Coach Bruce Arians, of the Arizona Cardinals, is fond of saying; “No risk it, no biscuit.” The coach has even had the expression trademarked. While the phrase has great application in sports, it also is at the very core of entrepreneurship. Few business owners or founders have ventured into unchartered waters without being risk takers. It’s a hallmark of those who take this path.
Unlike those who might buy stock in a new company or bet on a horse at the racetrack, the risk that most entrepreneurs take is more measured and calculated. Oftentimes, it is the realization that there is a need in the market that is not being met. Other times, they see an opportunity to offer more competitive pricing than what already exists.
The notion that these entrepreneurs could simply deliver a better product was a recurring theme when TechNation asked several successful company founders how and why they decided to make the move and become self-employed.
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are 28 million small businesses in America which account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales. The organization says that small businesses provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all net new jobs. Those are impressive figures and point to the need for people to take their dreams and ambitions to the next level.
But striking out on your own isn’t just a matter of waking up one day and deciding to start a business. It takes a lot of homework. Is there a need and market for the product or service you will offer? Is there a niche that can be filled that will allow the service or product to compete in an often crowded marketplace?
You need to have capital, and often, a line of credit. Where will you find funding sources? Will you need collateral? How will you go about marketing your product or service and what methods make the most sense? If you are going to have employees, will you offer them benefits and how will you pay for those benefits? Will you need to hire a general manager, bookkeeper, marketing assistant, sales manager or HR manager; or all of the above?
The decision to become a business owner is not one to be taken lightly, but it can be part of the American dream for those with the intestinal fortitude to make the move. Several members of the HTM community have made the transition into self-employment and business ownership. They have had to answer all of the questions above and ascertain that their gut feeling will become a viable service that will thrive.
Taking the Plunge
You can build a better mousetrap if you think outside the box or allow the creative juices to point the way.
“I worked for a company that essentially provided the same services and I always felt I could deliver a better product to the customer. I thought I would work harder and come up with creative new ways to earn more business,” says Rick Staab, president and CEO of The InterMed Group in Gainesville, Florida.
“The owner of that company was Nicaraguan and was focused on getting some of his land back in that country, so he sold it to a large provider. During this time, I decided to take the opportunity to see what I could build on my own,” Staab adds. “At the time I was about to get married and took a big risk by having no income and figuring out a new career.”
Robert Grzeskowiak, president of MW Imaging, headquartered in St. Charles, Missouri, remembers that humble beginnings can evolve into a lot more.
“In 1991, I left my employer to become an independent service professional. My business model included servicing major OEM brands such as Philips, GE and Siemens ultrasound platforms,” Grzeskowiak says.
“Fortunately, one of my former customers approached and asked if I would service their existing 20 systems. The revenue from this customer and others lead to bringing on major hospitals. Soon my garage business lead to purchasing a major warehouse, with a lab area and administrative offices. With new space and opportunities MW Imaging began hiring additional engineers and administrative staff and built the company it is today,” Grzeskowiak adds.
Staab says that he felt like he could provide a less-expensive, higher-quality service.
“It seemed to me like everyone in the business was concentrating on how much profit they could make and less on delivering a reliable, quality product to the customer,” he says. “I felt I could earn friendships and respect if I could help people in health care save money and approach service from a different perspective.”
It can take time to launch a new venture.
“Both myself, and Greg Johnson, had been doing consulting work within the biomedical field for a few years with the hopes of one day being able to do this full time,” says Boyd Campbell, CBET, CRES, co-founder of Southeastern Biomedical Associates Inc. in Granite Falls, North Carolina.
“From 1996-2004 we were spending most of our nights, weekends and vacation time working on building Southeastern Biomedical while still holding down full-time jobs in the biomedical field. When we had built up the business to a point we felt we could support our families, and also seeing that many of the procedures were leaving the hospitals to be performed in the alternate care facilities, that is what helped us to make the transition from working for a hospital to working for ourselves. We took Southeastern Biomedical Associates Inc. full time in early 2005,” Campbell says.
Campbell’s business partner, Greg Johnson, CBET, CHFM, explains what it was like to transition from a part-time consulting business to the only source for putting bread on the table. His comments encapsulate the essence of what it is like to make the move from employee to dependence on yourself.
“Around June of 2004, we started really being able to visualize it becoming a viable full-time business. During that same time, a building that my father owned became available, and seemed to be a logical place for us to start,” Johnson remembers.
“It seemed that everything was lining up and we knew it was the right thing for us to do. Even so, it was the biggest leap of faith of our lives. We both had very good and stable jobs. The perceived risks were obviously that we were leaving those very good jobs, that were hard to come by, and also in the location that we both chose to live. After lots and lots of thought, prayer and consideration we came to the realization that we had to do this. Neither of us wanted to look back in the future and regret not giving this a try,” Johnson says.
Mark Conrad, president and co-founder of Conquest Imaging in Stockton, California, says that “being enterprising and entrepreneurial involves spotting an unexploited opportunity and making the most of it: essentially, identifying a gap in the market and filling it. However, it can also be about trying something new or improving a process to increase efficiency or boosting results for the customer.”
Conrad explains that enterprise and entrepreneurial skills are effectively a combination of many competencies, including: commercial awareness; creative and innovative thinking; prioritization and time management; problem solving and communication; and negotiation and persuasiveness skills.
While many people making the move to create a business are entering a crowded marketplace, some make the move into a market that is void of a similar product.
“The only risk I saw at the time was that nobody would show up for the training. My biggest trepidation about doing this was ‘Why is nobody else already doing this?’ I thought it was a great idea; it was needed in the industry and it’s a very specific market that nobody is taking advantage of; what am I missing?” asked Steve Maull, owner of Maull Biomedical Training, LLC in Aurora, Ohio.
