Helen Whait is the founder of Australia's first and only occupational therapy franchise, ActivOT. She has been a powerful contributor and change-maker within and for her profession throughout her 30-year career. She is widely recognised for challenging the status quo of occupational therapy service provision in Australia and for empowering occupational therapists to thrive as private practitioners. ActivOT is an Occupational Therapy service that aims to keep our clients active and achieve their goals. Each ActivOT franchisee is a committed and passionate practitioner operating with the full support and resources of an equally committed and passionate team.
"Entering the Women Changing the World Awards connects you with so many amazing women. There is a lot that we can learn from other people’s experiences. It is also an opportunity to reflect on your achievements – to see how far you have come can help you to see where you would like to go!"
When did you start your business? ActivOT was founded in 2012.
What was the inspiration behind your work/business? After a decade of experience working as an occupational therapist in various settings, I founded my first private practice in 2002. In the ten years that followed, I learned about the many opportunities and pitfalls of private practice to provide work-life balance and prevent burnout– as well as improve client care. In 2012, I founded Australia’s first and only occupational therapy franchise business– ActivOT– as a mum with three young sons.
What are you most excited about in your work/business? I wanted to offer a business model that would empower occupational therapists to achieve true work-life balance and the tools, systems and support to succeed in their own practices without burning out. To be able to provide occupational therapists around the country with a utopia where they are able to follow their passion within their practice, enabling a high level of care for their clients is so rewarding.
What has been the most challenging thing about starting your work/business? As any entrepreneur can attest, starting out can feel overwhelming and isolation – the exact problems that we are trying to escape! However, I have learnt to surround myself with the best people. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”- this is a gem from the one and only Steve Jobs. I read this quote a while back and it really stuck with me. As ActivOT has grown and expanded in the most incredible way, it’s my north star when it comes to my team and potential new business owners. I’m big on bringing the right people on board, it’s the key to creating a culture, and it’s foundational to the success of ActivOT.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting a work/business? I have followed my instincts, to create and refine ActivOT over the years. Little more than a decade later, ActivOT has nearly 60 franchisees, who are thriving both as occupational therapists and business owners. Not only that, I have assembled a “dream team” to keep ActivOT running as a well-oiled machine, purely on instinct.
Why did you enter the Women Changing the World Awards? I was excited to enter the awards as I saw it as an opportunity to share my vision of a different way to view occupational therapy practice. One that results in more balance for the practitioners and a higher level of care for their clients. It is also a great way to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and exchange experiences and ideas.
What did you enjoy the most about being part of the awards? The comradery - connecting with and celebrating other women - that came with being part of the awards has been a wonderful experience. To hear how others have overcome adversity and grown successful businesses has been inspiring.
What surprised you most about the awards? The most surprising thing was hearing the stories of the other finalists. It is not often that we get a true window into the life of others. In the age of social media, we often only get to get the “highlights” of someone's life. When you hear the “behind-the-scenes” from other successful businesswomen, it truly gives you cause to pause and reflect on where you have come from.
How did the awards help you in your work/business? Entering the awards has really helped raise the profile of my business, ActivOT – it is exciting to see it go from strength to strength with the extra publicity generated by placing third in the Innovation category. Being recognised in these awards has also further boosted my confidence and pushed me outside my comfort zone – I am learning every day that I am capable of more than I thought!
What advice would you give to other women thinking about entering the awards? Entering the Women Changing the World Awards connects you with so many amazing women. There is a lot that we can learn from other people’s experiences. It is also an opportunity to reflect on your achievements – to see how far you have come can help you to see where you would like to go!
What has been the best thing about starting your own work/business? The flexibility to be both the occupational therapist I want to be – putting my clients at the centre everything – as well as being able to be the mother I had always hoped to be to my three children.
What’s happening next in your work/business? ActivOT continues to thrive. Our team of occupational therapists is growing around the country. In 2023 we have already expanded into New South Wales and Western Australia, with plans to have a footprint in Victoria in the near future.
What are your big plans for the future? My vision is and always has been to be the best provider of occupational therapy services in Australia. Any business growth is a happy by-product. ActivOT, in my mind, is a utopia for occupational therapists. It is a community where OTs can practice in their areas of passion, have the flexibility they want to fit around their life and family, resulting in better care for their clients – after all well people help make other people well.
How can we connect with you?
Helen Whait: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helenwhaits/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helenwhaitactivot LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/helen-whait/