Last October, Lisa Desroches was in her car listening to callers complain on a talk radio show about how long it took to get a COVID-19 test and then to get the results.
“I was technically semi-retired and travelling the world in 2019, but I had to come back because of COVID and then I had no job because of COVID,” Desroches said. “So, I thought, ‘I have to help – I am too young to be fully retired.’”
But how? Desroches applied her 25 years working in the healthcare field as a respiratory therapist and her entrepreneurial experience with two prior businesses. With her own capital and that of one investor, she got to work.
“I am a very determined person,” she said. “I intended to keep people safe and working in their workplace environments.”
Barely four months later, her startup, MLD Micro Labs, is on the road offering rapid on-site testing. Desroches’ team delivers results within three to 12 hours – and that’s by using the most accurate and sensitive type of test, polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This compares to the 48-hour turnaround that has been typical of PCR testing.
MLD Micro Labs has already landed clients ranging from small and mid-sized businesses to large national enterprises. It is creating a franchise model and developing a proprietary online platform where employers, individuals and franchisees will be able to safely and securely access and manage scheduling, workflows and test results. The startup is also being added to the COVID-19 supplier directory on the provincial government’s Ontario Together portal.
Desroches estimates that, under “normal circumstances,” it may have taken two years to reach this point with this type of business. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
But as a bootstrapping entrepreneur, Desroches faced a challenge this time that she hadn’t with her previous businesses – handling the marketing and brand building for her startup and doing so online.
“I am no writer and no IT person,” she said.
The confidence and polish to knock (virtually) on any door
Desroches turned to Invest Ottawa and its partnership with Ontario’s Digital Main Street (DMS) program. Through the program, she met two DMS business advisors who quickly became instrumental in getting MLD Micro Labs on the right course – Shawna Tregunna and Mark Sutcliffe.
“I was so thrilled to be working with that crew, they are so incredible to work with and at understanding our needs,” Desroches said.
They were also blunt.
Tregunna explained to Desroches how her original web content was too technical and would engage only about 20 per cent of her target audience. Sutcliffe took her through exhaustive exercises to clarify just who those target audiences should be and how best to reach them.
“It took me a lot of hours, but it’s paid me back 20- and 30-fold,” Desroches said. “They helped me transform the website into something so much better and it has given me the confidence to reach out to politicians, government agencies and big national companies. I feel empowered and professional.”
The DMS transformation team helped Desroches redesign her website aesthetic and content, develop social media accounts and content strategies for LinkedIn and Facebook, begin Google advertising and carry out a search engine optimization (SEO) analysis.
Flattening the learning curve
“Desroches is purpose-driven, passionate and knows the value of her business and services, she just needed a little guidance on how to leverage digital technology to get her message out there,” Tregunna said. “The pandemic has forced every aspect of business online – even smart, successful, experienced entrepreneurs have had to adapt quickly.”
The learning curve can be steep for those business owners accustomed to more traditional methods.
“DMS helps take the edge off that learning curve,” Tregunna said. “For entrepreneurs like Lisa who are willing to embrace it and lean in, it can help propel their business forward faster.”
MLD Micro Labs has expanded beyond individual COVID-19 testing to also provide on-site environmental testing and custom sanitization plans for businesses and events. The startup is also applying to become a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
“I took a leap of faith and I am not looking backwards, only forward,” Desroches said. “Working with Invest Ottawa and DMS was hands down the best decision I ever made as a business owner.”