Ginger Desk secures $1.5 million to power health and wellness front desks across North America with virtual assistants

The Ginger Desk team.
After finding product-market fit, Ginger Desk aims to build the platform it needs to scale.

During the early days of COVID-19, longtime naturopathic doctor Julie Durnan launched Vancouver-based Ginger Desk out of her own integrative health clinic.

The idea came to Durnan after she saw some of her colleagues in the health and wellness space struggle when they retreated from their brick-and-mortar operations and attempted to continue providing services remotely without front desk staff or a clinic.

“They very quickly realized that it was next to impossible to run a business and a practice on their own,” Durnan, Ginger Desk’s founder and CEO, told BetaKit in an exclusive interview.

“We’ve figured out exactly what we need to build in order to really scale and take the company to the next level.”

The idea was to provide allied health practitioners with on-demand, trained virtual assistants (VAs) to manage administrative work such as booking appointments, communicating with patients, and billing as a tech-enabled service. Ginger Desk tested this notion out through a pilot, and Durnan claimed it was an instant hit. Within five months of launching, she said Ginger Desk served businesses across Canada and the United States.

After bootstrapping its way to product-market fit and profitability, and amassing hundreds of customers over the past four years, Ginger Desk has now closed $1.5 million CAD in seed funding to fuel its transformation from a largely service-based business underpinned by existing tech, into a custom tech platform that Durnan says the startup and its clients truly need.

“We did it the opposite of what a lot of founders do where … they have an idea, build the tech, and test it out,” said Durnan. “We started as a service first to test it out, and now we know what we need, and now we’re building it.”

Ginger Desk’s all-equity seed round closed in April and was led by Toronto’s Disruption Ventures, which focuses on women founders. It was supported by Mosaic Accelerator founder Rochelle Grayson, Women’s Equity Lab Vancouver and Manitoba, and Vancouver’s Spring Impact Capital, which just launched a $20-million fund for cleantech and healthtech startups. “It’s just such a delight to have so many women investors on our cap table,” Durnan said.

Durnan acknowledged that it was difficult fundraising in the current market environment, but claimed that Ginger Desk was “in a very favourable position” to do so, given its progress since 2020, bootstrapping, generating revenue, and building a base of “hundreds of already very happy clients.” She said the startup is growing 100 percent year-over-year.

“More and more, we recognize the value of the founder over anything else, and [Durnan] is the kind of founder you want to back,” Disruption Ventures founder and managing partner Elaine Kunda told BetaKit, crediting Durnan’s progress in finding product-market fit and breaking even. “She is relentless in her pursuit [and] deeply understands the market and what her customer needs. Ginger Desk is solving a very real problem in the market.”

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Though Durnan still owns and runs Restoration Health Clinic and remains a registered naturopathic doctor, she stopped seeing patients herself three years ago to focus on Ginger Desk after the company’s business took off.

Ginger Desk caters to allied health professionals across North America, from solo practitioners to medium and large health and wellness clinics. This group, which excludes medical doctors and nurses, consists of regulated professionals ranging from naturopaths to chiropractors, physiotherapists, mental health practitioners, speech-language pathologists, and acupuncturists. 

The startup claims to offer clients in this group full-service administrative support “for a fraction of the cost of hiring in-clinic staff” through its VAs, which are permanent Ginger Desk employees: the company’s 40-person team currently includes 30 VAs.

Having worked as a naturopath for more than 20 years, owning, running, and scaling clinics in the Vancouver area, Durnan said she has developed a firsthand understanding of what her peers in the space require to succeed. According to Durnan, Ginger Desk clients want “a concierge experience,” security and confidentiality, and a VA with medical training and knowledge of their electronic medical record (EMR) systems.

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When the pandemic first hit, Durnan said many of her peers in the industry saw their revenue “cut in half because they were spending half their time emailing patients, sending out invoices after hours, doing all of the admin [work] on their own.”

According to Durnan, Ginger Desk helps health and wellness professionals address two main problems. The first is setting up digital administrative workflows. Durnan said many practitioners are not set up to operate virtually even if they have an EMR system: “Often, these clinics think that just because they use a software, it’s going to be really simple to hire people remotely to support the practice, and that’s just simply not true.”

The second is staff retention. Durnan noted that for many health and wellness clinics, the hiring cycle can be expensive and time-consuming, given the amount of employee turnover. “Once a clinic hires a [VA] from Ginger Desk, they have a [VA] for life,” she said, noting that if that VA is unavailable, the company can put another in their seat “with no downtime.”

“[Durnan] is relentless in her pursuit [and] deeply understands the market and what her customer needs.”

Elaine Kunda, Disruption

When the startup first launched, it supported lots of virtual practices. Now, much of its work is back in brick-and-mortar clinics. Ginger Desk aims to serve both.

To date, Ginger Desk’s solution has consisted of “cobbled-together” commercially available software. Durnan said the main focus of this funding is on product development.

“We’ve figured out exactly what we need to build in order to really scale and take the company to the next level,” she said, noting that the startup needed a capital injection to create that platform.

Ginger Desk is currently building out that software, which it plans to launch this summer. According to Durnan, it will automate “a lot of the work” currently being done by the startup’s VAs. This fall, she said Ginger Desk intends to layer artificial intelligence onto it.

Despite this focus on tech, Durnan’s vision for Ginger Desk involves remaining a tech-enabled service, because practices want human VAs “who care with heart.”

“They’re not looking for a solely automated service, so we’ll automate as much of our communications as we can behind the scenes and make it so that our people deliver an impeccable experience without losing that human touch,” Durnan said.

Feature image courtesy Ginger Desk.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache. He was also the winner of SABEW Canada’s 2023 Jeff Sanford Best Young Journalist award.

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