Social enterprise in a frontline city
From the very outset, the AnVita clinic saw its core mission in providing top quality healthcare to people in small towns. The medical center successfully operated in Dobropillya town, Donetsk region, until February 2022, but Russian aggression endangered not only the operation of the clinic, but also people's lives. The business has gone through a difficult path, but still managed to stay afloat and continue its operations. And a microgrant from the EU4Business programme helped them with that.
From a motorcycle to a doctor's chair
The history of AnVita Medical Center in Dobropillya began with... motorcycles. Because it was at one of the motorcycle events in 2018 that the future founders of the clinic, Andriy Goncharov and Vitaliy Maslakov, met. At that time, Andriy had already worked with public organizations and consulted local businesses for many years, while Vitaliy had extensive experience in medical practice. Subsequently, together with other motorcyclists, they brought up the idea to hold a motorcycle festival in Dobropillya. After that, a new idea appeared - to start a joint business.
Andriy is a psychologist by education, and Vitaliy is a radiologist. The idea of establishing a clinic seemed to be on the surface from the very beginning. In addition, the Dobropillya community had a great demand for high-quality professional medical care. So, in April 2020, the doors of the AnVita clinic opened for patients for the first time.
Initially, the medical center had only four specialists: a pediatrician, a general practitioner, a neuropathologist, and a diagnostic medical sonographer Vitaliy Maslakov. A few months later, the clinic also invited a pediatric surgeon-urologist and a breast physician - those represented medical specialties which were totally unavailable in Dobropillya. These doctors would commute from another city to consult AnVita patients.
The medical center developed very rapidly. On the basis of the clinic, an outpatient facility was established and a masseur's office. A traumatologist, a dermatologist, a proctologist, a pediatric orthopedic traumatologist, and a team of ophthalmologists joined the team of doctors. Before that, the services of such specialists were essentially unavailable in Dobropillya. Thanks to this, the clinic services were in great demand. At the end of 2021, Vitaliy and Andriy were recognized as the best young entrepreneurs in the Donetsk region.
Values are not always measured in money
“From the very beginning of our activity, we understood that business for the sake of money would not be very interesting for us. All we wanted was to change the community, bring something new and valuable,” said Andriy. “So we created a social enterprise, and we developed our mission, vision and social impact metrics. This is something that we put on paper then and what we are still doing.”
Entrepreneurs began to engage in humanitarian initiatives even before AnVita was founded. Together with their motorcycle club, the men held charity festivals where they raised money for orphans. Together with motorcyclists from different regions of Ukraine, they visited orphanages and brought gifts and help to the kids.
The social component of their business was extremely important for Andriy and Vitaliy. For example, since the very outset, the clinic had employed internally displaced persons.
"Dobropillya is only 90 km from Donetsk. Since 2014, there have been a lot of IDPs in our community. We realized that these people need to be given jobs,” says Vitaliy.
“In addition, for Dobropillya it was a chance to get good doctors from other cities in the region. It was important for us that these specialists remain in the community. After all, medical services are a critical need."
AnVita also has special offers for people from vulnerable social groups. Yes, children with disabilities will soon be able to receive services free of charge or with very large discounts in the medical center clinical laboratory.
In addition, the clinic donates part of the income to charity for various social initiatives. Andriy admits that these donations are not too large, because almost all the profit is reinvested in the company development. By the way, this approach has become instrumental to ensure rapid business growth.
Prior to the full-scale invasion, AnVita had up to 500 patients a month. People from different parts of the region would come to the clinic, while patients from abroad would get consulted online. But the Great War changed everything.
“We have known what war is since 2014”
Andriy remembers February 24, 2022 as complete chaos. People from other cities of Donbass were leaving en masse through Dobropillya. There were a lot of cars on the roads, a lot of turmoil, insane queues at shops, pharmacies and ATMs.
The AnVita team gathered at the clinic to decide what to do next. On the one hand, entrepreneurs understood that their services were needed by the community, on the other hand, safety was paramount. Some of the staff immediately left the city or even the country. The clinic was actively involved in volunteer activities: they collected humanitarian aid, held free online consultations with doctors.
In April, a mass evacuation from the Donetsk region was announced. Entrepreneurs had to make a difficult decision — to take clinical equipment away from hostilities. Then, with the help of friends, the medical center's equipment was relocated to Oleksandriya, in the Kirovohrad region.
