From Doctor to CEO: How a Duke Hospital Fellowship Inspired CurvyGirlHealth
Durham-based media platform launches to help professional women manage their health
BY LAURA BAVERMAN
Filed Under: NEWS: Startups
A decade of training to become a gastroenterologist taught Lisa Jones the lessons now guiding her newfound career at the helm of just-launched healthy living digital news site,CurvyGirlHealth.
First, she's learned that personal struggle can inspire passion.
Second, that passion in one person inspires passion in another and third, that passion in both inspires business.
Oh, and you don't have to follow the rules if you can come up with your own way.
CurvyGirlHealth is a place where Jones, now a part-time physician at the Hospital at East Carolina University and the Durham VA Medical Center, can recount a 23-year struggle with health and weight that began at age 11. It's where other women are encouraged to share their own struggles.
Jones emphasizes that the site is not about prescribing one way to be healthier. It's about being honest about the struggle and letting women offer up what's working or not working for them.
“I don't think we'll have a success story on the site, because I don't think that exists,” she says. “People work their way through challenging problems and come out of it with perspective. But it's a never-ending journey.”
CurvyGirlHealth didn't come about randomly. Jones moved to Maryland from Trinidad and Tobago when she was 10 and her parents ran entrepreneurial home-based businesses (like Mary Kay). Her parents encouraged her to think big about her future, and so she decided to do something important—become a doctor. She attended Duke's medical school, completed a residency at the University of Pennsylvania and came back to Durham for a fellowship.
But she was thinking even bigger than medical practice for her career. Rather than focus on clinical practice or research in a lab like most fellows, she convinced her mentor, Duke's clinical director of hepatology Dr. Andrew Muir, to let her explore digital health instead.
“I was interested in how to make health systems more efficient by using technology,” she says. A new degree at Duke's Fuqua College of Business, a Master of Management in health and information technology, offered her the opportunity.
As graduation and the completion of her fellowship neared, Jones began to think about nontraditional career paths and she entered the Duke Start-Up Challenge with an idea to create a searchable platform for health resources in local communities.
Though she didn't make the cut, the process of entering gave her a spark. She was determined to find a business idea to pursue. Meanwhile, she'd struggled with weight again, finding it difficult to balance work and health.
She began to write about it in a private blog. And that inspired her to attend a BlogHer Conference last summer, where women from around the nation encouraged her to launch the site. It was something different, they said, a new perspective on challenges many women face.
Today, Jones spends one week a month working as a physician in Greenville and she picks up shifts in Durham. The rest of the time—morning to night—she can be found at American Underground @Main.
Networking at the co-working space led her to some of her most loyal writers and advisors—fitness experts and bloggers, nutritionists, therapists and professional women with their own health struggles. And they gave her the confidence to write to people like Angela Parker, a nationally-known fitness expert and blogger in Los Angeles. Parker is now one of her most trusted advisors.
Jones has spent the last few months determining the voice of CurvyGirl—Jones explains it as ‘girl-friendly wisdom', with relatable stories and tactical advice that makes you feel like you're hanging out and chatting with your friends.
She hired a managing editor to help her find, edit and publish that content, and to run the site when she's practicing medicine. Their goal is to publish 4 or 5 articles a week.
But building a business around the site is the tricky part. Jones will initially focus only on the content, generating enough of an audience that she can consider special publications or multimedia content that people might pay for. She's already got about 9,550 followers on Facebook.
She's constantly soaking up knowledge about business to be prepared for the time that money flows in (and she plans to secure outside investment). She joined the Triangle Multicultural Women's Entrepreneurship Meetup and admits she's a ‘This Week in Startups' and business podcast junkie.
Jones is a firm believer that a village is helping to raise up her business. And she's taking that approach in her personal life too. Though she continues to struggle with weight, she's now consulting with a therapist and she hired a personal trainer. She writes about the journey regularly on the site.
Jones's advice to new founders like herself is to seek out any and everyone who is willing to help, from institutional organizations like American Underground, Duke or The Startup Factory (she was a finalist for the most recent class) to communities of entrepreneurs gathering through Meetups, to the plethora of books and online resources.
Though much of her company's future is still in the air, her passion for CurvyGirlHealth is rallying people and help around her. And, hopefully, it makes her a healthier person too.
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