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Seven Star Brings Health Care to All

Fiona McLaughlin, co-founder of Seven Star Acupuncture and Apothecary. Photo: Juan-Carlos Delgado for Mercy Corps

By Susan Rich

Fiona McLaughlin and Aisha Madrone had a dream: provide affordable, high-quality, alternative healthcare to the Portland community…at a price that everyone can afford. Like most dreams-come-true, this one had a few twists and turns along the way.

Three years ago McLaughlin and Madrone launched Seven Star Acupuncture and Apothecary, a clinic focused on the benefits of Chinese herbal medicine. Their services include private and group acupuncture treatments as well as licensed massage therapy, chiropractic care and an onsite herbal dispensary.

“We wanted to provide acupuncture that literally everyone can afford,” said McLaughlin. “People need regular health care to prevent future illness.”

The partners signed a lease on a 2,000-square-foot space at 436 SE 12th Ave. Construction began, then stalled for lack of money. “The renovation cost more than we expected,” McLaughlin said. Banks, sliding into deep freeze mode, refused to loan money.

Then a friend suggested Mercy Corps Northwest. McLaughlin and Madrone applied for, and received, a $13,000 loan.

A Proper Grand Opening

“That loan was pivotal to our first few months of startup,” McLaughlin said. It enabled them to finish construction and have a proper grand opening.

The next step was to sign up for an Individual Development Account, or IDA. These matched savings accounts enable small business owners to save, build assets and enter the financial mainstream. Since 2001, MCNW has helped more than 400 people buy assets for their start-ups or current small businesses using matching grants.

Once the account is established and the business owner deposits $1,000, MCNW matches this amount with $3,000. For McLaughlin and Madrone, that was an additional $4,000 they were able to put back into their business.

While the account was growing, McLaughlin, who handles the administrative side of the business, attended MCNW’s mandatory business and training classes ($150 fee, with scholarships available). There she learned how to write a business plan.

“I thought the business plan was silly at first,” she admitted, “but if you map it all out, then you can see if your idea will even work. Now I love it.”

McLaughlin praised the instructors for their steady support and excellent training. Starting a business is hard to do without guidance, she said. “If you don’t have previous experience, you won’t know what to do next – you’re drowning. They teach you how to think about it financially… and you get to see other people go through the process.”

Ancient Healing for Modern Ailments

Chinese medicine, an ancient healing art dating back hundreds of years, can be used to treat all ailments. “It’s all-encompassing,” Madrone explained. For example, acupuncture, and its attendant herbal remedies, can ease digestion problems, chronic body pain and menopause symptoms. It is equally effective on adults and children.

“When a child is sick, and the parent doesn’t have a lot of resources, it’s scary,” Madrone said. Acupuncture can bring down a fever and quickly ease a cough or stomach ache – at an affordable price.

At this business, flexibility is the byword. Walks-in are welcome. Group and private treatment sessions are available. And a sliding fee scale allows anyone – from college student to service worker to wealthy executive – to receive consistent, quality healthcare. Fees range from $20 to $75 per treatment.

“When someone has a windfall, we ask them to pay on the higher part of the scale,” Madrone said. “At other times of the year, maybe someone is lean on the harvest, then they pay on the lower end. We don’t ask for proof of income.”

Today there are six practitioners working at the clinic, and they treat hundreds of patients every month. As the business grows, the goal remains: Create a space that is open and warm, accessible to Portlanders.

“Every time we see a gap, people we are not serving, we envision how we can reach out to them,” McLaughlin said.

With the start-up challenges met, Madrone is still moved by her experience with Mercy Corps Northwest. “It makes me teary-eyed to think about it,” she said. “We were at our wit’s end. It was the middle of winter. We didn’t know what to do, and they really saved us.”

Susan Rich owns RichWriting, a copywriting and editing service specializing in direct mail sales letters, ESL editing, and writing search-engine friendly content. She also teaches business professionals how to write powerful marketing copy in her Write it Rich! workshop series. As a volunteer instructor with Mercy Corps Northwest, Susan teaches entrepreneurs how to write compelling, memorable copy that grabs attention and drives sales.

For more information: www.richwriting.com

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