Nurses First, Scholarships Follow for Alumnus-led Startup

Alvin Cortez ’08 (left) and Richard Manual (right) of Nurses First Solutions

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 22, 2017) – When long-time friends Alvin Cortez ’08 and Richard Manuel connected with the UCF Business Incubation Program to foster growth for their travel nurse staffing agency, they were asked a simple question: Why would somebody choose you rather than the company next to you?

They had a simple answer. They were in the business of making business personal.

Travel nurses typically work 13 week periods in one area, and move around the country depending on where they are needed. Nurses First Solutions provides those nurses to facilities in need of professional workforce. Manuel is a nurse. So is his wife. So is Cortez’s wife, Jessiccalou ’08 ’14BSN.

They knew about the job demands first-hand – the long hours, the life-saving work and the comfort that nurses provide to their patients. They also knew there were gaps in the industry, specifically for traveling nurses when it came to retirement plans, health care insurance, paid time off and life insurance.

So they decided to do something about it.

“We treat them like family,” Manuel said. “They won’t be treated like a number. They can call the company president and speak to him directly. It’s more transparent in our company.”

Echoed Cortez: “We wanted to give back, so we started the company – hence the name Nurses First.”

After incorporating in 2014, Cortez and Manuel hooked up with their third partner Ronnie Elliott and the UCF Business Incubation Program, which Cortez learned about when he studied interpersonal communication at UCF.

For nearly 20 years, the Incubation Program has been helping early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.

The duo credit site manager Carol Ann Dykes as the instrumental force that has pushed their business forward since joining the incubator. After they started at the incubator in April 2016, their company expanded from three employees to a dozen and their revenue grew from $300,000 to $6 million.

“It takes grit on our part, but at the same time it’s good to have guidance along the way,” Cortez said. “They hold us accountable to having a structure. If you have questions, they’ll connect you to the right types of people.”

All the while, they have remained steadfast in their mission to put nurses first. They offer competitive benefits, paid time off, life insurance and retirement plans. They also follow through on personal touches like sending flowers when their contracted nurses’ family members are sick or welcome boxes for new hires.

“People ask, does that eat up your profit? For us, it just makes sense,” Cortez said. “We’d rather give it back to the nurses. It’s ingrained in us to want to give back and do a little bit better for the people around us.”

They recently took that philosophy one step further by establishing the Nurses First Solutions Endowed Scholarship in April to support the undergraduate members of the Student Nurses Association within the College of Nursing.

Their office is located next to the College of Nursing, and after sponsoring some events, they became interested in setting up a scholarship. That interest turned into action after they attended a scholarship luncheon and heard directly from nursing students about how scholarships impacted their lives.

“We wanted to plant the seed for these students – there are resources, there are opportunities out there. They have a wide array of opportunity ahead of them if they are truly passionate about nursing,” Manuel said. “The scholarship puts more back into the community and students that want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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