Start-up of the week: PhysioLinked

6 Feb 2017

PhysioLinked co-founder Sonia Neary. Image: Andres Poveda

PhysioLinked delivers appointment scheduling, practice management and online payment technology to physiotherapy clinics.

“Concomitantly, we offer a patient-facing portal, where patients can search for and secure a real-time online booking with a vetted chartered physiotherapist,” explained PhysioLinked founder Sonia Neary.

PhysioLinked recently came in second place at the annual start-up competition JumpStart, which takes place at the LINC (Learning and Innovation Centre) at the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.

‘Taking this platform to the US and Canada is the ultimate goal and our primary focus for 2019’

PhysioLinked offers not only lead generation, but a complimentary, streamlined practice management system for physiotherapists.

“What is compelling about our offering is that we are breaking away from the conventional contracted merchant services and costly software subscription models,” Neary said.

“Clinics list and access our practice management tools for free and only pay a handling fee on payments processed through our software. There is no other ‘pay-as-you-go’ provider like us in the marketplace.”

The market

Neary said that PhysioLinked is specifically targeting the sole allied healthcare provider who cares about their bottom line.

“These practitioners will no longer need to pay expensive upfront fees to multiple service providers for online listing, practice management software or merchant services etc. All they need to run their practice is accessible through PhysioLinked.

“The opportunity is substantial. The private physiotherapy market is valued at $35bn per annum in English-speaking territories alone and is populated with about 133,000 private physiotherapists.

“83pc of patients we asked would search for and book a physio online if they could, but only 17pc of physios currently offer automated online booking. If they sign up with us, they are ready to meet those patients’ needs that same day.”

The founders

Start-up of the week: PhysioLinked

PhysioLinked co-founder Sonia Neary. Image: Andres Poveda

The PhysioLinked team consists of founders Sonia Neary and Dr Greg Martin, two IT developers and a sales sector.

Neary and Martin’s in-depth sector knowledge has enabled PhysioLinked to develop a focused value proposition that meets the needs of a broad range of stakeholders, including physiotherapists and patients alike.

Neary is a hands-on CEO and a practising chartered physiotherapist with 14 years of clinical experience in all core areas of rehabilitation.

Her experience extends to management and service development in both HSE and private clinic settings. Having successfully secured a Local Enterprise Office (LEO) priming grant and a Small Business Investment Company loan to fund expansion, Neary is involved in the daily administration of the company, managing the sales and marketing teams, and working on the fundraising and partnership development side of the business.

Martin is a South African medical doctor with an MBA and a master’s in public health.

Martin has financial and operational experience working with both start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures. As the director of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, he has achieved proficiency in managing budgets, projects, business processes and staff.

He is also on the board of trustees for healthcare non-profit organisations Irish Forum for Global Health and CBM Ireland.

Martin is one of the founding partners of Cornerstone Consulting, the founder of the academic journal Globalisation and Health and charity Books for Africa, and a co-founder of the Radio HIV Initiative in South Africa. He has successfully raised funds in various ventures for the Open Society Foundations, Pepsico and the UK department of health.

The technology

PhysioLinked offers physiotherapists the ability to run their clinics from one central cloud-based platform.

The website offers an easy means to advertise their services and accept online bookings.

“Furthermore, on setting up an account with us, they have access to our automated clinic software with integrated payment facilities, whereby they can accept their patients’ payment online, via email link, or in person,” Neary explained.

“This means clinicians no longer have to go to multiple service providers, sign annual contracts, pay monthly subscriptions and suffer upfront costs – the return on which is not necessarily measurable.

“What is most compelling and disruptive about PhysioLinked is that ours is a very unique pay-as-you-go system. Access to clinic software is free. We only charge a competitively priced credit card handling fee on payments that are processed through our software. Any expense incurred by the physiotherapist results in concomitant and substantial earning.”

For patients, the front-end of the site offers a facility similar to, where users can search for, compare and book the right chartered physiotherapist for them.

PhysioLinked offers three key selling points:

  • vetted clinicians (it does background checks to ensure each physiotherapist is chartered and has full public indemnity insurance to practise)
  • verified reviews
  • reduced package rates

The global journey begins

PhysioLinked is launching in the UK and South Africa in Q3 2017.

According to Neary, these immediate markets are valued at €1.5bn, with 13,000 private physiotherapists residents.

“Taking this platform to the US and Canada is the ultimate goal and our primary focus for 2019.

“The beauty of our offering is that it is applicable in any clinical setting. We are currently focusing on a market we know intimately but hope to scale this into other clinic verticals a little down the line.”

PhysioLinked has yet to officially launch and already has close to 20 clinics listed on the site at present. “We are on target. Our focus for spring is to hone in on building out this register so that patients nationwide can access the right chartered physiotherapist to meet their care needs, wherever they are located.

“Our goal is to attract angel investment so that we might scale this at the speed we wish to. By 2019, we expect profits of €2m backed by a team of 15 Irish employees.”

Tales from the start-up trenches

Neary says the start-up journey is challenging, and that there are “not enough hours in the day and not enough hands on deck when you’re beginning a bootstrapped start-up”.

‘There are rarely female faces on the other side of the table looking back at me. I look forward to a time when that ceiling breaks’

“It can be hard too, putting yourself and your product or service out there. In a way, having solid market research gives you the confidence to know whether or not you are on the right path. The days when you have doubts, you can look at the hard facts and they offer some comfort that you are building something that is genuinely needed. But it is still daunting.

“I’m a mum of two rascals aged two and four. It can be challenging and odd switching caps from serious entrepreneur to fun mummy. I often wonder if I am taken as seriously as a professional because I am both.

“It crossed my mind before going in to pitch for funding recently: ‘Would this be easier if I were a man?’ There are rarely female faces on the other side of the table looking back at me. I look forward to a time when that ceiling breaks.”

Like many female entrepreneurs, Neary is resilient. “I partook in Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur boot camp recently and was, by far, one of the oldest ‘young’ entrepreneurs in the room. What really impressed me was the sheer magnitude and diversity of talent that the other participants showed.

“With the degree of financial supports now available through the LEOs and Enterprise Ireland, it’s a very exciting time to have a bright idea to take to market.”

Her advice for other founders is to take advantage of any supports available.

“Some of the accelerator programmes that are running nationwide are superb – take part if you can!

“I am a people person and I definitely prefer being part of a team, and that’s where New Frontiers saved me. I moved on from working alone in my home office to recently completing the Phase Two course at the Synergy Centre in Tallaght. I found the mentors and trainers that I met and worked with so supportive – I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

“I completely underestimated how valuable the peer-to-peer learning was. That’s probably where I gleaned most value from the course,” Neary concluded.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years