. . . is also a practice owner. And rural CHC doctor. And adjunct professor. And startup founder of Eliqa Headwear. Here’s how Dr. Joke Alesh juggles responsibilities, manages financial risk and builds her businesses on strict budgets.

WHAT IF YOU WANT a second business but not necessarily another dental practice? Maybe you’re looking for something with a low cost of entry, something you can scale up and down that doesn’t interfere with your patient schedule. Or maybe you simply want to indulge your other talents, make a few extra dollars and take a refreshing break from the dental routine. Dr. Joke Alesh, the Pawtucket, Rhode Island–based owner of Marigold Dental Studio and 2023 Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree, is doing just that, and growing every year while staying firmly in control.

On a practical level, how did you decide which types of businesses to start?
I had a lot of ideas in various stages of development. Some of them, like a podcast, required too much time commitment. Others were dependent on reliable product sourcing that wasn’t achievable. But after a few years, I’ve narrowed it down to three: my practice, my event coordination business and the e-commerce headwear company. I need to be physically present to treat patients, but my other businesses don’t require constant oversight once I have repeatable processes in place. I can scale them up and down as necessary with freelance and contract labor. I can choose how much to invest in their growth. Aside from that, I also chose them on the basis of being niches I’m passionate about and enjoy. I still have student debt and practice debt, so I can’t yet afford to own, say, a physical event space or a warehouse. For Eliqa Headwear, for example, the inventory lives with me for now, in the finished basement of my home.

What’s a good rule of thumb for creating businesses that are likely to succeed?
Find a problem and solve it. It could be a problem in your life, or [among] your friends and family. If it affects a lot of people, there will be an audience looking for solutions, and that’s the easiest way to get into business. Primary Weddings & Events solves the problem of traditional New England venues and professionals not having the capacity or cultural familiarity with large-scale ethnic events, while my team handles all the hardcore logistics that most people don’t like doing. The Eliqa Headwear business solves the problem of maintaining a professional, uniform appearance with satin-lined scrub caps that protect wearers from the daily hazards of health care work and prevent the damaging friction of typical cotton scrub caps.

Marital arts: Dr. Alesh (center) with members of her Primary Weddings & Events team

Do you ever have difficulty hiring and retaining people who can work flexible schedules?
I don’t really follow traditional hiring practices. A lot of my workforce comes from Instagram. They get to know the brands and reach out because they want to be part of them. People stick with me because it’s enjoyable. I put people in positions to do what they love most, so they really look forward to working. You can’t just assign tasks; you have to commit to inspiring and empowering people as individuals. I really push the people who work for me, and they love it because they know we’re in this together, to strive for excellence. That’s our idea of fun. They know I’m not in this because it’s going to make me a bunch of money.

So did you build your businesses to try to take advantage of today’s gig economy?
I understand [the gig economy] since I’m always juggling different functions and skill sets. There are a lot of people like me, who aren’t just one thing. These people tend to have a positive outlook on life. They strive for opportunities to shine in unique ways. On the other hand, my dental practice is a little different. Those candidates are more likely to be seeking full-time positions.

Do you have any economies of scale or job functions you share to help drive efficiency?
Marigold Dental Studio and Eliqa Headwear are LLCs, and the event business is a sole proprietorship. They all have separate bank accounts and separate teams, for the most part. But there are certain functions right now, as well as positions I’m looking to fill in the future, that will serve all three entities. For instance, a website and social media specialist and brand manager will split their time. I do use the same accountant across the board. And I have an umbrella business called Brands by Doctor Alesh, and I’m working toward hiring an administrator who can help run it.

“There will always be an audience looking for solutions, and I think that’s the easiest way to get into business.” —DR. JOKE ALESH

How do you decide how much money to invest in growth, and where to point it?
I’m growing these businesses with time and effort. I’m methodical in the way I move. I’m not afraid to try new things, but I like to fail fast. What worked? What didn’t, and how do I make sure this never happens again? The better your systems, the more you have room to expand and grow profits because you’re efficient. That’s the stage I’m at in terms of figuring things out. Solving these kinds of problems is something I’m good at, and I enjoy it.

What’s your marketing philosophy?
I don’t have a budget for traditional advertising. I’m focused on building a following and creating a network of referrals. I do mostly Instagram and other social media. I just started with Google Ads. Probably the main thing I did was making my office beautiful, which itself is brand marketing. Generally, though, I don’t like going out and convincing people of my worth. I prefer buil­ding a track record that speaks for itself and attracts people to me.

Services and goods: Dr. Alesh on wedding duty (center) and repping her e-commerce company, Eliqa Headwear.

Can you envision a day when you might be comfortable investing significant money in a non-dental startup, even taking on debt?
I’d consider buying a venue for the event-and-wedding business. I have a plan for that. I also want to have a health center here in Rhode Island that does low-cost dental treatment for underserved patients. I’d want it to be privately funded, though, not a CHC that’s dependent on grants and government funding.

Do you ever worry that some patients might feel like 100 percent of your attention should be focused on dentistry?
I’m not interested in appealing to everybody. I want to attract patients and clients who are for me. I don’t hide any part of my life. Anyone who goes on my Instagram will see it’s a mixed bag. You’ll see me at work, exercising, spending time with my daughter. All those things make me who I am. However, anyone who knows me knows I live and breathe dentistry. I’ve been working in dental offices since I was 16 years old. I love dentistry and I’m committed to this career, to helping people. There is no question of this. It’s a big, important part of me, but it’s just not all of me.

Follow Dr. Joke Alesh on Instagram: @doctoralesh