Ayelet Connell, PhD, PT, IMT,C, President of Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy, claims she became an entrepreneur “out of necessity—we had a family business for a long time.”
Connell’s mother Sharon Weiselfish-Giammatteo, who used to be the head of physical therapy at Mount Sinai Hospital, created the type of bodywork Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy practices, which is called integrative manual therapy (IMT).
“My mother was quite a powerhouse,” says Connell. “She had a lot of motivation to develop the IMT bodywork. It’s the foundation of our practice.”
Weiselfish-Giammatteo was encouraged to open her own practice soon after her daughter was born. “I was very ill,” Connell explains. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of answers. My mother had a lot of education behind her, so she started researching and ended up developing this huge body of hands-on work.”
Weiselfish-Giammatteo started her practice, Regional Physical Therapy in the early 1980s. Connell practically grew up in the practice. She began working there in 1999. “The practice became very well known in the northeast. It grew and at one point we had multiple offices around the country,” says Connell.
A few years ago, Weiselfish- Giammatteo became very sick and the practice had to shift things around. “At that point, I was one of the six partners of the business,” Connell explains. “We had about 15 therapists—it was a really big operation. We had an office here in Bloomfield and also in Glastonbury.”
She continues, “With the economy hitting hard and my mother getting so sick, we ended up closing around the 30-year anniversary of that business.”
Sadly, Weiselfish-Giammatteo passed in February of 2015.
LAUNCHING HER OWN STARTUP
The practice closing was a turning point for Connell’s entrepreneurial journey. “At that time, we had all these employees who were amazing practitioners who would not have a job,” she recalls. “I honestly felt a knowingness that it was my role to go on. I knew I had to open something on my own and have everybody come and have a home.”
Connell launched Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy in April 2014. It was then that she began to accept her role as an entrepreneur.
“I shifted things,” she says. “IMT is definitely our foundation, but I had a lot of ideas on how I wanted to do things differently. It’s much easier to do things when there are not multiple cooks in the kitchen.”
She adds, “Thinking about having that entrepreneurial spirit—I started getting excited about starting my own practice in a cleaner, more transparent, more proficient, more successful manner.”
SHAPING HER ROLE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR
Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy now has 10 practitioners, some of whom have been working with the team for 20 or 30 years. “Many of our practitioners worked with my mother at Mount Sinai in the early 1980s,” Connell notes. “Eight of our practitioners specialize in IMT. Many of them have been teaching faculty.”
Regional Physical Therapy used to have a family-owned seminar company that taught 100 to 150 classes around the world every year. The practice also had a private occupational school through the state of Connecticut, where Connell was Dean of the school.
Last fall, Connell restarted the seminar company, Manual Therapy Seminars, which works out of the office in Bloomfield. Connell is the sole owner. “I was trying to take what used to be a global operation and start more grassroots again,” she explains.
“I’ve worn a lot of hats, which I feel sort of set the stage for me to know what I’m doing,” she says, noting that all of the experiences helped shape every facet of her role as an entrepreneur.
WHAT MAKES THE STARTUP UNIQUE
“At its heart, Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy is a wellness center. We offer many services including holistic physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and nutritional wellness—but what is very special about us is that we work collaboratively,” emphasizes Connell.
“Many wellness centers have really remarkable practitioners, but they don’t necessarily work together. They might not offer a combined program. Whereas for us, our physical therapists are constantly communicating with everyone else on the team—whether it’s an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, or a chiropractor—about the client,” she says.
“There is also a bodywork component to what we do,” she adds. “A lot of wellness centers offer nutrition and acupuncture and sometimes chiropractic, but they don’t often have a holistic physical therapy component.”
AN EMPHASIS ON COMMUNITY
Connell says it’s imperative to give back to the community. “It’s really important to offer resources to people, she stresses. “I realize as a wellness center, while we do accept some insurance plans, it’s also an expensive service, so we try very hard to offer a lot of free education.”
One way of giving back and providing resources is Connell’s involvement with Natural Nutmeg Magazine. She is part of the advisory board and contributes an article every month.
Connell also provides many articles on the Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy Blog.
“We’re really trying to be a resource to the community and to be available,” she emphasizes. “We’re all in the mindset of: What can we do to help people get better?”
And she gets a lot out of making a difference in people’s lives. “I realize that I get that feeling so often—that really special feeling that I’m helping people. It’s not necessarily always in a way that makes a profit, and that’s okay. The whole point is to give back,” she says.
“What’s cool about the Greater Hartford area is that people don’t realize what they have in their own backyard. We’ve taught this work all over the world for years and we’ve treated people from all over the world,” Connell adds.
“One of the things I committed to when I started this company was that there would be a resource for the local community as well,” she says. “It was important to me to make sure that we are accessible and available to the community here, not just the community around the world.”
When advising others who are thinking of launching a startup, Connell advice is to take the path of least resistance.
“What I mean by that is, kind of follow the road signs,” she explains. “You start the process of initiating it, sticking to your principles of what you think it should be like, and really trying to trust what feels right to you. If something doesn’t feel right, take the time to honor that and reflect on why it doesn’t feel right.”
She continues, “Keep following the path that’s feels right. But, ultimately the organizing work you do—the management and the administration—should feel easy. If it doesn’t, there’s obviously a shift that needs to be made.”
Connell has followed her own advice—and created her own path. “I really think it’s possible to have a life where you have your own business and have it be successful and work many hours and not have it be deteriorating your health,” she says.
“I also really think you can have work-life balance, which took me 30+ years to figure out,” she adds. “When I started this business more than two years ago I was committed to doing this in a way where it wouldn’t affect my health—because I was going to do this myself.”
“It’s funny, because when I started this business there was an assumption that I would do it,” Connell recalls. “I wasn’t thinking: I want to be an entrepreneur or I want to launch a startup. It wasn’t like that. It was one step in front of the other and this is what manifested. Now I think: Oh, I am an entrepreneur!”