Entrepreneurial Women Doctors Partner to Tap SBA Financing and Open Their Dream Naturopathic Medical Clinic
By the time entrepreneurs Drs. Tara Steinke and Ginger Sweetan met at Bastyr University’s school of naturopathic medicine in San Diego, they had already amassed quite a bit of business and life experience.
Dr. Steinke was in her late thirties and had studied engineering before working in real estate sales. Dr. Sweetan, in her mid-forties, had wanted to be a medical doctor, but after enlisting in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman/emergency medical technician and getting her nursing license, an autoimmune disorder derailed her plans. That’s about the time she heard that Bastyr was opening a medical school in town.
“I went to the open house and actually cried in the car on the way home because I felt I had found my calling,” Dr. Sweetan said. “I knew this was the type of medicine I wanted to pursue.”
Naturopathic Medicine Seeks to Restore Optimum Health
Naturopathic medicine is a proactive field of medicine in which practitioners diagnose, prevent and treat acute and chronic illness to restore patients’ optimal health. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) focus on patients’ inherent self-healing processes through what are called “determinants” of health, including diet, movement and exercise, water intake, sense of meaning, purpose and environment. NDs work in partnership with patients to address symptoms and identify underlying causes of illness.
Attending medical school together, Drs. Steinke and Sweetan soon became fast friends and partners. They studied together in their basic business skills classes and started discussing their personal and professional dreams. Both wanted to work in the local community and both were committed to advancing and expanding access to naturopathic medicine.
It didn’t take long for Dr. Sweetan to share her vision for opening a consortium of naturopathic clinics and services aimed at helping the profession and patients. Dr. Steinke embraced the idea and once the two of them graduated and completed their residencies, they sat down to create a business plan to bring about their small business dream aptly named NaturopathicRx.
Infusion of Capital, Just in Time
To open the first NaturopathicRx clinic, the doctors quickly found ideal space in a Rancho Santa Fe plaza. The location, however, was only one piece of the puzzle. They still needed capital to fund tenant improvements, equipment, inventory and other start-up needs. That’s when they reached out to the North San Diego Small Business Development Center at MiraCosta College, where they were in turn referred to Miriam Torres Baltys, a small business loan officer at CDC Small Business Finance.
“During the high point of the Covid 19 pandemic, banks weren’t lending to start-up small businesses; CDC Small Business Finance was.” Miriam said. “Drs. Steinke and Sweetan had a lot of experience in their industry and good credit. They deserved the financial assistance we provided.”
Miriam guided the NaturopathicRx partners through the application process for an SBA Community Advantage loan. Within 30 days, Drs. Steinke and Sweetan got the call that they’d been approved.
“I remember sitting in our Naturopathic suite that we were already paying for when we got the good news,” said Dr. Sweetan. “We developed great relationships with everyone at CDC. We couldn’t have opened our business without them.”
The doctors opened the doors of NaturopathicRx on March 1, 2021. It was a milestone day, matched only by the thrill days later when their first unsolicited patient walked in to make an appointment.
Pursuing a Small Business Dream
While others might shy away from opening a small business during a global pandemic, Drs. Steinke and Sweetan feel they made the right decision and continue to focus on the positives. For example, they hope to tap into their industry’s shift toward telehealth, which emerged with the Covid-19 outbreak.
“As healthcare providers we need to find new ways to serve patients and if that means doing it via a screen interface, so be it,” said Dr. Steinke. “It’s still a good personal connection.”
As for the future, these two entrepreneurial practitioners envision opening more clinics and bridging gaps in the current healthcare paradigm through naturopathic medicine.
“We love the idea of creating healing spaces and seeking solutions to patient challenges,” said Dr. Sweetan.