Julia Tortorice's (MBA ’99) secret to entrepreneurial success was unconventional to say the least. While many market newcomers offer more benefits than the competition, Tortorice, conversely, offered fewer perks.
It’s been almost 15 years since Tortorice launched her company—CEUFast—but her “meat and potatoes” method still resonates with certification-seeking medical professionals around the country.
Tortorice’s approach may seem counterintuitive, but the foundation for her success in the Continuing Education (CE) space is built around the classic supply-and-demand model. There are approximately 2.7 million registered nurses in the U.S., and they are required to renew certifications periodically in their respective specialties—of which there are more than 100.
“Nurses work shifts around the clock, seven days a week, and obtaining CE involves time and money,” Tortorice said. “While live presentations can be great, enriching experiences, these conferences can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars—depending on travel and hotel accommodations. It's something every nurse cannot afford to do.”
Tortorice, 62, knows those struggles firsthand. She experienced the same frustration coming up through the nursing ranks and as a manager, eventually becoming the Chief Nurse of Operations for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
“It’s a chronic problem,” Tortorice said. “As a manager, you find yourself constantly on your staff to get it done, but there are so few opportunities.”
Previously, nurses attended conferences or live presentations to renew their certifications. It was a practice Tortorice’s business partner, Donna Thomas, had been operating since 1987 with mild success.
But with the advent of the Internet, online certification began gaining in popularity. Tortorice saw a golden opportunity, and teamed up with Thomas.
“In nursing, to say time is precious would be an understatement,” Tortorice said. “Donna and I wanted to provide CE designed to meet the needs of the practicing nurse.”
Their answer was CEUFast, a no-frills and inexpensive online option. CEUFast shuns media streaming, voiceovers, live presentations, and related features professional organizations tout for a simple and straightforward learning experience.
Those advanced features are costly, which is why the majority of CEUFast’s competitors charge their customers by the course. CEUFast, however, charges a one-time annual fee of $30 allowing nurses to obtain as many of their certifications as they can within a year.
“That was our plan from the beginning,” Tortorice said. “We’re not trying to compete with the professional organizations. This is for those nurses on the night shift, for the nurses in nursing homes and home health who don’t have many resources.”
It was a plan Tortorice said she would have never been able to implement if not for the skills she developed while pursuing a UF MBA. Tortorice said her UF MBA experience gave her the skills to conduct a targeted market analysis, thereby identifying gaps in the marketplace where CEUFast could make an impact; obtain external funding through the business plan skills she learned; and interpret complex regulation and statutes among other key skills.
“If not for the MBA training, I would have not known where to begin building a business,” Tortorice said. “That degree opened my mind to a new perspective. It teaches you about the bottom line—the ability to analyze financial situations and project long-term impact.”
The impact has been impressive. CEUFast has experienced a minimum of 15% annual growth in gross sales since its inception, and has had years of 50% growth. More than 200,000 healthcare professionals have used CEUFast, and the company boasts a 95% customer satisfaction rate.
And CEUFast is not resting on its laurels. The company has expanded its offerings beyond the nursing specialty, and offers approved courses for dietitians/nutritionists, electrologists, midwives, and physical therapists among others.