Ming Low and Shol Blustein (pictured in photos with Consultant Eloisa Evangelista) didn't start their careers in the disability, health and mental health industry, but they've found a home there.
Their company, Impact Co., is a consultancy, incubator and co-working space intent on positively transforming communities and services for people who are marginalised, disadvantaged or living with a disability. We spoke to Ming about the opportunities and challenges they've faced, and they gave some great advice for any startup.
Ming, how did you get started in this industry?
Shol and I were both working in very different sectors before getting involved in the disability, health and mental health sectors. Shol was working as a Banking and Finance Lawyer and I was a Geotechnical Engineer in Mining, Oil and Gas.
Through family members, we both had experience with mental ill-health and disability so it was inevitable we found ourselves drawn to working in those sectors.
How did you meet and why did you decide to become partners in this venture?
We met while working in the strategy team of another consulting firm focused on the disability, mental health and broader health sectors. We got along really well and found that we had different but complementary working styles, and a shared vision to create positive, meaningful change in the sector we were working in.
We trusted each other and decided to become partners. Having worked together before, we knew that we would make a great team and could count on each other!
What led you to found Impact Co.?
Impact Co. was founded out of our passion for the disability, mental health and health sectors.
We had a strong desire to create positive change by encouraging businesses in the sector to think and do things differently, particularly given the significant changes affecting our sectors of choice.
We saw the opportunity to do this by working with incumbents (typically more established organisations) and new entrants (typically startups) to the sectors. There were and still are opportunities for established organisations and startups presented through government reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
This approach of working with both more established organisations and startups, then sharing learnings between the two, sits at the heart of everything we do.
We believe that both types of businesses have a lot to learn from each other and sharing knowledge can ultimately contribute to better outcomes for those most marginalised in the community.
You started consulting with established businesses. What do you find are the key differences between incumbent businesses in the industry and startups?
One of the key differences is their appetite for risk in response to the shifting environmental context or consumer needs. Organisations that have been around for a long time are typically more conservative and less willing to take risks or make rapid changes. When risks or changes are involved, a defined and often lengthy process is usually required before decisions can be made.
By contrast, startups, because of their size and culture, are typically more capable of moving quickly to respond to emerging needs of consumers and the community. However, startups can often do this without much rigour or structure. Working with startups and established organisations enables us to share the skills and capabilities of the two, helping both to achieve better and more enduring outcomes.
You recently added an incubator program to your business with funding assistance from LaunchVic. What have been the challenges in that process?
We have 2 incubator programs, The Good Incubator (focused on supporting startups in the disability, health and mental health sectors) and Ngarrimili (focused on supporting aspiring entrepreneurs and Aboriginal founders). They are a core part of our business and a key point of difference. Both programs have a strong emphasis on supporting founders of startups to be the best versions of themselves they can be. This means placing a significant emphasis on the self-development of the founders. In addition, both programs provide technical business support to help take their startups to the next level.
A key challenge we experienced with our incubator programs is making it financially viable following LaunchVic funding. Thanks to LaunchVic, we have been able to run this program for 2 years. We are now at a point where we have a proven concept and we’re actively looking for ways to attract revenue/funding to the program.
Startups can be more agile with fewer overheads. How is this beneficial in the healthcare sector?
The health and disability sectors are not well known for being agile. Red tape and a low tolerance for risk are common barriers that mean organisations from these sectors are slow to react to the emerging contextual environment and to the changing needs of clients and the community. Addressing these challenges will allow innovative ideas to emerge and develop, and for quicker decisions to be made; ultimately, this will enable organisations to adapt to changes more effectively.
Where do you see Impact Co. heading and what impact (pardon the pun) do you envision having on the sector?
The past 12 months have been really positive for Impact Co. Two new consultants have joined the team and a number of valuable partnerships were formed.
We see Impact Co. continuing to focus on the core sectors in which we currently operate - health, mental health, disability and indigenous - and expanding our reach substantially to new organisations and geographies. We aim to see more organisations – both startups and established – thriving and new ideas/innovations forming. This will ultimately drive better outcomes and experiences for the people that are supported by the sector.
What are your three best tips for startups?
- Try to get your product/service to market as soon as possible to get validation from your customers. Often we see startups hesitating to launch their product/service because they are worried that it is not "complete". From our experience, a product/service is never complete. It always needs to be improved and refined (and this should continue even when the startup finally launches, scales and matures). Taking too long to get to market might mean additional resources are spent going in a direction that does not fully resonate with customers.
- Jeff Bezos described Amazon as always being a "day one" company, where there is still the enthusiasm, energy and excitement to innovate and drive great outcomes for customers through amazing products/services. Startups should similarly strive to never lose focus on their customers to ensure that they continue to improve and innovate their products/services.
- Remember to take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Founder burnout is a significant risk for startups because of the enormous workload and pressure. Yet, we don’t often hear founder health and well-being discussed in key forums, despite them playing such a pivotal role within their organisations.