Founder, Anova Fertility
Finalist, RBC Momentum Award, CENTRAL
Founded in 2016, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health is committed to making the right to family accessible to everyone. As a doctor in reproductive medicine who had been through the system for assisted fertility personally, Marjorie Dixon saw inequality for different segments of the population, service that was lacking in providing care to women, and gaps in innovative, evidence-based treatment options. She knew it could be done better. Currently reporting twice the Canadian standard rate of success per cycle, Anova’s growth has been substantial: from a clinic of 8 employees to a full-IVF centre with a team of over 80.
My first job ever was… I was 15 years old and I was working for the city of Dorval (Quebec) in the parks and recreation department. It required me to work equally in French and English and allowed me to hone both my organizational and communication skills. After 1 year, I was promoted to District Supervisor. This job ultimately taught me to work with budgets, plan out the summer season and prioritize on a daily basis. I also learned a lot about being innovative with marketing materials and the promotion of special events through the city. This was the beginning of my zeal to improve upon what had been done by others before me.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…
I also was part of a program in high school called “Junior Achievers of Canada”. I loved our bi-weekly meetings and planning
Page | 1 of 3 strategies for growth and the ultimate success of our T-shirt company. We began the process by selling shares and “pitching” our idea to friends and family. I was elected VP marketing by my peers and along with the president and VP of production developed an affinity for running a company as a team with shared vision. In fact, we were the only company that was profitable for our school sector in Montreal and I went on to win the VP Marketing of the Year for all of Canada. I was offered a summer position at KPMG, but regrettably declined the position—I had accepted a position at Merck Frosst in their clinical research department as I was focused on entry into medical school. My entrepreneurial spirit was put on hold, but I longed to figure out a way to marry both of my interests.
The above experiences gave me much to digest. Then I went to train in the USA for my fellowship program for three years. Upon my return to Canada, there was a sharp contrast where it came to science and medicine and the delivery of top tier patient care. In Canada, I surmised that we were being somewhat complacent when it comes to developing cutting edged technology and science in medicine. My goal then became clear: I aimed to create the ULTIMATE combination of global standard care, research development and innovation in Canada BY a Canadian (woman) FOR Canadians. Alas, the idea of Anova Fertility was “conceived” and was crystallized.
My vision with Anova Fertility was to create and provide an environment for fertility health, that was innovative, that offered individualized, compassionate and evidence-based medical care for all patients; no matter their marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious background. Essentially, I knew this new amalgam paradigm of innovation and patient-centred care would ‘shake up’ the industry.
My proudest accomplishment is… I am proudest that I am able to be a voice for women and patients who for so long have not been able to advocate for themselves due to the stigma and shame that is associated with infertility. I have spoken up and made a difference AND managed to grow my business in concert. I should also add that a big perk has been to include my family and young children on this journey. I am certain that the “teachable moments” that I have shared will serve to educate and inform them for their future life paths. They have actually already asserted that they too share my entrepreneurial spirit!
My boldest move to date was… opening my dream center, even when it seemed as an insurmountable task! I am a firm believer that there is a solution to every problem. Furthermore, I know that one cannot experience the true exhilaration of success without first appreciating the abyss of the failure that has preceded it. My mantra to live by is: Out of adversity comes opportunity!
I surprise people when I tell them… my alternate career choice was in the entertainment industry; piano and vocals are my things! I sang back-up for Michael Bolton during his “Time, Love and Tenderness” tour in the 90s. I always sing for my patients…
My best advice to people starting their business is… You must find your passion and follow it unwaveringly: finding the right fit is key. Your support system is important; this may include your friends, family or close acquaintances. Never forget where you came from, as those close to you will help you navigate through the hard times and keep you true to yourself and as you reach your end goals.
It is beneficial that you find a good mentor and set goals. Nothing happens by accident. Goal setting is a healthy way to determine if you are living up to your own ‘measuring stick’. If certain goals aren’t achieved as prescribed, it gives you the opportunity to redirect or adjust your plan.
