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Prickle Acupuncture Case Study 2015

July 14, 2016

Last updated on April 3, 2018


Jobs created: 2 practice managers and 4 practitioners (all part-time), 7/8 volunteers per week and 199 treatments delivered each month on average in FY14, 69% of which were to concession patients

Proportion of revenue that comes from trade: 94% in FY14

Stage of the enterprise: Start-up

Geographical reach: Melbourne


Prickle Community Acupuncture is a provider of high quality, affordable acupuncture services. It was founded in 2009 on the belief that acupuncture and Chinese medicine is effective across all backgrounds in addressing serious health problems. Its social purpose is to ensure that these therapies are available to all sections of the community, including disadvantaged and  marginalised people with limited ability to afford them and with poor health conditions.

While studying in China, the co-founders of Prickle saw that multi-bed acupuncture clinics were widespread. Research proved they were also common in the US and UK as a way of providing affordable acupuncture. They wanted to bring this model to Australia where treatment was traditionally one-on-one and comparatively much more expensive.

Business model

Prickle operates a six bed clinic within the Inner East Community Health Centre (IECH) in Richmond. Prickle employs four practitioners who administer treatments and a practice manager (also a practitioner) to manage staff, bookings, payments and other administration. Treatments are dispensed on a fee for service basis with the standard fees that mainstream  patients pay used to offset the cost of providing partially subsidised services to disadvantaged/concession patients.

Improving health outcomes for the disadvantaged

In FY14, Prickle provided 199 treatments per month (up from 117 per month in FY13). Of the monthly treatments delivered, 69% of patients paid concessional fees and would not otherwise have been able to afford the cost of non-subsidised treatment.

Prickle is instrumental in training practitioners and hosts over 30 students per year.

Increasing effectiveness with Social Traders

Working with Social Traders, Prickle have adapted the overseas business model and increased the number of treatments delivered per week. Christine Lee says “We thought the practitioners could do everything, but that doesn’t fit the service that people expect here. Having dedicated practice managers in the clinic for payments and bookings has helped but we still grapple with the amount of support practitioners need to make the best use of their time and keep the clinic full.”

Prickle completed The Crunch program in 2012 and Christine describes the experience as transformative. “We really developed our market analysis, business modelling and assessment of risk and our vision became a concrete business plan. I think it gave us credibility and helped IECH have the confidence to lease us the space for the clinic,” Christine said.

Social Traders’ total social investment in Prickle is $120,000 of which almost half is in the form of a repayable loan. Social Traders and Prickle staff have worked together on developing financial forecasts, reaching milestones and financial reporting which has facilitated applications for other funding.

Future focus

Prickle are currently looking for larger premises in a new location.  This will increase the number of practitioners delivering treatments at the same time and increase the volume of potential customers.  Increasing scale and the ability to trade substantially improves the bottom line. “If we can scale up to see 8 patients at once we don’t need more support to increase our revenue.”

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