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Featured social enterprise: Prickle Community Acupuncture

April 30, 2014

Prickle Community Acupuncture is a social enterprise that is based in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburb of Richmond. The practice commenced trading in mid-2012 following Chinese Medicine Practitioners’ Christine Lee and Joanne Sharkey identifying a need in the community for acupuncture treatment to be accessible for people on low incomes. Traditionally acupuncture has been deemed unaffordable by those people that can derive most benefit – including those with complex or chronic health conditions that prevent them from regular work and a good quality of life.

Christine and Joanne evolved their plan for business by participating in The Crunch program by Social Trader’s for start-up social enterprises in 2011/2012. They were then successful in receiving social investment capital from Social Traders to establish Prickle.

The Prickle practice provides services to the whole community; an initial 60 minute consultation is $70 (or $30 for concession holders) and subsequent consultations are $50/$25. Concessions apply for those with low income health care cards, pensioner cards, student cards and senior cards.

Since opening, Prickle has seen steady growth in their patient numbers; they now see as many as 260 patients a month with around 70% of their patients on low incomes. As part of Social Traders’ Social Investment Portfolio, Prickle receives ongoing business advice and support from Social Traders, in addition to our financial investment.

Social Traders spoke with Christine Lee about their start-up journey.

ST: What is your social purpose? What does your enterprise aim to achieve?
CL: Prickle was created to provide affordable and accessible acupuncture to people with disadvantaged backgrounds or low income. Acupuncture can be significantly beneficial for people with all sorts of medical conditions, especially pain, mental health, digestive and women’s health problems. Unfortunately, for people who are so sick that they cannot work full-time, they can rarely afford acupuncture. Prickle aims to provide acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to these people, to help them get their full lives back.

ST: What does your enterprise do? Describe your business.
CL: Prickle Community Acupuncture is a multi-bed, community acupuncture clinic. We provide acupuncture and Chinese Medicine services to the community. Our clinic is a multi-bed model, so our practitioners can see more than one patient at a time (when one patient is relaxing on the bed with needles, another one is receiving a consultation etc.).
This way, we provide acupuncture for $50 for a full-fee paying patient, and $25 for a concession patient. We provide our services at affordable fees, so that people can afford to get acupuncture on a regular basis, and for courses of treatment as long as they require.

ST: How many staff do you have?
CL: We have 4 employees and 11 Chinese Medicine student volunteers who assist with administration and reception.

ST: What was the greatest learning for your organisation through THE CRUNCH?
CL: Everything was a great learning for us. We were a group of acupuncturists and Chinese Medicine practitioners; we spent over half a decade learning how to heal medical problems. Everything was new to us: industry analysis, market research, liaising with stakeholders, business modelling and investment pitching. It was a huge learning curve.

ST: What was the best moment for you personally participating in THE CRUNCH?
CL: My greatest moment was the investment pitch. I had a huge fear of public speaking and spent the whole nine months of THE CRUNCH absolutely petrified of having to deliver the pitch. The investment pitch was to be given in a lecture theatre in front of about 100 people. I thought I was going to crumble into a slobbering mess. But Prickle was so important, I practiced everyday for about three months. Practice really pays off.

ST: What has been the greatest challenge for your organisation?
CL: One of the aims of Prickle was to create a space for acupuncture in community health and community services. While we have gained a great deal of support from local community services and agencies, we continue to work hard to raise awareness of the benefits of acupuncture for vulnerable groups.

ST: What do you hope for your organisation to achieve now that you are up and running as a social enterprise?
CL: We are still so passionate about achieving our original goal. Since launching our community acupuncture clinic, we treat dozens of concession patients each week, as well a healthy amount of full-fee paying patients. Our goals now are to continuing linking up with other community organisations, and see more and more patients that want acupuncture to manage their chronic health problems.

If you would like to benefit from the skills and expertise of the Prickle practitioners, go or call (03) 9420 9120. Prickle Community Acupuncture is located in the Inner East Community Health Services building at 283 Church Street, Richmond 3121.

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