Entrepreneur Stories and Featured Entrepreneurs

Get Your Shots Before You Go Travel Industry

Written by Chris Martin for Gaebler Ventures

Entrepreneurs all have one thing in common: they strive to utilize their experience and expertise to fill a need in the marketplace. For some, that may mean creating an entirely new industry. Which is exactly what Fran Lessans did with Passport Health.

The seeds of Lessans' business were planted in the mid-1990s when she was working as a nurse at a Baltimore college health clinic.

Part of her job was to supply vaccinations for students traveling abroad. But Lessans noticed that these students weren't getting any additional health information that was relevant to where they were going. So she began preparing destination-specific educational materials which discussed everything from what to avoid eating or drinking to which indigenous insects or animals can carry diseases.

Her new products became so popular that Lessans decided to go into business for herself. She and a doctor founded a small clinic which focused on personalized travel health service. Though it was only a part-time, after-hours enterprise, Lessans was able to provide not only the necessary inoculations, but also other health information which would assist her clients while they traveled abroad.

The response to this service was so overwhelming that it was infringing on her full-time nursing job at Maryland General Hospital. But the facility's CEO didn't want her to leave, and asked her what needed to be done to keep her there. Lessans told him to buy a franchise in her budding company. So he did.

Fifteen years and 170 U.S. clinics later, Passport Health has transformed itself from the founder to the leader of the travel health industry. Customers can either walk into a clinic or go online and fill out forms detailing where they are traveling to and when they are going. For a flat fee, they receive a bound book of all the information they need to avoid some of the common ailments and maladies associated with their choice of destination. These customers can either make their own arrangements to get the necessary vaccinations or set up appointments at Passport Health clinics to receive them.

With recent well-documented outbreaks of diseases like avian flu, swine flu, and SARS, Passport Health has become a valuable resource for people worried about becoming sick thousands of miles away from home. And with major corporations outsourcing business units to places like China and India, corporate executives are having to travel further away and more often than in the past.

Passport Health business owners are not your typical franchisees. They tend to be physicians, nurses, and other well-educated medical providers - many of whom were downsized from a traditional health care facility. In addition to the normal challenges of running a business, these franchisees must also stay abreast of the developments in health care, as well as the research and new discoveries in many different fields of medicine. And during off-peak travel seasons (such as the autumn months), Passport Health clinics can supplement their income by providing standard flu vaccination programs for large companies.

Because of her innovative thinking, Fran Lessans was able to leverage her knowledge and expertise into a thriving entrepreneurial endeavor. Not only did she launch a successful franchise, but she created a whole new niche market in the process. And in today's global economy, Passport Health is poised to provide an ever-changing travel market with vital health information and vaccinations.

Chris Martin has been a professional writer for the last seven years. He is interested in franchises and equity acquisition.

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