Start-Up: Chiropractor Manipulates Life Goals

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Dr. David Heitmann, owner of Integrated Sport and Spine Clinic of Madison (ISS) has a theory on life: To be successful, start small and dream big.

For Heitmann, 29, a Wausau, Wis. native, starting his own chiropractic and sports medicine business wasn't about opening the fanciest office on the busiest street. It wasn't about finding the biggest home in the nicest neighborhood. On the contrary, this doctor, who opened his office in August of 2008, has yet to earn a paycheck. He and his wife live on her insurance professional salary in a 300-sq.-ft. portion of their two-story office building.

Heitmann describes his new chiropractic business at 3109 Commercial Avenue in Madison as "medically based with an Eastern influence." In addition to chiropractic, he specializes in providing on-field sports care, including taping, assessing, and diagnosing sports injuries. His expertise is the result of 10 years in school (and a student loan debt of $260,000) which began with a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology from UW-Eau Claire. From there, he attended Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis, Mo., where he earned both a chiropractic degree and a Master's degree in sports science and rehabilitation. Heitmann also spent five months as an intern at UW Sports Medicine in cardiac/pulmonary rehab, and is just an exam away from earning a certification as a registered clinical exercise physiologist.

With his parents heavily involved in the Elk's organization, Heitmann says he learned about the virtues of social networking from an early age, and he credits them for his success. Another mentor was Dr. Laney Nelson, a Logan professor and formerly the head chiropractic physician with Brigham Young University. Heitmann became Nelson's right hand man while in college: He helped him write a book, witnessed his patient care, and kept a journal of observations that would both educate and inspire him.

During those college years, Heitmann says he worked hard to save what he could, yet once in Madison, he was disappointed to learn those savings amounted to just five percent of the required 20% needed for a down payment on the building he wanted. So, heeding the advice of Nelson and other professionals, he established his first company, Heitmann Properties, LLC in an effort to keep his chiropractic business separate from the property, for liability purposes. Then, he put together a seller's financing deal with the former building owner, and took out a bank loan for $180,000. The building admittedly "needed a lot of love," Heitmann said, but thanks to some previous experience in the construction business, he saved money by doing most of the remodeling himself. A couple of rented upstairs apartments also help pay the mortgage.

Except for two significant purchases — a Decompression Table and Cold Laser — that cost Heitmann $14,000, the doctor started and operates ISS on a $20,000 line of credit. He succeeds by reinvesting all patient fees (he sees 5 to 15 per day right now) into the business. He pays no rent, has no employees (yet), pays "typical" utilities, spends $1,500 a month on advertising and uses what he can toward equipment expenses. And, he's using these early experiences to build a solid foundation from which to pursue some lofty goals (see below).

Heitmann, who has taught anatomy and physiology at MATC, is a former rugby player with a passion for sports. His long-term goal is to be the team physician for the Badgers, but in the meantime, he keeps busy serving as head medical director for the Wisconsin Rugby Club, UW's rugby team, and three area high school teams. By the end of the year, the doctor plans to purchase a much larger, 3,000-sq.-ft. office (retaining the current office for rental income), but his true dream is to own "the" premiere multi-disciplinary sports medicine clinic in Madison.

A Moment with Dr. Heitmann

Biggest start-up challenge: "Most of the patients here are served by [the area's large health care providers] who have closed off chiropractic providers for about 10 years, though it fluctuates. There is a huge failure rate because if your services aren't covered, people won't come to you. I'm considered an 'out-of-network provider.' About 60% of my patients pay with cash."

Five-year goals: To own a multi-disciplinary facility with massage, acupuncture, a personal training gym, and a nutrition store. And I want to write a book advising other chiropractors on how to market themselves.

10-Year Goal: Add a non-operative sports medicine MD.

15-Year Goal: Set up franchises.