EY Honors Houston’s Healthcare Entrepreneurs

A select group of local visionaries have been honored for their innovative approach to business, with their nomination as finalists for the 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the healthcare division for the Gulf Coast Area.

Finalists in the Gulf Coast healthcare division for the annual Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award are Dr. Asit Choksi, CEO and founder of Greater Houston Physicians Medical Association; Taseer Badar, president and CEO of Altus Healthcare Management; Andrew Knizley, CEO of Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital; Joe Freudenberger, CEO of OakBend Medical Center and TJ Farnsworth, founder and CEO of SightLine Health.

Now in its 28th year, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program attracts thousands of the best and brightest entrepreneurs from over 145 cities and 60 countries worldwide. There are up to eleven categories including healthcare, technology, and financial services, and nominated candidates must demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in the areas of innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their vision and their community.

The winners for each category, as well as the overall EY Entrepreneur of the Year for the Gulf Coast region, will be announced at the June 26 black tie gala held at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston. The EY Entrepreneur of the Year National Award winner will be announced at the annual awards gala in Palm Springs, Cal., on Nov. 15.

After serving several years on the faculty at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Choksi opened a private oncology practice in 1992 with the aim of providing personalized healthcare to the community. His unique approach eventually attracted the attention of several other like-minded physicians, resulting in the founding of the Greater Houston Physicians Medical Association (GHPMA) in 1997. GHPMA is a multi-specialty medical group of physicians who work together to provide comprehensive patient care. The group allows doctors to maintain their independent practice, and still benefit from working under the larger GHPMA umbrella. The organization has grown to include more than 140 physician and healthcare practitioners in the Greater Houston Area.

”We are a unique model that allows physicians the freedom to focus on delivering quality patient care with the stability and cost efficiency of a larger organization,” said Choksi. “Physicians retain independence and control in an industry trending toward consolidation with an apathetic approach toward patient care.”

With the intent to further advance the standard of healthcare available in the community, Choksi founded the Apollo Hospital System, featuring the Emil J Freireich Cancer Center, in 2013. Apollo Hospital utilizes state-of-the-art technology and expertly trained staff to deliver personalized service for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Its unique approach of combined medical and aesthetic services, including a full service salon, aims to reduce the time and stress patients deal with in their fight against cancer.

“The healthcare industry may be big business,” Choksi acknowledges, “but taking care of patients and treating them like people instead of numbers, that’s good business.”

At the helm of Altus Health System is Taseer Badar, a 2012 EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. The company, founded in 2003, features an integrated network of physicians, care centers and services dedicated to providing patient care throughout Texas.

“Harris County is probably the most vested physician market in the country − with more physicians involved in the business side of medicine,” noted Badar. “There is a lot of competition in the market.”

After graduating from the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M, Badar served as a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley before founding ZT Wealth, a financial services company for private investors. He later co-founded Altus Health, a network of health facilities owned and managed by ZT Wealth, according to the company website. “Finance is a transactional business that is interesting, but with healthcare you are building a brand that is sustainable and that provides important benefits to the community,” said Badar. “The industry is evolving, but there will always be a need for healthcare.”

The “Empowering Physicians” model introduced by Badar enables a network of doctors to provide advanced levels of patient treatment based on group efficiency. The success of the program has enabled the company to develop several successful medical facilities throughout Texas − with an eye to potential expansion outside the Lone Star state.

OakBend Medical Center CEO Joe Freudenberger said he was surprised but honored by being nominated and named a finalist in the 2014 EY competition.

A 28-year veteran in the healthcare industry, Freudenberger said the future of medicine will belong to two select groups.

”There is a trend toward huge, complex healthcare organizations,” said Freudenberger. “To succeed in an increasingly competitive market, smaller organizations will have to be more nimble and be able to respond to the needs of the marketplace.”

It’s a philosophy Freudenberger takes to heart at OakBend Medical Center, the largest fullservice healthcare facility in Fort Bend County. The facility has a Level III trauma center, hospital-based skilled nursing, Level II neonatal intensive care unit and hospital based air ambulance service.”This is an industry that was very stable a generation ago,” noted Freudenberger. “Now it’s important to be nimble − small enough to effect changes in response to changing market conditions.”

Among the challenges facing the industry is a shortage of qualified healthcare providers, said Freudenberger. Quality care relies on quality caregivers, he added. The current national debate on healthcare results in additional challenges, but he remains optimistic about the future of healthcare.”It’s an exciting time in the healthcare industry for those who have a true entrepreneurial spirit,” said Freudenberger.

SightLine Health founder and CEO TJ Farnsworth, also a 2012 EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, oversees a company with a unique approach to the business model of healthcare. The national healthcare company based in Houston builds and operates patient-focused facilities that provide advance, non-invasive treatment options for cancer, using cutting edge technology. Service is provided by two distinct divisions: SightLine Development Company and SightLine Oncology Services.

Through SightLine Development Company, physicians are offered a unique opportunity to partner with the company, participating financially in the centers that provide services to the community in which they operate. The program offers physicians a turnkey operation with access to state-of-the-art technology and a referral system via the nationwide SightLine network.

The Sightline Oncology Services division focuses on advanced cancer treatment using sophisticated technologies that treat the disease with greater precision and minimized risk, according to the company website.

Finalist Andrew Knizley, CEO of Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, is a veteran of the healthcare industry, serving as a consultant for hospitals, physician groups and medical businesses requiring leadership in turnaround situations. Knizley has achieved a “Top One Hundred” ranking for every hospital administered under his leadership. Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, located in Bellaire, Tex., is a state-of-the-art specialty orthopedic and neurospine facility providing a wide range of treatment programs for patients of all ages.

”Healthgrades,” a leading independent healthcare ratings company, ranked Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital in the top five percent of the nation for both patient experience and joint replacement − the only hospital in Texas to receive that combination of ratings, according to the company website.

While the healthcare finalists have to wait until June 26 for the winning nominee to be named, all of them are benefiting from participating in the process, according to Dana Sellers, CEO of Encore Health Resources and winner of the 2013 EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition for the Gulf Coast healthcare division.

“The process is very rigorous, requiring a significant amount of time for research, interviews and analysis,” said Sellers. “It’s an opportunity to step back from the day to day pressures of running a company and look at the whole picture. It helps put things in perspective.”

And while there is no cash prize for the winner, nominees and the companies they represent receive industry recognition for being named finalists. They also benefit by being able to network with civic and business leaders that participate in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year competitions, past and present.

”It’s a great opportunity to associate with an amazing group of people,” said Sellers. “It’s the type of recognition that is beneficial personally as well as professionally.”

Sellers said the win was particularly beneficial for Encore Health Resources, a company that began just five years ago. The nomination and ultimate win in the healthcare category was a validation for clients and prospects of the quality and integrity of the company.

”It let people know we are real,” said Sellers. “That’s important for a company looking to grow.”