Vitaliy remained in Dobropillya and went to work at the municipal hospital. Andriy moved to Lviv, where he still works at the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.
"In April 2022, we shut down the clinic. Of course, we considered the option of resuming operations in other cities of Ukraine, but there was a big financial challenge, difficulties with premises and specialists,” said Vitaliy. “Therefore, we just took a break and switched to volunteering ."
When and how to return?
The AnVita social media constantly received questions from patients when the clinic would be reopened in the city. Entrepreneurs considered security risks and at the same time looked for opportunities to recover, including financial ones.
"I constantly monitor grant programs, competitions, training, etc. I subscribed to the newsletters of various foundations. That is how I found out about the EU4Business microgrant,” says Andriy. “In a few days, we already prepared the necessary documents and applied."
Initially, the businessmen planned to spend the grant funds on the construction of a medical center in Oleksandriya. But it was not easy to find new staff and premises according to the necessary criteria. Therefore, a decision was made to resume the activity of the clinic in Dobropillya in September. Fortunately, the security situation made it possible to do so, and people were actively returning to the city, including doctors. On October 1, 2022, the door of the AnVita Medical Center reopened for their patients.
A microgrant from EU4Business made it possible to bring back several staff members, the operation of the outpatient facility and to create an additional job. The funds were used to pay salaries and taxes.
Before a full-scale invasion, the medical center was preparing to open its own laboratory. The necessary equipment and very expensive reagents have already been purchased thanks to the WNISEF social enterprise support loan program and with the company’s own funds. But during the downtime due to war, some materials deteriorated, so they had to be purchased again to start the laboratory. A microgrant also helped AnVita with this.
"The clinical laboratory would enable community residents to quickly receive the results of a wide range of research. Before that, the lab services were unavailable in Dobropillya. Now patients from other communities would come to us to visit a doctor, take tests and find out the results the same day,” says Vitaliy Maslakov. “We are trying to make sure that people receive high-quality, fast and affordable services in one place."
Being close to people
Today, the AnVita Medical Center continues to work steadily and successfully. Back in the fall, the business reached a breakeven point, and now the business is already generating profit. The laboratory also shows good financial results. It is not yet possible to resume the activities of all specialists, but the clinic is already hiring a diagnostic sonography doctor, a neurologist, and a breast physician. Besides, a masseur’s office and outpatient facility have been reopened. A new job of a laboratory assistant has been created.
“We are proactively working on our brand image, attracting the best specialists. Despite the fact that the number of people in the city has decreased, our patient flow has not diminished. For some services, we have a queue several weeks in advance,” said Vitaly. “This was one of the reasons why we reopened - there is a great demand for our work.”
Now the company is participating in two more grant competitions. If they win, they want to launch two new areas of activity: physiotherapy and gynecological offices. Even before the outbreak of the Great War, they planned to scale up the business: negotiations were underway to open an AnVita branch in another city in the Donetsk region. But this process was suspended because of the war.
"If a business benefits the community, it should be scaled up. We have a vision of a network of medical centers in small towns of Ukraine. Highly qualified specialists very often leave for big cities or abroad. And we want people in small towns to be able to receive quality healthcare,” said Andriy.
“Of course, we won’t have such high profit as, for example, in Kyiv. But for us, this is not a top priority. It is important for us to create value and be with people. It is even difficult for me to call them patients, because they become our friends, promoters.
As a psychologist, I understand that it is necessary not so much to focus on the treatment of the disease, as on the attitude towards the person in a comprehensive manner. You always need to regard a person as a person, and not just a biological mechanism in which something can break down.”
Microgrants are supported by the international cooperation programme “EU4Business: SME Competitiveness and Internationalisation” that is co-financed by the European Union and the German Government and is implemented by the German federal company “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH” in cooperation with The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, The Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, the public service online portal "Diia", the national project for development of entrepreneurship and export Diia.Business, and the Ukrainian state institution the Entrepreneurship and Export Promotion Office. The microgrant initiative implementing partner is the International Charity Organization East Europe Foundation.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union and the German Government. Its contents are the sole responsibility of East Europe Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the German Government.
Photos: © Vitalii Maslakov, author — Vitalii Maslakov