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.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.