Nov. 19, 2020

Six nurse entrepreneurs you should know about

Meet alumni and students using their professional nursing experience and education to start and manage businesses in the health-care industry
Janessa Rauch, The Nurse Coach

Janessa Rauch, The Nurse Coach

Janessa Rauch, The Nurse Coach

Janessa Rauch is currently working toward her master’s in nursing at UCalgary, exploring the self-care practices of paediatric oncology nurses. She also runs a nurse coaching business called The Nurse Coachwhich is geared towards health-care providers and professionals or educators and teachers. She is a founding executive board member and faculty at The Canadian Institute of Integrative Nursing Development & Education Ltd, an institute geared towards the development and education of holistic nursing and nurse coaches, the first of its kind in Canada.

The exciting thing about nurse coaching is that while it’s different from traditional nursing, it’s still very much in alignment with the nursing process,” says Rauch. “Over the last few years, I have truly begun to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset. I have created my own independent practice which has led me down some extraordinary roads.”

Rauch started in coaching a few years ago, when nurse coaching was in its infancy. She completed a six-month intensive program, based in the U.S., to become a board-certified nurse coach. Currently, she sees clients privately and also does some group coaching with a team of physicians passionate about lifestyle medicine. She says she loves being a business mentor and coach, working with other nurses interested in exploring entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship allows you to walk some amazing paths and you never quite know where you’ll end up,” she says. “Being an entrepreneur has allowed me the opportunity to only take on work that interests me and that I am passionate about.”

For Rauch, the most satisfying aspect of being in business is “realizing that I am helping other nurses understand the importance of caring for themselves as much as they care for others and seeing nurses become excited about the possibility of creating independent practices of their own.”  

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
“Find someone who has walked the path you want to take and share with them your dreams and passions. Don't be afraid to be creative! Nurses are needed to be innovative and agents of change in our health-care system. Get curious and ask questions.” 

Julia Imanoff, MN’16, COLO Families Inc.

Julia Imanoff, MN’16, COLO Families Inc.

Julia Imanoff, COLO Families Inc.

Julia Imanoff, MN’16, is an educator and perinatal nurse specialist who's worked with organizations like Sick Kids Hospital, Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and Canadian Association of Perinatal and Women’s Health Nurses.

As a current PhD student in nursing, her research interests involve fostering healthy parent-child relationships focusing on experiences with mental health and birth. With fellow UCalgary nursing instructor Aaron Li, she recently co-founded a nurse-led social enterprise, COLO Families Inc., that supports parents, helps families develop meaningful connections and promotes healthy childhood development. 

While Imanoff says she never set out to become an entrepreneur, she started the business because it was a way to enact change.

“I wanted to see the work parents do be highly valued," says Imanoff. "I wanted to see parents better supported. I wanted to see families become more connected and family relationships strengthened.

“This aspiration came from a combination of my clinical practice as a perinatal nurse, having my own children and becoming a parent, and working alongside world-renowned child and family researchers like (UCalgary nursing professors) Dr. Nicole Letourneau, PhD, and Dr. Nancy Moules, PhD.”

Her first step into entrepreneurship occurred after she mentioned her ideas to a colleague who suggested she look into Innovate Calgary. From there, she says it's been a rocky road running COLO Families during a pandemic, but one that’s full of valuable collaboration and partnerships.

“There are different reasons people may be drawn towards entrepreneurship,” says Imanoff. “For me, I tend to become energized when I feel I'm making a tangible difference in the lives of others and living into my values. The work I do with COLO Families does both for me. This work truly fuels me and gives me the tenacity to stick with it through many pivots and challenges.”

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
“Take that first step. If you are fortunate enough to study at UCalgary, there is a plethora of resources to support you in those first steps, from the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking to Innovate Calgary. Make connections. The path of entrepreneurship can be challenging and isolating. Start speaking to other entrepreneurs and find out their story, learn from their challenges and successes. There is a thriving network of amazing individuals across campus and throughout Calgary. Reach out and start making those connections (even virtually)!”

Leah Wuitschik, BN’05, TallTrees Leadership®

Leah Wuitschik, BN’05, TallTrees Leadership®

Leah Wuitschik, TallTrees Leadership

Throughout her nursing career, Leah Wuitschik, BN’05, has worked in a variety of practice areas including acute care, infection prevention and control, health promotion and chronic disease management. She has more than 20 years of experience working in various leadership roles, in health care and in leadership development.

She holds a Master of Arts in Leadership and a graduate certificate in executive coaching from Royal Roads University. In 2013, she founded TallTrees Leadership with her mother and fellow nurse, Carol Gray (BN’75), to offer leadership development and coaching, encouraging people to take their performance to a new level.

“The beautiful thing about nursing is that there are endless opportunities out there to be innovative and to serve,” says Wuitschik. “I’ve always been the type of person to question everything and as I was working on my master’s, I started to think about how I could serve nursing and health care in a different way. The desire to serve, while also being able to create something entirely new, was the driving force in becoming an entrepreneur.”

Wuitschik says she enjoys the flexibility of her work.“Every day is different for me. I could be coaching clients, developing and facilitating workshops, producing and hosting my podcast Central Line: Leadership in Healthcare, doing public speaking engagements, or writing articles on leadership for various publications. All this creates busy and engaging days.”

For her, it’s all about the feedback from her clients noting the change and progress that individuals and teams see from the leadership development and coaching.

“When they share with me how they finally feel understood and valued, and that they now have a clear path forward to become the best leaders possible, I know I’m in the right place.”

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
“Think big! Don’t hold yourself back. There will always be a reason not to do something, but there are so many more important reasons to go out there and do it.”