My best advice from a mentor was… Do not undersell yourself. As women we have this strange concept built within us that we should be driven by humility as opposed to being bold, affirming and celebrating our successes. It’s about learning from the past, enjoying the present and creating/ pushing the envelope forward for the future for your industry. Know both where you came from and where you are going. Dream big!
If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Rosa Parks. Woman, defiant, courageous, women’s advocate, blazing a trail without fear – and never caring what people would do to overtly intimidate and undermine her. She was willing to risk it all to make way for other women to have a voice. I am referring to Rosa Parks pre-Montgomery bus strike. She stood her ground, insisted that she deserved to be respected and wanted to be that impetus of change for justice and equality for black women everywhere. I stand on her shoulders today as a female business owner of colour and have immense gratitude for the risks that she took to allow me to be here today. I would ask her where and how she mustered the strength to be fearless and use her voice and pen as a narrative of truth to overcome adversity.
“Attach yourself to a mission greater than yourself. It is what will get you out of bed when the going gets tough, and keep you fighting when you feel like you have no fight yet.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t allow yourself to be propagandized; do your research and push your own envelope. When you have an idea and plan in place to bring it to fruition, remember that you do not require approval from everyone that you respect. The very people that present constant obstacles (aka the ‘haters’) to your ideas are the very ones that will drive you to succeed. Thank them for that gift. Remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained!
My biggest setback was… understanding and realizing that the very people I have idolized may not be as they appear and may actually disappoint us hugely. This can even include our mentors. I have learned that this life is a very long, novel–full of chapters; there will be unhappy and happy moments. People can play a role for different amounts of time and then move on… and I have learned to be alright with that!
I overcame it by… realizing that my vision could not be clouded by anyone, if it’s not to be done, I would make it happen. I had to come to a full understanding of every aspect of my business, from small operation to a multi-departmental center. I understood the role of making new regulations, advocating for patients, what could (and should) be done in private and public sectors. I set out to create a model for women’s healthcare. When people tell me that I can’t, watch me go!
The last book I read was… The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. (I love a good “girl-power” novel).
I stay inspired by… constantly critically appraising the scientific literature on fertility, interpreting new data from our state-of-the-art center and continually striving to exceed standards. Also, knowing that the extended Anova team has played a critical part in helping patients to achieve THEIR goal/dream of becoming a parent –THAT inspires me every time. It is why I became who I am today.
The future excites me because… This is a hard question, as I would like to do so many things. Right now, I am intent on opening up more Anova Fertility Centers in the next five years in a “hub and spoke” model. The main fertility center will serve as a hub and other subsidiary centers will act as spokes. In fact, we have just collaborated to open a satellite center in Sudbury–again increasing access where it is otherwise limited. Contributing to growing families with the help of modern science is something that I am truly passionate about!
I want to bring the science of fertility medicine in Canada to global standards and further offer it to Canadians from a Canadian source. My pet peeve is that Canadians can be woefully complacent where it comes to science. I am proudly Canadian, this country is a fabulous place to be and it provides its residents with access to healthcare universally. I believe this should hold true in the field of women’s health and fertility. I want to put Canada on the map in that global space and I plan to be there to lead it into its next, phenomenal iteration.
Throughout my years in school I was told that women would be the next doctors, astronauts and leaders of future generations. I am a woman’s woman; if I can find another young girl/ woman to motivate, push, inspire to become the innovator and show that we too possess the drive to exceed all expectations in business– then I’m all for it!
I have been very blessed on this journey in that I am living both my business and professional dreams with zeal and passion! I will continue to lead the field with global sights in mind, combining the science with exciting new technology. Though this vision may be daunting or unbelievable to some, it is what excites me most– what’s next for Anova!!!
My next step is… To continue providing and exceeding the standards for top tier fertility care on a local, national and international levels. Access to care is also primordial to my mission, so I will ensure that we do not overlook those in remote areas.