This week on FEW Members' Corner, we would like to introduce you to Amelie Dionne-Charest, an award-winning entrepreneur, Managing Director of the health insurance advisory firm AD MediLink, Co-founder of the health information platform Healthy Matters, and co-author of The Hong Kong Maternity & Baby Book.
Hi Amelie, can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?
I am a proud Canadian from Montreal and a mother of two young kids, Lea, 6 and Adrien, 3. My husband Julien is both my life and business partner. Together we are building two businesses in the 'health space'. AD MediLink, Hong Kong’s first advisor 100% focused on health insurance, and Healthy Matters, Hong Kong’s leading online health resource. I am a lawyer, specialized in medical law and bioethics, and have always been passionate about healthcare. It’s wonderful to experience my professional and personal lives coming together so perfectly!
What inspired you to start your company?
When we moved to Hong Kong, we realized there was a huge need for health insurance transparency as well as, more generally, reliable, independent health information. Our company was created in response to this first-hand experience. We couldn’t easily find suitable, factual answers to our questions. Health is by far our greatest asset and this realisation usually becomes more clear as the years go by. Attitudes towards health have changed: people want to live healthier, longer lives and have become more proactive. In that journey, they need trusted information that’s relevant to where they live. This is our mission.
At AD MediLink we cut through the usual health insurance jargon to advise clients based on their situation, while independently explaining their different healthcare options (private, public, shared route etc.).
At Healthy Matters, we empower people with expert, practical health information so they can make the best choices for them and their family. Healthy Matters has published hundreds of online articles & health guides in HK, as well as the Hong Kong Maternity & Baby Book.
We now have the largest online database of doctors in Hong Kong and recently launched a pharmacist-reviewed platform Medicines & Supplements A-Z. We have also established a unique Expert Advisory Board, with over 40 leading HK doctors and health practitioners. All our medical content is systematically reviewed by doctors.
So far, what's the most challenging part of your journey?
When I started, I had zero business experience and knew absolutely no one in Hong Kong. I had no networks that I could tap into for help or guidance. Building something in a city where you don’t know anyone, and also learning everything from scratch (healthcare, P&Ls, marketing, SEO, etc.) has been challenging. But we freely chose this path and love it. When my partner Julien joined two and a half years ago, we launched Healthy Matters and were able to bring our vision to the next level.
A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE
In our first years in Hong Kong, Julien worked in a corporate role and supported the family. Thanks to him, I was able to focus on the business and I am grateful he believed in my dream as much as I did. After he joined, we had some income from the business, but also had to use our personal savings. We didn’t seek to raise any outside money and instead took the step to go all in. We wanted to maintain control, and get proof of concept first.
We have had experience working with business partners and shareholders in the past. My recommendation would be to always test working with someone before giving any equity or signing any agreement. You want to make sure your values, personal and financial agendas are aligned. The only way to know for sure is to test that.
On building teams
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. I have learned this over time as I have not been the best at communicating. When you live and breathe your business, most things that appear obvious to you may not be for others.
Communicating is a lot harder than it sounds. I believe that if you can articulate very clearly your mission, why you have chosen a particular direction, and what your expectations are, it is easier to delegate and grow your team.
The other thing I have done instinctively is to model behaviour. I purposely cc or bcc team members in emails, invite them to meetings, and let them listen to me interact with clients and prospects over the phone. Of course, everyone has their own style, but it is important that our team applies the same values and approach to our business. Plus, I get really valuable feedback from our team. The other day Julien heard me speaking to a prospect and picked up something he felt I could have articulated better. I was grateful he pointed that out.
On running business
Everyone has ideas but it is execution that’s key to success. Being open is also very important. Be open to people, ideas, and potential partners. Most businesses pivot in the early years. The original product/service you had in mind may not be the one your clients are looking for. That’s why small businesses must be flexible and agile.
On building credibility
At AD MediLink we have built trust with over 18 health insurance providers with which we have excellent business relationships. This is key when we need an insurer to be flexible or responsive with claim issues or medical emergencies. We have also invested time in building relationships with medical providers like hospitals. For instance, we are the first insurance broker in Hong Kong to have met with the Sanatorium Hospital’s top management and toured the hospital’s premises.
At Healthy Matters we established credibility through our unique Expert Advisory Board, which has over 40 Hong Kong leading doctors and health practitioners. Members of the board have significant experience in both public and private healthcare sectors. They review Healthy Matters’ medical content before it is published.
I have found getting involved in various organizations to be very helpful in gaining trust with stakeholders. When I arrived in Hong Kong I joined the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, currently sitting on their Executive Committee, and the American Chamber of Commerce, I am currently the Chair of its Healthcare & Insurance Committee. In addition to the Chambers, I also joined my alma mater’s alumni association and was the President of the McGill Society of Hong Kong. These organizations helped me to quickly build a strong network in Hong Kong. Joining isn’t enough. You need to think about how to contribute.
I think it’s important to remember that as an entrepreneur, you are your most valuable marketing tool. You embody the brand, you embody the message and people trust you - more than your company name or logo.
On the top things to consider before starting your own business…
To me, it boils down to just one thing: if this is an adventure you truly want, you will find a way to do it. It’s just a matter of time. Yes it involves risks, it will include failure and facing a lot of criticism - that’s why it’s not for everyone. It takes a lot of courage and resilience, but that’s the price if you want to build something bigger than yourself. It’s either in you or not.
Personal success to me is building a life that is meaningful and aligned with who I am. Company success is the same: growing a business with a strong purpose, that is shared with its team members.
There is nothing more important than health and the very fact that every day we help people make better health decisions is very rewarding.