“Don’t be afraid to try something,” offers Christine Uwimbabazi, who co-owns Prime Care Transportation in Buffalo, NY with her husband. “Even if you haven’t met them yet, there are so many people out there who want you to succeed, so find them.”
For Christine, that meant getting help to take an idea for a business and bring it to fruition – providing non-emergency medical-transportation services for people to get to doctor appointments and dialysis services, for example.
Prime Care was formalized in 2017 and undertook the necessary steps to achieve New York State certification for this type of transportation service, which includes serving clients with limited mobility and who use wheelchairs and other assistive equipment, like walkers. They began offering services in 2018. Prime Care works in conjunction with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and is slowly-but-steadily expanding their services to include private-pay clients, too.
Go for progress, not perfection, to get your business off the ground
“When we started, we didn’t even have a business plan,” says Christine. Eager to learn, though, Christine participated in numerous entrepreneurship courses and focused on expanding their professional networks.
One important local resource for Christine and her team is the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, which provides business-development guidance and resources and is one of the area’s leading organizations for entrepreneurs who have emigrated to the Buffalo area (Christine and her husband came to the U.S. 20 years ago from Rwanda and have been in Buffalo since 2008, when her husband attended graduate school at the University at Buffalo).
Christine is also a graduate of the Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs program, a joint venture of the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the UB Center for Urban Studies. In addition, she participated in the KeyBank Business Boost & Build Buffalo Pitch Competition and won a $1,000 award.
As important as the monetary award were the connections she made, including meeting Sherri Falck, one of Pursuit’s business advisors. Christine describes their relationship with Pursuit as “the perfect match for our business.”
“Participating in these programs helped me understand that there are people who can help. Sherri helped us strengthen our business plan and identify holes in our core team, like an accountant, and then helped us fill those needs.” Through Pursuit, Prime Care also accessed consultants in digital marketing, accounting and human resources.
Christine continues, saying, “When starting businesses, entrepreneurs need information as much as they need funding. There are a lot of great people who can support you in some way, whether it’s providing loans or advice or helping to broaden your network. It all counts, it all helps. And whatever assistance you get, you can always find ways to leverage that into more help or new opportunities.”
A Pursuit microloan helps Prime Care focus on growth, then stability
Through Pursuit, Prime Care secured a microloan for the business in early 2020.
“Our goal was to use the loan for expansion into another county,” Christine explains. “Then, when the coronavirus hit our region, we redirected it to help us stay afloat.”
Since Prime Care is considered an “essential” service during the pandemic, it would seem that its medical transport services would be in high demand during a health crisis. In reality, though, the mandated business closures – which included non-emergency doctor visits and medical procedures – meant that Prime Care’s 15 vehicles and employees were largely in a holding pattern.
Christine’s Pursuit team reached out and helped Prime Care secure an SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan (PPP), which helped the company retain employees and, recently, an SBA Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL), too.
In addition, Christine and Pursuit focused on improving Prime Care’s digital presence and marketing the business, particularly to build private-pay clientele.
“We want to be ready to rebuild beyond the pandemic, so we developed our new website, which I’m really proud of,” says Christine. “Sherri and the Pursuit team gave us great advice about details like including client testimonials and links to news articles that include Prime Care. We also strengthened our social media outreach and together, all of this is already having tangible results.”
Christine credits Pursuit’s personal touch as one of elements that’s meant the most. “When the pandemic hit, Sherri reached out right away – and I can’t imagine most lenders doing that. It’s clear that our successes are their successes and our struggles their struggles.”
Even in challenging times, the satisfaction of business ownership outweighs the struggles
While the last few years have been challenging, Christine says that it’s all worth it, too.
“Working for ourselves is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. There are hiccups, but as we build our business, we’re also teaching our children about resilience and patience. They’re learning that there are options in life and we can all choose our futures. Even with the struggles, we’re happy where we are in life. And it’s never a straight line to that happiness – it takes time and commitment and compromise.”
Christine continues, saying, “The struggles are real for small businesses and it’s harder now than ever. As owners, though, we have to be patient, commit and focus on rebuilding. Keep growing your circle of support and you’ll always find new prospects and opportunities. Business is picking up and hopefully, this craziness will end soon. We just have to put our feet on the ground and keep going.”