Roughly 3.6M patients end up missing an appointment each year because of an unfortunate dearth of viable and available transportation options. For some, transport might be too costly. For others, it may prove unreliable. Circulation is looking to change this, offering a new means of making one’s appointment on time and with up to 70 percent in savings. Circulation is a digital transportation platform providing patients with a fairly-priced, reliable Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT).
Circulation’s CEO and Co-Founder, Robin Heffernan, discusses her company below, giving us insight into how she is changing the healthcare world for the better.
1. Have you always wanted to start your own company?
I imagine that some people are born to start companies. These people seem to have a feeling in their guts that drives them to be entrepreneurs and start companies. I honestly do not believe that describes me. I think I am a person of passion and I like to move quickly from idea to execution. I was well trained in school, then in critical thinking while a consultant, and then in the dynamics of funding in the venture capital world. My simple desire to start companies and make them successful is to fill critical needs in the market. Clearly, the early success of Circulation reaffirms that there is an unmet need and we have a way to help meet it.
2. What did you do before starting Circulation?
My background is varied, and the different perspectives have proved immensely helpful to me. I studied the sciences during my degrees at Harvard. As a PhD candidate, I also worked closely with NASA and many leaders in global climate change. The rigor in thinking helped me hone great core skills that I continue to use today. Likewise, I enjoyed the teaming and building solutions with a diversity of people and thought. I did not mesh well with the time cycles of research and heavy focus on grant funding.
My desire to work on hard problems with smart people brought me to management consulting. I got a crash course in business and found that my internal wiring aligned well with markets and market forces. I loved the fundamental apprentice model and I learned a lot very quickly. I switched from consulting to Venture Capital because I wanted to build something and to run something but, in all honesty, it was also opportunistic and an example of being in the right place at the right time. I’m very happy I made the switch and Flybridge Venture Capital offered a great mix of new company incubation and early stage investing. It was useful for me to see how investors selected companies and how successful businesses navigated growth and various exit scenarios.
3. Was it hard to start a business like this?
Building businesses is part evolution and part disruption. Many people will tell you “a good idea is only a good idea, not a successful business,” and this is very true. Every day the team continues to flesh out ideas, adjust direction, and execute. I don’t know any successful entrepreneur who ended up where he/she started. Building a great business takes a diversity of strong talent. The most challenging part of my role is to keep the team strong and to keep us aligned on what we want to accomplish in the marketplace as a team – while leveraging everyone’s individual talents and perspectives. There is no one superstar and I would be worried if there was. For me, this team dynamic is the most important and the most difficult.
Circulation’s CEO and Co-Founder, Robin Heffernan
4. Was it difficult to find partners or were companies willing?
There are many types of partners in my mind (e.g. financial, business, advisory). Circulation has been very well received by all of these partner types. Our Series A funding was over-subscribed and we have some excellent, experienced investors including traditional Venture Capital firms as well as six top-tier Strategics. Likewise, we have grown quickly from three pilot clients to over 60 Clients in our first year of operations. For us, the partnerships have been quite additive. Both investors and clients have helped us build better solutions and have steered us in the direction of additional market needs. These partnerships make us better and we cannot spend enough time listening to our partners as they are huge assets for us.
5. What are some plans you have for Circulation in the future?
Circulation is young and the capabilities we provide to healthcare are desperately needed. There will be much to do in meeting the intense healthcare market demand for logistics and transportation. As we succeed in this effort, the delivery of healthcare will improve and we believe we will be a major component of this improvement. My belief is that we can help to improve healthcare in many more ways that are fundamentally related to how we think at Circulation and the tools we have developed. At the core of Circulation is the exchange of goods and services which supports a fundamental shift in how consumers consume healthcare. This creates a marketplace that reacts to the natural forces of free markets. The healthcare industry will prosper no matter what. Our belief is that healthcare will be better as the consumer gets more involved and the free market forces come to the fore. We are a far distance away from that, but disruption in healthcare is only a matter of time and the consumer will disrupt how healthcare is delivered and more importantly consumed.
