Luca Poli is a plastic surgeon based in Milan and a participant in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme.
He was speaking to Gary Finnegan.
Why did the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme appeal to you?
At university, I was trained in surgery but never trained to do a business plan and run an enterprise. I graduated with very little knowledge of marketing, communications or economics.
I benefited from the Erasmus programme for students in 2002 while I was in medical school. I spent a year studying in Zaragoza in Spain, where I improved my Spanish and developed an interest in travelling. I didn't set out to go to Spain again but that turned out to be the easiest option.
You stayed with a Spanish entrepreneur whose expertise was not directly in the medical field. Do you think you can learn as much from an entrepreneur in any field as you can from another surgeon who has set up their own clinic?
I didn't want to meet a doctor because I normally spend a lot of time travelling to conferences and meeting other doctors. In my experience, doctors are very good at treating people but not so good at economics. I wanted an experienced entrepreneur who would point out the errors in my business plan and share what they have learned about running an enterprise.
What has happened since the placement finished?
I had been planning to start my own business for over two years but it takes time to develop your ideas, raise funds, to find premises and so on. When the opportunity arose to take part in the Erasmus programme I had already developed my idea but it still needed to be fine-tuned. I spent from July to September in Spain learning from Francine Huaman – an experienced entrepreneur – and used the programme as a test of my ideas.
Since then I have opened my own clinic in Milan which has been up and running for four months. The things I learned about communications have been invaluable. There has been a lot of media interest – including from TV stations – in the work we are doing at our clinic and it has really helped increase interest from the public.
How many people work in your clinic now and do you hope to expand?
At the moment, I do most of the work. We are starting to work as a group of between six and eight people and the plan is to have up to 10 members of the team. The next stage of my business plan is to clone this model and open another clinic of a similar size.
What proportion of your own time do you spend on business matters and what proportion is devoted to surgery?
I'm spending less and less time working with my hands and more time coordinating and managing the business. I work 12 to 14 hours per day and do surgery on the weekends. It's a very demanding schedule and will have to change but in the early stages I have to devote a lot of time.
Was it difficult to raise cash to get your business off the ground?
That was the most difficult part of starting the business. We are the only ones in Milan doing this treatment – it's an innovative procedure – but it was still difficult to convince people to lend us the money. Obviously, I needed to buy medical equipment and to renovate a clinic so I had to raise about €200,000.
In the end, I applied for European funding which was distributed by my regional authority. The business has been a real success – demand has been very strong and we are really busy – so we will be able to repay the loan next year.