#StartupandSlay Digital Series: Elm Medicine

Yes, You Can Be An Entrepreneur and An Introvert

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Hamilton doctor Dr. Atreyi Mukherji considers herself to be a shy person, but that didn’t stop her from opening her own practice

For Hamilton doctor Dr. Atreyi Mukherji, elm trees represent strength and resiliency. They’ve faced a lot of adversity and are able to stand the test of time, she says. Those are the values that Dr. Mukherji wanted to espouse with her first-ever clinic, appropriately named Elm Medicine. Dr. Mukherji considers practicing medicine to be a privilege, one that she’s had since 2004. She trained in internal medicine and infectious disease, but in 2015, she added to her resume, completing a two-year fellowship in integrative medicine to learn more about evidence-based self care.

“Integrative medicine is a type of medicine where we look at not just medication and surgery, but we also include self-care. We are cherry picking the best of conventional as well as complementary medicine,” says Dr. Mukherji. “I went into that because I felt like with my conventional training I was really limited to giving people pills. That didn’t fit in with my philosophy.”

Dr. Mukherji was able to put this comprehensive approach into practice—literally—when she stepped away from working in hospitals to eventually open her own clinic in March 2019. Elm Medicine now has a staff of three employees and supports 50 patients a week, but it wasn’t easy. From figuring out how to set up a business, without any prior business skills, to negotiating being an entrepreneur and also an introvert, Dr. Mukherji learned a lot on her journey creating Elm Medicine.

“You don’t have to be an extrovert to be an entrepreneur,” says Dr. Mukherji. “Introverts have the capacity to speak in public, they have the capacity to contribute to a meeting—but their process, in terms of preparing for these situations and also how they show up than in the public arena might be a little different.”

Here is what she wants other entrepreneurs to know:

How did you decide it was time to open your own practice?

I decided to open my own practice because it was time to follow my intuition and face the fear of doing it. Nobody in my family has opened up their own business. We’re not business people. It’s also not my normal personality to be doing these sort of things. I’m a shy person, and my safety is very important. What if I fail? Will anybody come to my clinic? You have all these different thoughts, which I think everybody does. I’m not a ‘just go and do it’ type of person. I have to think about it for years, probably too much thinking. But, I was reminded of other things I’ve done in my life where I did overcome fear. Plus, I had a colleague in my ear for the past few years. I remember talking with her two years ago she said, “Atreyi, it’s just steps. Just like you figured out how to navigate everything with medical school and residency. Really, it’s just steps.” So I decided to stand up and just do it.

What advice do you have for people who are afraid of going after their dreams?

I think the most important thing is to know what your nature is. So if your nature is more introverted, introspective, versus extroverted, ask: what can I do to support my nature? My pathway as that kind of introspective person might be a little different than somebody who is more extroverted. So being comfortable with that is a core thing.

The second core thing—and I’ll just speak for myself—is pursuing a vocation that really touches my heart, what gives me meaning and being very, very clear about that. And I think once you’re clear on those, then the fears, you naturally want to work on those fears.

And then obviously skill development. If I don’t have a skill, who do I need to find to mentor me? Who’s an expert that I can trust and tap into, because I don’t have to know everything. So having those good people to really mentor you, give you advice, and being open to that. Then, just like I said, taking the steps one step, next step, next step, and just keep going.

What tips do you have for entrepreneurs who want to approach a bank for financial support?

My advice in working with a bank is to do your research and be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, have a business plan, and you can learn how to do that just by searching on the internet and even the banks in their small business sections will have templates that you can use. And find somebody at the bank who is the small business person who is going to tag team with you, somebody who’s got your back. I was very fortunate to have somebody like that and who still is, actually, very proactive in terms of supporting my small business.

Once you opened Elm Medicine, how did you find patients?

Because I’ve been in practice for a while, I guess one advantage I had was that I’m already known to the community. Another way – because integrative medicine is new – was educating and engaging with physicians. In terms of practical ways of getting this clinic known, it’s about a presence on the internet—a Google listing, Yelp listing. I’m also member of different established organizations. So for example, the Medical Psychotherapy Association of Canada, Integrative Medicine Organizations, EMDR, which is a type of psychotherapy that I do. So being a member, having a profile in these established and respected organizations also gives me and our clinic internet presence. So I think linking yourself to organizations, and allowing people to find you helps. And then people will ask their physician, “I would like to attend this clinic.”

Setting up a business can be a whirlwind, what would you say is the key to success? The most important thing in terms of launching a business is to be very clear in terms of your vision, your North star. Our North Star is a brand of trust and working towards that larger vision. Trust, to me, means being competent and compassionate.

To celebrate Small Business Week in October 2019, watch the Startup & Slay digital video series featuring six Canadian companies founded by diverse women entrepreneurs. This special project is produced by How She Hustles, with proud sponsor CIBC in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University. Help us share these stories online with hashtag #startupandslay and don’t forget to tag @howshehustles. We’d love to hear how you Startup & Slay, too!

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