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Dr. Justine Roper: Studer Community Institute VMS Success Story

Studer Community Institute’s Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) is all about helping local entrepreneurs thrive. Dr. Justine Roper is a great example.


She’s always had a lot going for her. With a doctorate in physical therapy, a sharp mind, and an engaging personality, she started her own business, InHer Physique, in 2018. Three years later, firmly established as a brilliant clinician, she had a growing clientele, but also growing challenges. “This is my first practice, first business on my own. One thing that we realized was that the flow wasn’t there, and we needed it. We needed systems,” said Roper.

In early 2021 she applied for and was accepted into SCI’s VMS program. Based on the renowned model developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, VMS is a free program that pairs a budding entrepreneur with a team of 3-5 mentors for ongoing advice and guidance.

Chosen from SCI’s stable of over 40 experts in residence, her original three mentors were, Mort O’Sullivan, a local accounting legend, Dr. Jessica Griffen, a highly successful executive, educator, and entrepreneur, and Bob Foster, who’s dizzying resume started at IBM and includes vast experience in the tech and entrepreneur worlds.

“I saw a person that was hungry to do something more than what she was doing and not operating at a level of mediocrity but operating at a level of excellence. And she was committed to that,” said Griffen. “I was impressed with Justine the day I met her,” added O’Sullivan. “I said, well, this is a young entrepreneur who’s trying to make a mark in Pensacola. She needs some help. Let’s help her.”

Dr. Justine Roper meets with her VMS mentors

As well as monthly meetings at SCI, the mentors did on-site visits at InHer Physique, and each produced audits of the business. “I just didn’t know what I needed,” explained Roper. “I had no idea what to change. I had no idea what to do. And so once they did their audits and were like, this is what you need. It was like, OK, now I can see it. But before that, I had no idea what I needed.”

In-depth sessions with O’Sullivan on doing her books paid immediate dividends, as did guidance on making staffing adjustments.

More mentors joined the team, adding to the impact, including longtime Health Care executive Carlton Ulmer, who brought a valuable perspective. “When he came in, it was really great because he has been in hospital systems before to see kind of how that generates and how companies of that nature work,” said Roper.  “My focus with her was really just trying to understand her patient origin, where her patients come from and helping her understand that,” said Ulmer. “We’ve talked a lot about how to drive earnings in health care and contract relationships with payers.”

It was about a year into the VMS program when the results for Dr. Roper’s business became undeniable. “Once we got things in place from the mentors, the practice grew exponentially. Like seriously, the stress level has gone down. We’re seeing probably triple the patients we saw before our revenue has doubled. I mean, it’s just less stress overall because it flows,” said Roper. O’Sullivan shared, “When you help somebody else and they succeed, you feel almost as good or better than they do. This has not been a wasted effort. We see the benefits of what this program does.”

VMS Mentor Mort O’Sullivan listens to Dr. Roper

Still meeting regularly with her mentors over two years into the program, Roper’s business continues to reach new heights. InHer Physique recently completed an expansion and renovation. “I prided myself on not crying in every single meeting after a while because I was like, ahh, you know, at first it was just so overwhelming to me in a good way to have such support,” said Roper. “And so I feel like I’m ten times better as a business owner, ten times better as a semi-accountant of keeping my books, ten times better as an administrator. So, better, better, better overall.”

With a very impressive array of over 40 mentors SCI’s VMS program has helped 39 local businesses in the three years since starting in 2020. In the coming weeks I’ll feature more entrepreneurs finding success through VMS, and the mentors who are making it possible. Learn more at studeri.org/vms