I am privileged to have realized my childhood dreams: to become a veterinarian, find love, and have children. I decided to pursue animal medicine after watching a show where a dog was hit by a car, had a broken jaw, and was healed, thanks to the action of a veterinary superhero. Before that, I wanted to work with Mother Teresa. The marriage between my desire to help humans and animals was signed.
In 2016, when my daughter began to speak, I gave birth to a different type of baby: a business with a unique profile in the unglamourized field of animal aftercare. The venture, which began with a design and prototype created in my kitchen in Québec, soon became my niche in the field of veterinary medicine. I was doing what I could to put my love for my profession into action and help improve the euthanasia experience for all involved—veterinary colleagues, pet owners, and, of course, our animal friends. Making a difference in the lives of people (and animals) has always been my inner drive, and it is propelled by a fire that burns—the fire of entrepreneurship!.
The entrepreneurial bug
In the field of veterinary medicine, entrepreneurship is all the rage. Indeed, we are generally ambitious individuals and keen to put our own stamp on our beloved profession. What drives this thirst? Is it a need for thrills? Freedom? A sense of accomplishment? Recognition?
As a child, when I imagined my future as a veterinarian, I never thought, 20 years into my career, I would still be chasing another Kilimanjaro summit, keen to leave a theoretical piece of my finger or a toe. I suppose this is simply the way humans are—its imprinted in our reptilian brain to take things as far as possible. Sometimes I feel as though entrepreneurship is an inherent flaw: we are inhabited, consumed, or obsessed (from the outside, I suppose, people would describe those with an entrepreneurial spirit as persevering, visionary, or simply dedicated).
There is certainly an unusual appetite when it comes to risk, and small-business owners are definitely risk-takers. A 2018 study found professionals attending an entrepreneurial event had an incidence of Toxoplasma gondii 1.8 times higher than normal.1 The incidence of infection to this parasite was an indicator of the activity and entrepreneurial desire of geographical areas—the organism enters the brain and makes its host less risk-averse.
The drive to achieve more is akin to a fire that heats up and creates pressure in the combustion chamber, carrying us forward like a train. When I receive feedback on my business and products from veterinary colleagues around the world, I feel vindicated, though the recognition is also unexpected. I have to remind myself that, while my venture may not be as career-altering as, say, discovering the technique of arthroplasty, my work has value. My contribution helps my peers feel better about the work they do, which is incredibly important in its own right.
Succeeding in veterinary entrepreneurship is not unlike walking through a Québec snowstorm. The whirling snow assaults our corneas, but gives us the satisfaction of conquering adversity; not seeing anything that awaits us and moving anyway. Indeed, it’s not unlike performing our first Caesarean section: We have the courage to do it, but know full well we are not yet the most qualified.
In this profession, we employ our knowledge and experience to make high-risk decisions daily. The weight of the outcome on our shoulders. Launching one’s own venture in this industry is similar—though, instead of the health of a patient and the satisfaction of its family, on the line is your ego (and your reputation), as well as the outcome of investing your savings and your time.
High risk, high reward
Only half of all small businesses will survive the five-year mark.2 Five years is a long time, and we are so vulnerable, with no one to guide us in front and no one to guide us behind. The sword of Damocles is always there.
The logistical questions upon start-up are endless: Have you had your production inspected by an external firm? When will you hire your first employee and pay yourself a salary? When will you incorporate? Do you have to charge taxes if you sell online in the United States? Should you have your product distributed exclusively?
Veterinarians are brave, inventive, and resilient entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we can also be a bit oblivious and tend to jump into the dangerous waters of entrepreneurship without any training. Many end up leaving practice to focus on the venture. I kept my full-time job for the first two years, then cut back to two days in clinics, then one day. It was an adjustment, but I have found joy and excitement in this revamped schedule. Now, seven years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While there is no “secret” of leadership, there are a few expert tips to keep in mind when getting your business off the ground. These are guiding principles I kept in mind while starting up and remain mindful of to this day:
1) Enlist a carefully selected, complementary team. Everyone should have their own strengths and not feel as though they are competing with each other.
2) Create a safe space where others can share their opinion without feeling threatened or judged.
3) Adhere to strong values to ensure decisions are made and justified in harmony.
4) Be an entrepreneur for the right reasons and strive to change the world in your own way—not to be free or earn more money.
5) Look for a mission that mobilizes you and will make you an inspiring leader.
Have the courage to go for it, if that’s what you want, and savour the peace of mind if you choose to stay employed. Veterinary medicine has endless possibilities—and, in my option, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.
IN GOOD COMPANY
|Frustration is the mother of invention. This is why so many fantastic products in the animal health sphere were designed and created by veterinarians:
Céline Leheurteux, DVM, is founder and CEO of Euthabag, a purpose-built body bag for companion animals. Dr. Leheurteux, a Québec-based practitioner, shares her best tips on euthanasia via the Small Animal Euthanasia Practical classes, free RACE-approved training built to reduce stress and improve compassion satisfaction in veterinary teams. For more information, visit veterinaryeuthanasiaeducation.com and euthabag.ca.
1 Johnson S.K, Fitza MA., Lerner DA., Calhoun DM., Beldon MA., Chan ET., Johnson PTJ. Risky business: linking Toxoplasma gondii infection and entrepreneurship behaviors across individuals and countries. Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Jul 25;285(1883):20180822. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30051870
2 See, “What percentage of small businesses fail—and how can you avoid being one of them?” on Forbes: https://bit.ly/3wIbKx3