Eye clinic fulfills St. Paul entrepreneur's community-service vision

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2013 - 7:45 PM

Dr. Yer Vue is enjoying rapid growth at Vue Eye Clinic, which he opened a year ago to serve Hmong and other patients on St. Paul’s East Side.

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Dr. Yer Vue opened Vue Eye Clinic in St. Paul with the mission of serving Hmong families and others who have few resources and face difficulties in getting care.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Long before he wrote a business plan, Dr. Yer Vue, founder of Vue Eye Clinic on St. Paul’s East Side, described his dream of entrepreneurship and community service in a letter to his father.

Vue’s vision was to open an optometric practice that would serve Hmong families and others who have few resources, face difficulties in accessing health care, and may have little or no insurance.

Vue grew up in similar circumstances in Spokane, Wash., where his family resettled in 1979 after leaving a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand. Written when Vue was a college freshman, the letter expressed his admiration for his father’s perseverance in overcoming obstacles in their new homeland.

“For him, it was just about survival,” Vue, 35, said of his father. “We have an opportunity to better ourselves. We have this golden opportunity and we have to make the most of it.”

The primary obstacle between Vue and the opportunity he had identified was a lack of start-up financing. He had composed a business plan and learned clinic operations while working for retail eye care centers in the Twin Cities. (He had moved here after graduation, having visited frequently to take part in Hmong community soccer tournaments and New Year celebrations.) Banks weren’t interested, however, because of his student debt and limited credit history.

Vue feared that his dream might remain just that until he began working with the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that offers minority entrepreneurs business consulting services, access to financing and leadership development programs. (More information: www.meda.net.)

Impressed with Vue’s business plan, industry experience and commitment to community service, MEDA business consultant Mariana Scott worked with Vue to secure $150,000 in start-up financing from MEDA’s internal loan program. The loan enabled Vue to get the office space and equipment he needed to open Vue Eye Clinic in May 2012. The clinic, which has five employees, finished last year with $300,000 in revenue, Scott said, and is on track to reach $500,000 this year. Banks now are pursuing Vue, who has obtained a Small Business Administration loan.

“What sold me was his dream to help his people,” Scott said. “I saw that this would be an easy person to help attain a dream and so rewarding because if he attained his dream, the community would be served.”

Opening the clinic without MEDA’s support might not have been impossible but certainly would have taken longer, Vue said. “I can’t say enough about everything they’ve done and how blessed and grateful I am for all their help,” he said.

Vue Eye Clinic is on the lower level of the building that houses Face to Face, a nonprofit organization that offers medical, mental health and other services to homeless and underserved youth and young adults.

“Dr. Vue has a mission beyond optometry,” said Lynda Bennett, executive director of Face to Face. “He operates from very much of a mission focus as much as from a business perspective. He’s been a very welcoming option to some of our patients.”

Dr. Muaj Lo, a family medicine physician at West Side Community Health Services, a federally funded health center with a clinic on St. Paul’s East Side, said Vue and his clinic have been an asset to the neighborhood. Lo sends diabetic patients who speak Hmong to Vue for diagnosis and treatment.

“The experience is so different when they can speak directly to the provider and tell their story without having to speak through someone else,” Lo said. “I get notes from him letting me know he talks to them about age-related problems and how to keep their eyes healthy.’’ That’s a big help to the elderly population who don’t speak English because they ­usually don’t get that kind of information elsewhere, Lo added.

The expert says: Mariana Scott, Vue’s business consultant at MEDA, said after Vue’s successful start, she now is working with him on strategic planning. She said that Vue, who recently hired a fifth employee, also needed to develop a long-term plan to bring in another optometrist and evaluate the possibility of opening another location.

“He was prepared and he knew the business,” Scott said. “Now that he’s growing a lot he needs to start planning for growth. He’s doing well so he’s looking to make sure his employees get compensated well.”

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com

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