Irish expat’s start-up aims to perfect healthcare practices

6 May 2016

Colin Phillips and his wife Nicola in Sydney

Having worked in 12 different private practices across five different countries, Sydney-based Irish physiotherapist Colin Phillips was inspired to set up a business to help healthcare owners run their businesses as efficiently as possible.

“A lot of healthcare clinics are still using paper notes and not running their businesses like a business,” said Phillips. “Generally, business skills are not on the curriculum at most universities for healthcare practitioners – therefore, you get a lot of top-class health professionals with great clinical skills and not much business acumen.”

PracticeNav is a business consultancy that aims to help healthcare business owners implement more efficient admin processes and procedures to give their practice the best chance of increasing its business.

“This is achieved through integrating good systems, automating many of the manual procedures and coordination of the overall business goals into everyday practice,” explained Phillips.

‘Business skills are not on the curriculum at most universities for healthcare practitioners’

Kilkenny native Phillips’ taste for entrepreneurship first became apparent at the age of 10 when he raised 40 hens and sold eggs to the locals, however, deciding farming wasn’t for him, he went on to study physiotherapy and worked in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, as well as spending some time volunteering in Africa. Taking the chance to purchase his own physio practice in Sydney in 2011, he sold it in August 2015 and went on to set up PracticeNav.

As most of PracticeNav’s consultancy services can be provided remotely, Phillips says he currently has clients in Ireland and the UK, as well as Australia, with clients ranging from physios like himself to beauticians, personal trainers and naturopaths.

His long-term plan is to return to Ireland and base the business from there towards the end of this year.

“The ideal situation would be to establish PracticeNav as an Irish company servicing a worldwide audience,” said Phillips. “I also plan to set up my own physiotherapy clinic again within six months of getting back. The aim of the clinic will be to run as a benchmark for healthcare companies that use PracticeNav.

“Following this, I hope to have the opportunity to develop or invest in other ventures to help improve the delivery of healthcare within the private sector and, if the opportunity arose, even the public sector.”

Emigrant experience

Speaking of the business supports available to him as an immigrant in Australia, Phillips admitted that his immigrant status did present some difficulties.

“It was difficult getting a loan from the bank without having any assets in Australia, however, my wife had regular income working in a hospital so this helped secure the repayments of the loan. I also had to be a permanent resident when applying for a loan.”

However, as the bank would not provide the full amount needed for him to purchase his physio practice in 2011, Phillips did also need to use vendor finance, which he said was an unnecessary hassle.

‘I do feel confident I can build a successful business in Ireland’

However, he added that, as a start-up, he did find good support in the business community in Sydney.

“The main business support I got was from meeting up with other business owners from different industries to discuss business and cross refer to each other in groups such as BNI, 4 Networking and the Chamber of Commerce.

“I found these groups very useful because, at the end of the day, business principles are the same regardless of what industry you are in.”

As regards his return to Ireland and his ambitions for the business here, Phillips is feeling optimistic.

“I do feel confident I can build a successful business in Ireland. In my opinion, if you have identified your potential client’s problem and are able to provide a cost-effective solution, then your business should succeed, provided you have the right structures in place.

“The need for cost-effective, efficient healthcare will always be there, therefore the need to run an efficient business will also always be there.

“And, if all else fails, I will just go back to selling eggs to the locals.”

Brigid O Gorman is a former sub-editor of Silicon Republic.