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Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? We had the opportunity to ask Canadian small business owners how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into reality.
Dr. Marjorie Dixon, the winner of the 2018 RBC Momentum Award, is the quintessential change-maker. CEO and Medical Director of Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health, Dr. Dixon was born to be the best, to make a difference, and to disturb the status quo.
Dr. Dixon recently shared her journey — from optimistic physician to business owner to trailblazer who is changing the face of women’s health in Canada.
Q: Tell us about Anova Fertility & Productive Health and what motivated you to start it.
Dixon: Anova Fertility is a women-run, women-owned centre for reproductive health. I had the privilege of training in different places, and after a certified fellowship in the U.S. I returned to Canada — and I felt like I was stepping back in time.
I recognized that our universal healthcare system had rendered many Canadian physicians complacent. When I asked why we were doing things a certain way, I was told that change was just about impossible. There’s nothing worse for a Type A, analytically-driven, scientific person to be told “this is the way it is. It’s not worth changing, because we can’t do it.” Inside, I was thinking:
I am a fire-starter and a self-starter. That’s how I was bred and how I want to be in life. I want to be the best. It has always been my intention to be the best — not to be complacent.
Q: So what is your goal with Anova Fertility?
Dixon: Our goal is to improve the experience of reproduction — to improve the journey regardless of family status and sexual identity. To make family accessible to everyone, because we have the ability and training to do so. It’s in our mission statement: To provide individual care for patients of every age and situation.
Q: How do you take these goals and put them into action?
Dixon: The advancement of science is exciting. There is complete evidence that we are better at creating embryos in a next-generation IVF laboratory — a cleanroom space where everything you put into it is beneficial to the creation of the embryo. Where every step ultimately shortens the time to take home baby.
I acknowledge that assisted fertility is stressful and disarming. I had IVF and I remember every single treatment. So we design the rooms differently. We host support groups because there is power in social interactions with others going through the same thing. I believe that the experience of fertility care is just as important as the science.
Q: You have seen exceptional success — growing from a clinic of 8 employees to a full-IVF centre with a team of over 80. Who are some of the people who supported you on your journey?
Dixon: The people who have supported me the most are those who have known me forever. My family. My program director in the U.S. I have been called a firecracker. I’ve been called a Pollyanna — an idealist with grit. People who understand me know that what I’m doing is coming from a place of doing it right.
I’m also inspired by other women entrepreneurs — from hairdressers to lawyers to accountants. I’ve surrounded myself with professional women who say, “You’re nuts, but good on you.”
Q: Did you ever have moments when you thought this wasn’t going to work? How did you pull out of that?
Dixon: There were times when I thought I would die — when the barriers seemed insurmountable. But with consistent and tireless work, I knew I would figure it out. There is a solution to every problem.
I believe that out of adversity comes immense opportunity, that there is a silver lining in every negative experience. I also feel that you don’t know the summit of peaks and joys and the exhilaration of success unless you have been in the trenches.
Q: What advice would you give someone starting a business?
Dixon: To know every single aspect of your business, and understand what you need to do. Primordial to your success in running a business is understanding every aspect of it as you’re starting from the ground up. And if you don’t have a good understanding, go do your homework. It is so much more empowering and liberating to do your research and come to conclusions and see the outcome.
Also, to slowly and surely hire the right people. To have goals — and recognize that if you don’t evolve your goals, you won’t go anywhere.
Q: What drives you forward?
Dixon: There’s a fire in my belly. I can’t explain what the source is, but it’s constantly there. As a kid, I was so pig-headed. My dad would say: If you want something done, tell Marjorie she can’t do it.
Also, I had a private school education and didn’t come from a background where girls were competitive and brought each other down. I was taught that it’s your responsibility to elevate other people.
It is quite something to have a job where you can make a difference. We are creating families when they otherwise may not exist. We are creating a legacy — who knows what these babies will grow up to do? We have an ability and God-given talent to deal with it, so how can I not be compelled to move the ball forward?
Q: Do you feel like a woman who has faced — or continue to face — unique or additional challenges when you started your business?
Dixon: As women we have an immense opportunity because we are serially and consistently underestimated. If you have three kids, people say: That will be tough for you. How do you manage?
I remember when looking for office space, going into a Class A building, looking for 15,000 square feet of space, and they wanted a co-sign for the lease. They wanted a credit note. They looked at me like: who are you?
Q: So how do you overcome these challenges?
Dixon: I just tell people what to do instead of asking. People have been flabbergasted by me — when I started out, they couldn’t believe I had the audacity to do what I did. But I just kept showing up and eventually people started doing things my way. I was like a bad cold that never went away.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is to be given credibility.
Q: You are a mom and a successful entrepreneur. What are your thoughts on work-life balance?
I am involved in my kids in a huge way. I’m just like every other mom, but what I do allows me to have help in the home. My kids see me work hard, my daughter loves to come to the office. They were there at the beginning, sweeping the floors, putting pens into cups. They listen to me when I thank people, they ask questions, they even offer advice sometimes.
Ultimately there is no perfect answer to work-life balance. As women we have great minds and abilities. We pause to have children. I think it’s amazing that Canada affords maternity care, but I think that the discussion needs to be balanced when you’ve gone to school for a long time. How do you evolve?
As much as we can support time off for women, there should be programs for reintegration, designed to motivate and teach women to promote themselves.
Q: What’s next for you, and for Anova Fertility?
Dixon: We have had success, growth and provided improved access to care. But there is still so much to do.
I don’t think it ends. I believe we need to find champions to create a movement of improved access to women’s health care and bring it to a global standard. That includes menopause, post-menopause, adolescent care. We need to have state of the art women’s health centres, geared to every stage of our lives.
We will get there. And hopefully the legacy we leave though Anova Fertility is driving a change in medicine. Women are changing the way research and care are delivered and provided.
I am so blessed to do what I do every single day. It is immensely rewarding to be involved in a movement that will help people for generations. Hopefully I will move forward other young Marjories to be empowered, to be the voice and the spirit of movement. And of course, to disturb.
In November 2018, 23 women were recognized at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These exceptional women, and their trail-blazing companies from a variety of industries, share a common goal — to be the best at what they do.
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