Nurses can run successful businesses with a heart. Really.
Long-time friends with UCF ties launched Nurses First Solutions in 2014 and with a little help from the UCF Incubator program have seen their company grow from three employees to 12 and revenue climb from $300,000 to $6 million.
The say their keys to success have been knowing the business, spotting opportunities, treating staff and clients with respect, and getting a little help from business experts.
“We treat them like family,” said co-founder Richard Manuel. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”
Alvin Cortez ’08 and Manuel know the business. Manuel is a nurse and both men’s wives are nurses, including UCF alumna Jessiccalou Cortez ’08 and ’MS14. The men connected with their third business partner, Ronnie Elliott, and the UCF Business Incubation Program to expand their travel-nurse staffing agency in 2016. Cortez learned about the incubator program when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.
Travel nurses typically work 13-week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. It’s a tough job and there are often gaps, and facilities needing help to fill those gaps. Nurses First Solutions provides nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce.
The founders knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses, when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.
So they decided to do something about it. But they needed help on the business side and that’s where the incubator came in.
For nearly 20 years, the incubation program has been helping early stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth. They help all kinds of companies from high-tech to low-tech.
Manuel and Cortez credit their site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward and propelled them into the millions.
“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”
All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches such as sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.
“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”
They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.
Their office is next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.
“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”