Olivia’s Place is a paediatric therapy clinic in Shanghai that offers occupational, physical, and speech therapy as well as educational psychology and learning support services.
Olivia’s Place has also set up a charitable foundation in order to provide access to therapy for families in need of such services.
I have unfortunately needed their paediatric therapy services but was extremely fortunate to find them. And as the three founders, Quynh Chow, Nelson Chow, and Maggie Tai Tucker are foreign entrepreneurs (from the U.S.) in Shanghai, I could not help but devote an article to them. Today I will share with you a bit of their experience, the lessons they’ve learned, some tips for those wanting to follow their example, and a way to contact them in case you wish to help.
The Market Need: A Paediatric Therapy Clinic Where a Multidisciplinary Team Can Work Together to Better Fulfil Their Little Clients’ Needs
Quynh and Nelson Chow had suffered the lack of quality service in their own lives. Their elder daughter, Olivia, has Down Syndrome, so they had to go through the nightmare of running from one clinic to another in order to give her all the therapy she needed. They felt and knew that that was not the type of support they wanted for her, and they decided that, if not available in town, they would make it happen themselves.
That’s how Olivia´s Place started to take shape. They knew what they wanted:
- A Centre where all paediatric therapies are available
- The best therapists
- Standardised assessment tools and protocols
- A multidisciplinary team in-house
- Clean and healthy environment
- Optimised treatment rooms
This may all sound like basics to those of you who know about this topic and can enjoy it back home, but if you live in China and have ever been in need for this type of service, you may have found yourself spending a lot of money on suboptimal services. Moving from one provider to another, as clinics who provide one service don’t provide others, or in less than optimal settings (like a hospital room where nobody cleans the floor your child is crawling on between therapy sessions) and without access to a real assessment (a lot of professionals can do treatment but are not able to do assessment – so will treat your child without first working out what really needs to be done). There is a lot of room for improvement.
8 Business Challenges & Decisions They Faced (or are Facing)
1. Deciding Upon the Right Legal Entity
Olivia’s Place’s founders initially desired to register under a medical clinic and educational license. That would have allowed them to expand their services into other activities like a kindergarten … But they soon discover the number of hassles that would entitle:
– A huge capital requirement
– Receiving regular visits by local authorities (e.g. the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education).
They ended up registering under health consulting, which has a wide coverage, is health related and perfectly covers the type of activity that currently takes place in their clinic.
2. Local vs. Foreign Company
A lot of foreign entrepreneurs go through this decision process. And you often get warning signs about the dangers of fully relying on your local partner (e.g., if things go wrong, you may find yourself at a disadvantage when you claim your rights).
Olivia’s Place’s is registered as a local business. The registered owner of Olivia’s Place does not get involved in the day-to-day management of the clinic. He leaves that up to the founders to do. He is someone who the founders truly trust. This has allowed the clinic to be set up with a lower capital requirement.
And as they simply put it: “we are not in this for the money”. They want this for their daughter and for other families in the same situation. Quynh has been volunteering for no salary while the clinic reaches financial stability, and Nelson has another job, which actually brought them to Shanghai.
3. Recruiting the Right Staff
Olivia’s therapists hail from all over the world. They have expertise and experience from the United States, Great Britain, Chile, Germany, and Taiwan, just to name a few. Some have dual degrees in education as well as in therapy.
Quynh Chow tells me “It is not easy to recruit the type of highly committed professionals we are looking for. Still we feel fortunate because we have been able to attract people who realise we are giving back a lot to the community. They see it and help us.”
4. Bringing the Clinic to Full Utilisation
Parents are quite reluctant to bring their children during school hours. That means that the clinic is fully booked from about 2:30 – 3:00 p.m. onwards, and on Saturdays, but goes quiet the remaining time.
There is also a seasonal factor. Clients simply leave the country for weeks during the summer holiday.
5. Reconciling the Desire for Affordable High Quality Therapy with the High Costs Involved
Olivia’s Place has always aspired to provide “the highest quality services at affordable prices and to be able to subsidise families in need, too”.
This aspiration caused them initially to have “too optimistic business projections”. Quynh tells me “Our budget did not account for the long summer months when none to low activity would hit us. Plus, staff are highly qualified and a scarce resource in town [hence expensive]. Equipment is pricey too. We initially mispriced our services and dragged along the situation for months till we finally decided to increase fees so that we could ensure survival. Our fees are still lower than other providers but the type of service we provide is nonetheless cheap”.
6. Building a Reputation
“It takes time to get a reputation. In our initial days, we struggled to arrange meetings to introduce ourselves and our project. Some schools would not even meet us to talk about our services. Thanks to our work since we opened the clinic, this situation has changed now. We are already collaborating with schools and sending our therapist to their campuses to provide therapy, either in the classroom or as pull-out sessions. Most of the therapy sessions involve table-task activities and do not need large spaces or specialized equipment. For those children who do need our equipment, we asked the parents to bring them into the clinic as the therapy would then be most effective.”
And in order to continue building a solid reputation, they have also brought on board a person responsible for the marketing side of the business.
7. Having the Right Location for a Scattered Clientele
“No matter where you place your clinic, you always hear parents “complaining” about how far we are”. Shanghai is a huge city, and expats, whom at this stage represent eighyty percent of the clients, are spread all over the city. The clinic is located in the middle of town.
8. Getting the Right Equipment in China
Olivia’s Place prides itself on having the highest quality standards. This applies not just to their recruitment standards but also to the equipment utilised in the clinic. This proved to be also a bit of a challenge because, although labelled as “Made in China”, a lot of the equipment needs to be imported as it is not sold here. Olivia’s Places currently imports most of the equipment from the United States.
9. Setting Up a Foundation… and Making the Donations Happen
Quynh and Nelson set up a foundation, donating US$10,000 themselves, in order to expand the clinic services to families in need that could not afford them. The foundation has ensured that eight families get access to Olivia’s Place services, either through free assessments or at low fees. A reviewing committee comprising of three doctors reviews the cases and decides who gets the funding based on a series of criteria like who is going to benefit more from the therapy. Now they have seventeen families on the list awaiting consideration and could do with more funding.
This post is especially dear to me, as I really admire the efforts (personal and financial) Quynh and Nelson are doing to offer a much needed community service and to help those who can’t afford it.
If you want to know more about them, you can visit their website:
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