Although death and taxes may be the two best-known certainties in life, Ronnie Pollard (BS 2007)—and all of the unintentional entrepreneurs out there, for that matter—would probably like to add one more to that list of inevitabilities: the necessity of business skills.
“No matter what your degree, you’re going to have to do some sort of management or contract negotiation or something related to business [in your occupation],” Pollard said. “I don’t think it would be a bad idea for everyone to take some sort of business class in college. It definitely would have helped me.”
What it would have helped her with is opening her own podiatry practice. When Pollard attended DU, she knew she wanted to go on to medical school, and so the classes she chose were all science and math oriented. It was never part of her plan to open her own practice, so she skipped the business classes that would have taught the types of skills needed to run that practice—the exact things she had to learn on the fly when she opened Denver’s Elevation Foot and Ankle in 2015.
“The knowledge I had of my field helped me open my own practice, but running the business has been challenging,” she said. “Especially as I’m such a small practice—I do my own hiring and much of the office management, too. It was definitely a steep learning curve. I made lots of mistakes at the beginning, and I learned from those. Simple things, like learning how to read a contract and negotiating things—I definitely took a few hits early on and have since become smarter in my choices.”
Pollard chose to open her own practice because of her husband, Neil, a teaching assistant professor for entrepreneurship at the Daniels College of Business. His encouragement, as well as his propensity for entrepreneurship that she lacked, at least at first, convinced her that she could open and run a successful office.
“He was the backbone and the encouragement,” she said. “I don’t think I would have had the guts to do it on my own, but with his support I was able to really push forward.”
Another motivating factor was the birth of Pollard’s first child. After she completed her residency, she joined a group practice, but that wasn’t the right fit for her growing family. Looking for more balance and flexibility in her work-home life, she decided to create the practice she wanted. Of course, starting a new business is challenging enough on its own; Pollard upped the difficulty factor by doing it without any prior business experience and with a 5-month-old daughter.
“It was definitely scary to take the leap, but it seemed like the right fit for our family,” Pollard said. “It was very, very difficult starting the practice with a new baby, but starting the business is what allowed me to be with her more. It was a blessing in disguise. She could come to my office, and I could take the time if she needed to go to the doctor or anything.”
Six years later, the accidental entrepreneur has no regrets about her career decision. Except maybe not taking a business class or two in college. For others looking to blaze their own path in the business world without a business background, Pollard advises them to be ready to make mistakes, and even more ready to learn from them.
“I think just knowing that mistakes are going to happen is important,” she said. “You’re going to make bad choices along the way, but you need to learn from them and grow from them. I certainly did, and sometimes now I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m six years into this. How did I get to this point?’”