SALT LAKE CITY — What's it take to be a female innovator in the male-dominated worlds of business and technology? Here are three stories of three women making a difference in Utah.
Dr. Donna Milavetz, 48, has spent her adult life trying to help improve people’s health. A board certified internal medicine physician with a master’s degree in public health administration, she began her career working within the established healthcare system until she no longer felt she could.
“I was coming home at the end of the day feeling completely demoralized,” said the married mother of three daughters. “I had nothing left to give to my family at the end of the day.”
In the fall of 2006, after a long period of seeing 40 patients a day in her position at an Ogden area hospital, she decided to make a change and become and entrepreneur.
With her family’s blessing, Milavetz launched OnSite Care, a company that operates workplace medical clinics that provide “primary care at work” for employers in Utah and Arizona. Today, she operates 15 clinics with 86 employees with four more clinics expected to open by year’s end.
“You just connect provider with patient, then good things start to happen from health outcomes,” she said. “We were really making differences in people’s lives.”
Raised in a traditional household, she is the first doctor in her family. Her father was a shopkeeper who worked nearly every day to make ends meet, while her mother — a nurse by training – was a homemaker.
She first became interested in medicine when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30.
“I was in the second grade when it happened,” she said. “It was pretty traumatic.”
A few years later, while Milavetz was in the fifth grade, her father suffered a heart attack at age 39 and became one of the first open-heart surgery patients at New York University.
“Those two events were really life-changing for me as a kid,” she said. It was then she decided that “helping people” was important to her career pursuits because she never again wanted to feel so helpless as having to see her parents nearly die from different medical conditions.
Watching her dad run his small business was a motivator for her as she was contemplating starting her own venture, she said, and managing health was always a priority as a primary care physician.
“If you have poor health, you don’t really have a whole lot,” she said.
A natural leader with a strong work ethic and a drive to succeed no matter the challenges that may arise, Milavetz admitted that balancing the duties of a full-time working mother can be overwhelming at times, but she was driven by a sense of purpose to help others.
“I believe in leaving this world a better place than I came into it, and I live that,” Milavetz said. “I’m energized by growth, energized by solving problems (and) it fills me up to feel that I’ve made a difference in somebody’s life.”
The social environmentalist
When Priyanka Bakaya, 31, chief executive officer of PK Clean, was a young girl growing up in Australia, she became captivated by science, chemistry and the environment through her relationship with a family friend and “grandfather figure” named Percy Keen, who spent his life working on clean energy solutions, even converting his home into a “giant laboratory.”
Over many years, Keen developed many complex formulas for converting waste into fuels, but he never made them public. When he died in 2007, Bakaya felt obliged to use her friend’s formulas and bring his innovative ideas to reality. However, she worried that there were not many resources available for a young aspiring female entrepreneur in her native Australia; she dreamed of coming to America to study in the technology hub that is Silicon Valley.
Upon graduation from high school, she was accepted into Stanford University. During her undergraduate studies, she became aware of the concept of “social entrepreneurship,” in which individuals attempt to develop innovative solutions to address society's more pressing social problems.
“Having been exposed to India a lot as a child, I became interested in how I could give back all that I’ve been given in life?” Bayaka said. It was then she also became interested in environmental conservation.
After Stanford, she enrolled at MIT for business school where she began to develop her vision to end plastic waste by converting landfill-bound plastics into high-value fuels. In 2009, she launched the company that was named in honor of her dear friend, using his initials — PK Clean.
Though she had considerable knowledge in science and chemistry through her academic studies, Bakaya said that she didn’t possess the technical expertise to get the project up and running. So she enlisted the help of Ben Coates, an engineering student whom she met during her time at Stanford. The pair formed a successful partnership.
The company’s commercial-scale facility was moved to Salt Lake City in 2012 and now has enough capacity to convert 20,000 pounds of non-recycled plastic to 60 barrels of oil per day — all with zero emissions. The startup is achieving enviable profit margins, producing a barrel of oil for $25 to $30 that is sold to local refineries for more than twice that amount.
Her father was a financial services entrepreneur, while mom helped in administration of the businesses. She credits the experiences of being exposed to such dedication and determination among her chief influences.
“He was always super passionate about everything he worked on,” she said. “It was very contagious.”
Bakaya said being female in a space dominated by men has its challenges, as well as being a young minority. But she said learning to navigate those situations helps make her a strong leader.
“Having a female in charge sets a very different tone in the workplace,” she said. The overall impact is positive, she added.
The record keeper
For Christine Archibald, 53, the path to innovative entrepreneur began in her native Independence, Missouri where she began working in medical practices following graduation from high school. After 15 years in the medical field, she and her then husband decided to launch a Windows-based records management company called Management Plus.
While the business was able to get off the ground, sadly her spouse and co-founder passed away three years into their venture, leaving Archibald alone at the helm of the company.
The business moved to Utah in 1994 because of the state's growing reputation as a technology hub. Though since remarried, her husband is not involved in the Cottonwood Heights-based company, which today develops software that handles electronic records for more than 700 ophthalmology and optometry providers nationwide.
She said running a company has always had its intimidating moments even after years of success over the past two decades.
“It still is daunting some days,” Archibald explained. “Though with the experiences over the last twenty years, the challenges that come up certainly don’t hit me with the same amount of anxiety because I’ve usually gone through it before or seen something similar and I know we’ll make it through.”
Archibald noted that while gender has not necessarily been a hindrance to her career, it has sometimes been a factor in how others may perceive her.
“I feel like I have to be sharper at my game because I am a woman,” she said. In the male-dominated field of eye care, females are not often in positions of authority, she said, so she feels compelled to be at her best to garner the respect of her clients.
If some individuals are less than professional in their interactions, “I usually just let it roll off my back.”
She would encourage other prospective female business innovators to avoid getting “too wrapped up in the gender roles.”
“Be the best that you can be and be “on your game,”” Archibald said. “Everybody appreciates somebody who knows what they’re talking about and understands the issues that are affecting their client or prospect.”
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