6. How do you think being a woman gives you an advantage and disadvantage as a CEO?
I was initially naïve about the difference between male and female CEOs. I thought it started and stopped at the genetic differences. I have never met a woman or man that I could not learn and benefit from. Yet, I now have come to learn that there are social differences in how men relate to men in contrast to how men relate to women. No matter what, there are more men running companies than women. There is a social dynamic of how men often relate outside of the business setting – the shared hobbies and activities beyond the specific business issues shared. Women may not always have this luxury of the overlapping activities. They may have a different set of hobbies or they may have different obligations, perhaps a greater role in the family dynamic or child rearing. All of this said, it is not an excuse for a difference, just something to be aware of and to recognize that some of the related issues may cause a variation in the amount of time or subjects shared amongst executives.
7. Were you expecting Circulation to be as successful as it has been?
My answer is yes and it is based on two items, not just my ego. First, the needs in healthcare. The market is evolving and has a tremendous amount of progress to be made. The reaction to a solution such as Circulation has been exciting and powerful. Second, I have a great team. This team has experience and intelligence – and, they have built a great working style which is hugely collaborative. This collaborative style is within the team and with clients. These ingredients make me proud of Circulation and confident of our continued success.
8. What do you do when you’re not running the company?
I love healthcare and I love business challenges. What we are doing at Circulation is challenging, unpredictable and extremely rewarding. My life outside of Circulation is equally rewarding but perhaps more simple. I have a husband and two younger children. When I am not at Circulation, I am with them. Raising children throws many curve balls. It also forces you to be diligent around prioritizing time and efforts. Being a mom has made me a better entrepreneur without question. I am also very fortunate that my family understands my love for Circulation and supports my endeavors 100 percent.
9. Who is your biggest inspiration?
Honestly, I don’t subscribe or follow an individual man or woman as a role model. I do find that I am a mosaic of many influences of people and beliefs. I have great friends, family and colleagues who influence me. I value individuals that are passionate and that lead by example. I also have a lot of respect for those who recognize that one person will never serve all needs and can piece together the strengths of many to create a greater whole.
10. We know you just closed an exciting $10M funding deal, how do you feel about that?
We do need the capital to help us accelerate our impact. We have huge plans for expansion and growth throughout the U.S. We already serve over 60 clients, across 1,000 top-tier hospitals, clinics, community centers and other health facilities. We continue to prove that Circulation can significantly increase patient satisfaction rates while simultaneously cutting ride costs by up to 70 percent – a clear benefit for our healthcare clients and their populations served. This success continues to create greater and greater demand in the markets we serve and we already have line of sight to hundreds of more clients.
"I love healthcare and I love business challenges. What we are doing at Circulation is challenging, unpredictable and extremely rewarding"
11. What is your greatest accomplishment with Circulation?
It has been a whirlwind. I am extremely proud of where we’ve taken Circulation and how there is a very strong market demand for what we offer. I love our team. This team has been assembled over a number of years and they are great to work with. What is really nice is that with our clients, we can see instant positive impact on patients, family members and caregivers – we are already changing healthcare.
12. What is advice you have for girls who aspire to start their own companies?
This is a great question and one which makes me think. My first piece of advice is to follow your passion. If you are passionate about what you do, it will be more fun and more rewarding. Also, work will not feel like work, it will be a pleasure which will most likely mean you will excel there too. Second, is the world is complicated and the complications are increasing. Recognize that everyone is juggling numerous priorities and demands on their time. Do not be embarrassed by other commitments, be proud of them. Also, look for ways to make everything work. This may mean working remotely or adjusting your daily work schedule. If you are open and over-communicate, then most will be supportive and work with you to make everything fit together and work. Lastly, be thoughtful. Many people do not spend the time to think of a better answer or a better approach. Don’t be afraid to expend the effort to create a great idea or set of thoughts.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."