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The Executive’s Desk: Startup relied on family funds, local advisers

Two months after COVID-related emergency orders shuttered the clinic that employed them, Melissa Esquibel and three colleagues launched Sandia Sunrise Therapy LLC to provide vital physical and occupational therapy services.

Holly Bradshaw-Eakes

“Starting the business in the middle of a pandemic was definitely challenging,” clinic administrator Melissa Esquibel said. “We all worked very closely together (at the clinic that closed in March 2020). Keeping that connection was very important to us as we started the new business.”

Esquibel’s co-founders Teresa Ziomek and Oksana Tretiak practice occupational therapy, and Dr. Heather Armijo provides physical therapy. While all four women contributed to the business’s formation, Esquibel credits Ziomek with organizing the team and Tretiak with contacting business-development nonprofit WESST to help with the team’s strategic plan and other critical startup groundwork.

Before meeting with WESST, the four had written a business plan. “We drafted our goals, did our analysis on the market and the services we were going to provide,” Esquibel said. This laid the groundwork for their work with WESST, which has been offering its services at no cost during the pandemic.

In August, Sandia Sunrise Therapy began offering socially distant services through online telehealth sessions and meetings with clients at Albuquerque parks and other outside venues. Because the pandemic forced insurance companies to pay for telehealth treatment by occupational, physical and speech therapists, the business was able to work with clients almost as soon as it launched.

From left, Melissa Esquibel, Oksana Tretiak, Heather Armijo and Teresa Ziomek, founders of Sandia Sunrise Therapy LLC.

Startup capital came from a family member, and the four partners didn’t pay themselves until early in 2021.

“We just did what we needed to do to get it started,” Esquibel said.

In October 2020, the state allowed in-person health-care services to resume, and Sandia Sunrise Therapy moved into its new facility near Balloon Fiesta Park at 9550 San Mateo NE, Suite A. Clients can receive in-person treatment at the physical clinic, though internet-based platforms are available for those who prefer them.

“We’ve noticed that telehealth has been so beneficial for so many of our patients,” Esquibel said. “Some patients definitely thrive with in-person visits. We want to meet the needs of both.”

The business is accepting new patients, Esquibel said.

“Our focus now is hiring new staff, starting with occupational therapy,” she said. “There’s a huge need for speech therapy in our community, and being able to offer all three disciplines is a huge goal of ours. We want to be able to provide a one-stop shop that will alleviate the stress on our families.”

The team continues to work with business advisers at WESST.

“WESST is definitely our touchstone,” Esquibel said. “It’s a reassurance for us when we’re feeling stuck.”

To other women who want to open their own business, Esquibel offers encouragement: “It’s challenging, but if you network with other business owners, if you have a concrete plan, if you discuss your vision and goals and communicate with others you want to start the business with, I think sometimes you have to take risk, and I think this risk is worth it.”

Holly Bradshaw-Eakes is president of HollyCo Strategies, which manages the Finance New Mexico project. The project has been connecting businesses to financial resources since 2007. For more information, go to The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice, commentary or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico. To submit a column for consideration, email


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