From Medicine to the Business World
authors Linda Jarrett
Growing up in Illinois, Mary Jo Gorman, MD, knew that she was destined for a career in medicine.
She did not know, however, that her desire to heal people would transition into helping women start their own companies, and that she would become a driving force in entrepreneurship.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, she received her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, and her BA in chemistry and biology from Saint Louis University where she obtained board certifications in Critical Care Medicine and Internal Medicine.
Her first job was working at St. Louis University Hospital in the intensive care unit.
“It felt like if we reorganized the way we did the care, we could improve the outcome for the patient and the facility, so I started a medical practice group,” Gorman said.
So was born her first business, Critical Care Services, which she started in 1992.
She formed her second business, Inpatient Care Group, in 1997, and sold that company to IPC Hospitalist in 1999.
“In 2002, I decided I would stop seeing patients and focus full time on the business aspect,” she said.
“When I made that transition, I was working to continue to build the hospitalist practice nationwide, then in 2006 I started Advanced ICU Care where I became the CEO and chairman,” she said.
Having practiced as both hospitalist and intensivist, Gorman saw what needed to be done to streamline patient care.
Throughout her career, she had mentored and advised women on various facets of their career.
She saw this need in younger women, and in 2006, she joined the board of Marian Middle School which helps break the cycle of poverty of urban young women, grades five through eight, by giving them educational opportunities.
Then, another opportunity opened to Gorman.
In 2013, American Express OPEN released studies on women’s entrepreneurship and its impact on the economy. Missouri ranked 41st in terms of growth and economic clout of women’s businesses from 1997 to 2013.
After reading this study and being shocked at the results, a group of St. Louis community leaders came together and created Prosper Women Entrepreneurs to address the entrepreneur gender gap in the St. Louis region.
Gorman realized this was where she should be.
“It was a natural progression from work that I had done in the past, in terms of taking all the experience I had in building and running businesses and combining that with my preference in trying to advance women in their business careers,” she said.
Prosper Women Entrepreneur Group is divided into two sections. One, the Prosper Institute, a non-profit organization focused on training and mentoring women in the entrepreneurial community and those women with early ideas.
“We have ways that they can engage with us through advice and classes we give,” Gorman said. “We also have a program called Mastermind where women can come and work on their business in a peer group.”
The other section is the Prosper Capital Group where Gorman is the lead managing partner.
“We actually invest cash in the company,” she said. “And we put them through a special intensive three month accelerator program to help them grow their business.
“Women start a lot of businesses, so starting businesses is not the problem,” she said.
“The problem that women have is with the choices they’ve made, and they tend not to grow very big businesses.”
According to the research, one of the reasons is that women do not see other people who have grown their businesses.
“They don’t create the right network of people to figure out how to get the resources they need to do that,” Gorman said. “They don’t attract as much investment, because sometimes they’re not even asking, so by creating an environment through both parts of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs to challenge women to think bigger, get funding, and really grow something big, that’s where we can make a difference.”
Starting a business can be a daunting venture for anyone, and while many women have good ideas, putting them into play, getting their business started, and keeping it going, means they have to keep a lot of balls in the air.
“One of the challenges supported by research is that sometimes women discount their fit for our program,” Gorman said. “They may think their business is too big, too small, or not the right industry.
“Our research shows that women won’t often raise their hands to participate in these things, so part of our message is that everybody should raise their hands, and be thinking about how to advance their business,” Gorman said.
Creating a “women only” environment, she said, reduces some of the reasons they do not participate because of feeling intimidated or unwelcome in a mostly male setting.
Prosper Capital helps women entrepreneurs in one of the biggest steps in starting a business – getting money.
“All businesses need capital at some point, “Gorman said. “Depending on the type of business they have, there are different sources of capital, and we help them understand and identify that.”
Prosper Capital has identified investors in St. Louis who have pledged money to invest in these companies, and 70 percent are women.
“We are excited about that, because if we get more women participating, we’ll get more women involved in the whole market place,” Gorman said. “We then help them identify our other funding sources, and help them understand how to speak the language of those sources to be successful in those environments.
“We invest in up to 12 companies a year,” Gorman said. “Statistically, only three or four will actually be successful.”
She defines “success” as being purchased by a bigger company.
“Typically that will happen six to eight years after they have been invested in,” she said. “After that, they may go along for a while, but you either grow or die.”
Seeing businesses go through the trials of starting, then becoming successful is what drives Gorman.
“I’m part of the investment group of the companies that are successful and I participate in the financial success of the group,” she said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot in my career and if I can help somebody else advance their business and avoid mistakes that other people or I have made then that’s extremely satisfying.”
In 2009, Modern Healthcare named Gorman as one of the top 25 Women in Healthcare, and in 2010, she was awarded the Mater in Hospital Medicine for her contributions to the field of hospital medicine. In 2011 she was named one of the ten national Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and served as one of the national judges for the 2012 award.