (now Computer Associates) bought Answer
Systems for $38 million.
Next, Kirkbride wanted to find a way to make Internet communication between businesses
and their customers more through the Internet. Thats when she founded her next company,
Broad Daylight, where she serves as CEO today.
The Santa Clara, California-based company, which counts American
Airlines, Hilton Hotels, the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Kodak and
Cisco Systems among its clients, provides software that
enables businesses to give automatic feedback to customers who ask questions through their
At Broad Daylight, Kirkbride and her team developed Broad Mind, a software product that
helps companies build custom databases of responses to frequently-asked customer queries.
Companies using the technology see a dramatic return on investment, answering up to 98
percent of repeat questions on the Web at a much lower cost-per-question than email or
phone support. The company recently secured a major round of venture funding, and expects
to hit profitability shortly as well.
In addition to her CEO duties, Kirkbride, serves on the Caltech Board of Trustees and is
an avid world traveler. She is recognized as a role model for young women looking to enter
scientific fields, and encourages them to enter sales positions, which, she declares, is
one of the surest ways to get climbing the company ladder.