An Investment in Holistic Healthcare: Supporting Big Dreams through the WEOC National Loan Program
This articles appears in the Fall 2023 edition of The Advisor.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak havoc on the Canadian health care system, nurses quickly felt the strain. Emergency room (ER) nurse Tiffany Strong could see the cracks in the system, with overloaded emergency rooms offering practitioners insufficient time with patients. “People go into nursing because it’s a passion and they want to take care of people,” says Strong. “How do you walk away from that just because you’re tired? Your shift may be over, but there’s still sick people.”
Soon an idea began to form. What if she could create a place where health care services were provided using a more holistic and proactive approach? “Holistic nursing care just makes sense,” says Strong. “I don’t know why there aren’t more people doing it.”
Best of all, the business could be based in her own community of Clarenville, Newfoundland, allowing her to be close to home and still work part-time in the ER.
“The pandemic was the tipping point for a lot of people to make a change,” offers Strong. “I know that in order for me to be excellent at my job I have to be taking care of me”—an increasingly difficult task for a mother of a toddler working 12-hour shifts during a pandemic. And she wasn’t alone. A 2022 survey by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) found that over 75 percent of Canada’s nurses were burnt out, and Newfoundland, like many regions in Canada, continues to face nursing shortages.
The desire to prioritize wellness—her own, her family’s, and her community’s—was the impetus for her proposed business: Strong Wellness Solutions. The three years from idea to opening was a time of immense learning for Strong, who expanded her certifications, scouted for a location, and started connecting with like-minded practitioners.
“I just had conversations with people,” Strong says, “and in every conversation I learned something.”
Eventually she built a team to fill out the core offerings of her business, which includes education and treatment options like nutritional support, stress management, pre- and post-natal care, massage therapy, and nurse coaching.
“We work with [a client’s] health care providers,” she says. “We’re all a team, providing interdisciplinary care in a community setting.”
The next hurdle was financing.
“I thought, I have this desire, but I can’t afford this dream,” says Strong. So she started looking for any business and financial support she could find. “I made a list of organizations and just started calling people,” she explains. “I talked to whoever was going to listen.”
That included Lindsay Mercer, Business Start-Up Advisor at NLOWE, and Evan Myles from the Business Planning Program at the YMCA in St. John’s. Both Myles and Mercer helped Strong develop her business plan.
“Clients come to me with a lot of different thoughts, and a business plan allows them to look at business from all different angles,” says Mercer. “It gives them confidence.”
Strong agrees: “I’m not nervous about my plan moving forward, and I feel really prepared.” Not that the process was always easy.
“Sometimes it was tedious and stressful, and many times I said, “Let’s just go use a line of credit, this is taking time away from business,” says Strong. “But the business plan gave me step by step what I need to do, and now I can say I’ve thought about every aspect of it and have something to guide me through.”
With a solid business plan in place, Strong was able to apply for funding through the WEOC National Loan Program.
Established in 2022 through the Government of Canada’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Loan Fund, the program runs as a partnership between the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) and loan fund partners across the country, including NLOWE. Having the option to provide loans is a game changer for many organizations.
“Women feel really comfortable with NLOWE, so the option is a big deal for us,” says Mercer. “They want to work with us.”
This partnership between regional organizations and WEOC is one of the things that makes the WEOC National Loan Program unique and effective.
“What we learned in our 2022 Bootstrap or Borrow survey of Canadian women entrepreneurs was that less than half of them felt that staff at financial institutions listened to their needs,” explains WEOC CEO Alison Kirkland. “So, it’s impactful to be able to source funding through an organization you already know and trust. Our loan fund partners not only have established relationships with women in their regions but provide myriad business services that are designed using a gender lens.”
Three years, a second child, numerous professional certifications, and one WEOC loan later, Tiffany Strong officially opened the doors of Strong Wellness Solutions in July 2023. “If you’d asked me in January if would be standing here in my clinic, I’d say only in a perfect world.”