“And to be honest, I never really found out why that was. I guess it just turns out that everything that has ever been done, somebody out there had to be the first one to do it. In this case, I guess I was the first,” Maull says.
“The biggest hurdle to starting my own company from scratch was having the guts to do it. It was very scary. The job I had was a very good paying job, we had a nice house on the lake in Charlotte, North Carolina, my kids were about to enter middle school and high school; financially and professionally my family and I were in a very good place with a very good future. Now is not the best time to possibly blow it all up if you’re not sure. But I was sure (well, 95 percent sure),” Maull says.
Drawing on Experience
For most business owners, their decision to go it alone, is often based on substantial first-hand experience. Unless somebody buys into a franchise, most business owners remain in a business that they already know well. It should come as no surprise then that so many of those in the business of servicing medical equipment, or selling parts, found their beginnings in the HTM field.
Maull started his biomed career in 1991 in the military.
“As a BMET, the benefits of providing great customer service to your customers – techs, nurses, doctors – was very apparent to me after working in the hospital environment,” Maull says.
“Looking back, I believe having over 20 years of general biomedical experience including managing biomedical departments was essential when starting the business,” Johnson says.
“One lesson learned was the overall experience gained while helping neighboring hospitals establish their own biomedical departments from the ground up,” he adds. “Coincidently, the president of the hospital where we were working, attended collaborative group meetings with other hospital administrators where they would discuss their problems in hopes to find resolutions and advice from their fellow colleagues. It was at these meetings where our work referrals originated.”
“After the third hospital referral was received, the workload of our department was at a point where we needed additional resources to accomplish all the additional work. While seeking the resources, during a meeting with the same hospital president who was creating all the additional work, the request was denied. He responded that the hospital was a non-profit public hospital and creating a biomedical service business did not align with our core mission. He suggested that a non-compete agreement be signed and perform the work outside of the hospital. This was when Southeastern Biomedical was created,” Johnson says.
Campbell adds that the lessons learned as an HTM professional about patient safety are put into practical application as well. He says that “since we have been on the same side of the desk as they are, we knew their day-to-day struggle with running a successful biomedical department.”
Although vendors to health care providers are not direct caregivers, the experience that many have as former HTM professionals has instilled those patient care values that are common within the HTM ranks.
“Starting my career out as an in-house engineer in a hospital setting helped me gain a clear understanding of the policies, procedures and guidelines that exist in this industry,” says Alex Maldonado, managing partner and VP of Service at Exclusive Medical Solutions in Schaumburg, Illinois.
“Directly dealing with OEM and third-party field service engineers was extremely invaluable, in that, it highlighted the expectations that the majority in the industry share. I experienced first-hand how hard work and diligence was needed in order to become a success,” Maldonado says.
He adds that it was during his experience as an in-house engineer that he noticed that there were other businesses being created to support HTM.
“I learned that people’s health, and the way they are treated and expected to be treated when they are seen at a hospital, is extremely important,” Staab says. “Health care is a very serious business, and my job is to eliminate the things that seem small, but have a huge impact with the equipment maintenance and technology management.”
Conrad echoes those sentiments with a reflection on an issue that is second nature to every biomed; equipment uptime directly impacts patient care and a facility’s financial viability.
“Everyone talks about the importance of relationships in business especially as it relates to sales and loyalty. Throughout my career, I learned how important relationships are to equipment service personnel as well,” Conrad says. “We are the ones that really stand a chance to be the hero or villain with a customer because either we get it right and get them up and running so they are heroes to their team, or we fail them and in turn set them up to fail a lot of people too.”
Grzeskowiak explains that the same steps a hospital HTM professional goes through translate well into the approach he uses today.
“Listen to customer complaints. Ask important questions such as ‘Is the problem intermittent?’ [or] ‘Does the problem occur in certain modes of operation?’ Formulate possible solutions and tell the customer your plan – time and date,” he says. “Bring necessary tools and parts to complete the job in one visit. Most importantly, show up on time and inform the customer of your findings and solutions. Call the customer back the next day and ask if everything is operational.”
Knowing the Risks
One trait of entrepreneurs is that they are very often risk takers. But even that characteristic has to be qualified. According to a November 2013 article in Forbes Magazine, entrepreneurs are actually “calculated risk takers.” According to the article, entrepreneurs seek out ways to reduce risk at every turn. They do not dive headlong into something, but take small steps toward a goal. They figure out ways to do things at less expense and how to do it faster and better.
So, while the person who may walk away from a stable job to start a company may be willing to take on more risk in doing so than the average person, it isn’t always without forethought and knowing the risks.
Grzeskowiak says that when he started his business, “the risks involved were working capital, buying parts and probes from various OEM dealers and building a customer base.”
Sometimes the risk is also that you might get lost in a sea of competitors because advertising is expensive, and even more so, a major expense for a new business. The expense makes word-of-mouth marketing a critical necessity.
“When we were in our infancy, we did not have a budget for marketing, so that avenue was all we had to rely on,” Campbell says.
As calculated risk takers, the entrepreneurs invest a lot of time into carefully planning their move to self-employment. This effort reduces the risks involved in diving headlong into murky waters.
“The business plan encompassed about 18 months of my time while still holding a full-time job. The next six months were occupied by interviewing many other professionals in the health care industry as to the viability of having an independent service organization (ISO) [and] acquiring the tools for meeting the customer’s expectations,” Conrad says. “Because, back in 1998, only the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was performing the maintenance, which was perceived as the only option.”
For HTM professionals with entrepreneurial spirits the path to business ownership has been paved by their adventurous peers. Their calculations, risk taking and sacrifice have proven that there is another destination for those with an understanding of medical equipment.
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