Owner: Vera Milan Gervais & Marcel A Gervais
Established: 1991
Q and A Session with Vera Milan Gervais, HealthConnect Inc

Q: How did you choose your business name?
VMG: We started our company in Toronto back in 1991 as 80/20 Communications. We offered project management, as well as product launches and communication materials for prescription products. Our name changed to DDx Health Strategies when our business model expanded to include clinical trials and physician education. DDx is a medical term that created a more credible platform to communicate to healthcare professionals.

In 1995, we relocated to Moncton, partly due to the availability of fiber optics and partly because the province is bilingual. A few years later, we added a customer care centre called HealthConnect. When our customer care focus grew, HealthConnect was adopted as the business name. It was easy to remember and more clearly communicated our expertise.

Q: How would you describe your business?
VMG: Our emphasis is on customer care and compliance in regulated industries.

HealthConnect manages consumer and patient care programs and provides medical information support for pharmaceutical, medical device, nutritional and animal health companies, as well as support groups and health-related organizations.

As an outsource partner, HealthConnect helps our clients care for their customers, who are comprised of patients, caregivers, consumers and healthcare professionals, through a contact centre, medical information services, patient programs, complaint handling, fulfillment and a custom pharmacy.

Q: In what markets do you currently operate?
VMG: We currently deal in Canada and in some regions of the United States.

Q: What markets would you like to penetrate in the short-term?
VMG: We would like to continue to grow Canadian-based clients and we are currently preparing for global access.

Q: How would you describe your greatest achievements and successes?
VMG: Believing in myself. Growing a two-person business with 100% of clients in Central Canada to a company that employs 40 people, all while raising two children and working in the same office with my husband and partner for 28 years!

Success required flexibility at home, at the office and in setting stretch goals with achievable expectations. It also meant embracing change. We needed to anticipate and handle constant market changes and challenges over almost three decades. We did that by continually pivoting services and products while staying aligned with our mission to make a difference in peoples’ lives by connecting them to health and wellness.

Q: Describe the biggest challenges you have encountered or continue to face as a woman entrepreneur?
VMG: One of the biggest challenges is the limited number of female role models and accessible male or female mentors available to women – especially for those starting or running businesses with the potential to create a seven-figure revenue.

Another challenge , which has started to slowly change, is the gap in workload, responsibilities and expectations faced by mother versus father entrepreneurs. Those expectations can create perceptions and judgments that need to be overcome just to get on the playing field, let alone being on a level playing field.

Whether or not children are part of the picture, male/female bias does exist. We’ve had clients who preferred dealing with my husband. Rather than alienate potential or existing clients, we rephrased it as “right fit” relationships.

We all had to change mindsets and acknowledge that not being a primary contact did not have to limit my strengths or role. Over time, increasing female presence as strong leaders and decision-makers has removed some of that resistance, however we can’t push relationships. They evolve based on performance and trust.

Q: What are some tricks-of-the-trade for women starting a business?
  • Be absolutely clear on what you want to achieve: work-life balance; a personal brand and few employees or a corporate enterprise; high profile or social impact or both; big profits vs. mad money, etc.
  • Focus on Done, not Perfection. No one can see or buy something that never sees the light of day.
  • You will make mistakes. Rename it “iteration”- a step along the continuum of testing, learning, improving and growing.
  • Believe in yourself. Talk nicely to yourself. Let go and move on.
  • Network, sell, and market yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you do need to promote what you do. No one buys a product or service that they don’t know about.
  • Work to your strengths and don’t try to do it all. That’s the quickest route to burnout and feeling like a failure.
  • The same applies to social media. Don’t try to be everywhere. Focus on where you are comfortable and can succeed without sacrificing time for life and play.
  • Learn how to manage money, including the definition of profit. It’s your reward for your value.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear and read about instant success. Trust your instincts.
  • Ask for what you need. Don’t apologize for knowing you’re human. It’s actually a strength to let go of struggling so that you can focus on what you do better than others.
  • Work with women and men who treat each other as equals. That’s how the world will change.