Carol Gray, BN’75, TallTrees Leadership®

Carol Gray, BN’75, TallTrees Leadership®

Carol Gray, TallTrees Leadership

For more than three decades, Carol Gray, BN’75, has worked in health care in various senior leadership roles and has led teams to implement province-wide innovative health programs and services across Alberta. She holds a graduate certificate in executive coaching from Royal Roads University.

“Leading and supporting teams to deliver quality health programs and services for individuals and families fueled my passion for making a positive impact for those we serve,” says Gray. “Thinking I would retire, I quickly wished to build on my experience and desire to continue to lead in an environment that offered creativity, complexity, innovation, learning and most important, being connected to health professionals again. The opportunity to be an entrepreneur was an exciting new venture.”

With her daughter, Leah Wuitschik, she founded TallTrees Leadership, which is dedicated to serving those who lead and work in health care or health-related fields, whether it be in hospitals, community, non-profit organizations, or the private sector. Through TallTrees, Gray and Wuitschik offer leadership development through workshops and webinars, teaching and facilitating leadership graduate courses, and providing learning resources including blogs, podcasts and newsletters.

“Having a nursing background has always served me well in former roles and currently as an entrepreneur,” says Gray. She says what she enjoys most about her business is being to create a direction and process of how to best offer the best value to her clients.   

“Working with nurses and other professionals and being part of their leadership journey — it's so rewarding to see their growth and enthusiasm as they strive for greater success,” says Gray. “I am inspired when they describe their leadership and positive outcomes for team and organizational culture.”             

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
“Do the due diligence in making the decision. Take the leap. Commit to continued learning and take on the adventure.”

Luz Alvizurez, BSN'08, BN’10, Lubdub Apparel

Luz Alvizurez, BSN'08, BN’10, Lubdub Apparel

Luz Alvizurez, Lubdub Apparel

Luz Alvizurez, BSN'08, BN’10, has been working as a paediatrics nurse in Calgary for the last 10 years. She currently still works part-time as a nurse but also simultaneously runs  Lubdub Apparelwhere she designs and sells custom apparel for health-care professionals. She started the company four years ago, after returning to work from her second maternity leave, making custom t-shirts for herself and colleagues on the side.

I just wanted something comfortable to wear to work that wasn't always a scrub top,” says Alvizurez. “I wanted things that were a little bit more simple and modern, so it's to my taste, but also professional enough so you can wear it at work.”

Earlier this year, just as Alvizurez decided she would officially launch her company, the COVID pandemic hit. She decided to delay the launch and instead do a fundraiser, creating a Together Apart T-shirt with 100 per cent of the profits from the sale directed to the United Way of Calgary Covid-19 Community Response Fund.

“I didn’t expect the number of orders I received,” she says, adding more than 350 T-shirts have been ordered and raising just under $6,000. She is planning to launch a third round of Together Apart T-shirts in support of United Way. Currently, she makes custom apparel for various units in the city and says while most of her customers are local, she’s now also selling to customers nationally and in the U.S. She's even looking to hire her first employee soon.

Being a nurse and being a mom is priority," says Alvizurez. "So if I can find a way to do that and still be able to realize these big dreams that I have for Lubdub, I’ll keep working at it.”

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
“Don’t hold yourself back. I was nervous to put myself out there. I was worried it might fail and worried that I might not have the balance. But jumping in with both feet was the best thing that I've done. Nursing is wonderful and it will allow us the opportunity to seek out our dreams, given that we can work casually and in multiple sites and pick up as much shifts as we need or can.”

Amy Deagle, BN'06, International Network of Nurse Leaders

Amy Deagle, BN'06, International Network of Nurse Leaders

Amy Deagle, International Network of Nurse Leaders

Amy Deagle, BN'06, has spent most of her career working in rural communities, primarily in labour and delivery, women's health, primary care and in leadership roles. When she founded the International Network of Nurse Leaders (INNL) in 2018, it was to unite a community of nurses, to hone their leadership skills through coaching and courses and to help them tackle important causes in health care.

“The drive behind it was to get nurses to see themselves as leaders and to see where they could impact change within their own world,” she says. Her favourite part of INNL is having conversations with nurses of all stripes which evolved into her Shift Change podcast. The first season of the podcast featured more than 30 episodes and over 15,000 downloads. Guests have ranged from nursing students to Howard Catton, chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses.

“I wanted this place for nurses to learn about leadership, talk about leadership and change,” says Deagle. “It’s connecting me with so many amazing nurses so that I can share their stories.”

Deagle is also a provincial councillor for CARNA and holds a full-time role as director of health professions for the Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP). Under the INNL umbrella and collaborating with other nurses, she’s in the process of developing a new advisory collective and health-care consultancy called ChangeRx. 

“The thing with entrepreneurship, you have to be able to adapt and change,” she says. “If you treat entrepreneurship like an evolution, then everything you’re doing is just learning and getting better and growing. If you’re in the mindset of this as the first iteration, this works for now and it doesn’t fit anymore, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean it was a failure or that you didn’t make an impact in that space but instead, what’s the next step?”

Her advice for students around entrepreneurship:
Nursing opens so many doors that you don't even know as a student it's going to open for you. If you're bored in nursing, you're just in the wrong little piece of it. I have the nursing job that helps fund the start-up piece. Doing both takes some of the stress out of having to be financially successful right away so you can build it properly. If you have those inclinations of wanting to try something, find a mentor. But really chase it.”

On Nov. 27, UCalgary Nursing is hosting a free virtual leadership conference called The Leader in All of Us. Imanoff, Gray, Wuitschik and Deagle are all speakers on the Leadership in Entrepreneurship and Innovation panel where they’ll discuss leading beyond the status quo. To learn more and to register, visit nursing.ucalgary.ca/theleaderinallofus.