Started By Three Women, NightLight Pediatric Wants To Be The McDonald’s Of Urgent Care

Ten years ago, when Dr. Anastasia Gentles worked at Texas Children’s Hospital’s emergency room, she spent many hours seeing children with fevers and ear infections who wound up in the ER for lack of other options. The pediatrician, now 49, came up with the idea of an urgent-care center just for kids, and asked a friend from church, Zawadi Bryant, 43, who had business experience, what she thought. The women – along with a third partner, Connie Cazares, 41 – founded NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care with a single location in Sugarland, Tex. Today, the chainlet of pediatric urgent-care centers spans five Texas locations (with two more in the works) and expects to produce $8.5 million in revenue this year. In a conversation that has been edited and condensed, Bryant, the company’s CEO, spoke about their hopes for going national.

Amy Feldman: Tell us about starting NightLight Pediatric.

Zawadi Bryant: Dr. Gentles had this great idea: What if we had an urgent-care center just for kids? That way we could see these fevers, coughs and ear infections that are not so urgent, but cannot wait for the next day to be seen at the doctor’s office. She and I went to church together, and she knew I had a business background. She floated the idea past me. I have an MBA but knew nothing about medicine. Urgent care was really young then, and no one was doing pediatric urgent care. We started with a first location in Sugarland. We didn’t want to start too big because we didn’t know if people would accept the concept. Within a year, we were outgrowing the space.

Feldman: Are there other pediatric urgent-care centers now?

Bryant: Very few people do it.

Feldman: What was it like at the beginning?

Bryant: A lot of pediatricians thought we would take their patients. Our motto is very simple: We are not a replacement to primary care. We don’t do well checks, we don’t do inoculations, we don’t do follow-up. It took them a while to trust us. Once they believed we weren’t going to steal their patients, they started referring to us.

Feldman: How do you manage the growth?

Bryant: This is where it is nice to have an engineering background. I am very methodical and systems-oriented. I worked for large companies, like BP and Hewlett-Packard. That helps us with standardization. Whether you go to our Sugarland location or our Webster location, the same procedures will be followed. I want to be the McDonald’s of urgent care in our systems and processes.

Feldman: Is that part of the reason you took over as CEO in January?

Bryant: Yes, that was a major part of it. My partner was like, “This is really a business.” This year we are focused on the numbers and on getting more efficient. She and I had shared the co-CEO role. Dr. Gentles will be the chief medical officer.

Feldman: Where are your clinics?

Bryant: All are in the Houston area. We are now evaluating other cities in Texas, and we have our eyes set to be in other states. We want to get our footing in Texas first because the laws are so different state-to-state. We’re looking at Colorado, California, Arizona. Pediatric urgent care really plays well in urban areas. You need a dense population for it to work.

Feldman: What are the numbers you need to open a new center?

Bryant: For urgent care to do well, you need at least 200,000 people in a five-mile radius. Kids are normally a third of that. You need an area where you could put in multiple centers.

Feldman: How profitable a business is it?

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