You can always rely on family
Family support and a strong relationship helped husband and wife Dr Luan Ngo and Dr Cindy Nguyen turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
Starting a healthcare business can require a leap of faith. Luan Ngo's mother took one in 2013 when she saw her son about to miss out on buying the Carlton heritage building in which he and his wife Cindy had hoped to establish their periodontics practice, Perio Partners.
"I'd reached our bidding limit at the auction, but it went past that and someone else was still in the race," Luan recalls. "I said, 'I think that's it', but my mum was there next to me and she jumped in and kept bidding. She used to have her own business, sewing clothes for some popular brands, and she was the one who really pushed us to buy our own premises – and lent us money from her retirement savings to make sure we could. Cindy's parents weren't at the auction but also helped us later with their retirement savings.
"Our parents saw the potential of the location – and maybe they saw the potential in us as well."
Partners in life - and in practice
Opening their own practice was a long-time ambition for the husband and wife team, who met at Melbourne Dental School in 2000 and married in 2008. After attaining specialist periodontics qualifications and, in Luan's case, a PhD from the University of Melbourne, they worked in the same city practice for four years.
While both found it fulfilling – there was no opportunity to buy in, or have a say in how the practice was run.
In 2013, shortly after the birth of their first child, they were ready to go it alone and looked for an inner-city location that would enable Luan to balance clinical work with a longstanding teaching role at the nearby Melbourne Dental School.
"It's always risky to start from scratch – you have the mortgage payments, fit-out costs, wages for staff and, if patients aren't coming through the door every hour, there's a likelihood you'll run at a bit of a loss for the first year," Luan observes.
"Cindy is a bit of a worrier, but I was optimistic because I'd been associated with the university for years and that meant a lot of graduates knew me and would be likely to refer their patients to us."
"I looked at the numbers and thought, 'Together, we can do this', and my mum was very positive and supportive about it too.”
“It’s always risky to start from scratch but you have the mortgage payments, fit-out costs, wages for staff… I looked at the numbers and thought, ‘Together, we can do this’.”
Cindy Nguyen, Perio Partners co-owner
Backing the business journey
Not everyone shared Luan's confidence. He and Cindy spent several months unsuccessfully trying to secure finance for Perio Partners before NAB subsidiary Medfin agreed to back the venture.
"They understood the dental industry and were willing to lend to us at a time when other major lenders thought it was too risky, given the amount of capital we had and the fact that Cindy was on maternity leave," Luan says.
"Medfin could see the potential though and they knew that, even if it was tough initially, we would get through."
That faith proved well founded. Luan and Cindy settled on their premises in December 2013 and opened the doors three months later. By the end of 2014, the books were filling up, with 10 or more appointments a day.
It takes two
Six years on, the pair spend three days each at the practice. Three of Luan's academic colleagues have joined the team part-time and there are plans to add a third consulting room in late 2021.
Administration is Luan's domain and he's picked up business skills on the fly, ordering supplies, managing staff and becoming familiar with accounting software and reporting obligations.
Meanwhile, Cindy has invested around $25,000 to found Eco-plus, a sideline venture that produces eco-friendly alternatives to the disposable plastic products dentists use in abundance each day.
"After we had children, I started thinking more about the environment and the sort of world we'd be leaving for them," she explains.
"As dentists, we need to maintain a high level of infection control, which requires lots of single-use plastic barrier sheets. I don't like to think of all that plastic breaking down into micro-particles and getting into the food chain. With Luan's support, I decided to put a bit of money into turning my idea into a new business. Our first batch of plant-based barriers is on its way and we'll be using them in the practice and getting the word out to friends in the profession."
“They understood the dental industry… Medfin could see the potential though and they knew that, even if it was tough initially, we would get through.”
Luan Ngo, Perio Partners co-owner
Support from NAB in good times and bad
Dolly Cutinho, Perio Partners' NAB Health Business Banking manager, is an advocate for initiatives that deliver social and environmental benefits, and a big fan of Cindy’s initiative.
For Cindy and Luan, support from their banker who's like-minded, personable and responsive is appreciated in the good times and even more so in the bad.
"Dolly has been really wonderful. If we have queries, she'll always get back to us quickly and she's very empathetic," Cindy says. "During COVID, when we were running at about 20 per cent capacity, she arranged for the bank to put our mortgage payments on hold and that saw us through. It meant we could pay all the other bills that were coming in."
"You can't plan for something like that, but when it happens you need to be positive," Luan adds. "Knowing NAB had our back made it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel – to know that we'd come out of it and get back to where we were before."
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