Talking Small Biz: Her company helps make children
TJ HENDERSON, 39, of Center City, is founder and chief executive of Surrogate Services International, a full-service fertility-recruiting-and-matching agency based in Center City. The company, which started in 2005, recruits surrogates and egg donors and then matches them with intended parents.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for the business?
A: A friend had her uterus removed. She could still ovulate but couldn't carry her baby, so I did it for her. When we were looking for help to navigate through family court and make sure we were legal, nobody was doing this.
Q: Who is the typical client?
A: About 70 percent are same-sex male couples, and 30 percent are married or partners in committed relationships or women with fertility issues or who can't carry their own children.
Q: Why do people seek your services?
A: There's always one piece of the puzzle missing, whether the uterus, the egg or the sperm. Usually it's the uterus.
Q: How's the service work?
A: Both the intended parents and surrogate complete a profile and they're exchanged until we find a good match. Then both parties go through extensive psychological screening, background checks and so forth. You want to match people with similar values.
Q: One hears stories about women becoming surrogates for the money.
A: That's an urban myth. Most women who become surrogates do so because they love being pregnant but don't want to have any more children of their own or who have some connection to infertility and want to help.
Q: What are surrogates paid?
A: About $25,000 to $35,000 for one cycle.
Q: What's the cost to the client?
A: From beginning to end, anywhere from $100,000 to $125,000.
Q: And how many clients do you have?
A: About 10 to 20 per year. We try to keep it manageable to assure that clients get the attention.
Q: As I understand it, what you do is not legal everywhere.
A: Surrogacy is illegal in most of Europe, Australia and the U.K. It's also illegal in New York. And some states don't have any laws on surrogacy. But it's legal in Pennsylvania.
Q: Why is there still stigma?
A: Some feel it's buying and selling children, which isn't true. This isn't traditional surrogacy where the woman donates her own eggs to the pregnancy. In our business, the surrogate is not genetically related to the child.
Q: Your approach is unique?
A: I've been a surrogate twice, so I know what's involved. We're one of the few agencies that do in-home visits to assure that the home is conducive to a safe pregnancy.
Q: How many employees?
A: We have five now, but could have more because more same-sex couples are seeing surrogacy as an alternative to adoption.
Q: What's your revenue?
A: About a couple million dollars annually. Our fee is about $12,000 per client. This business is more about helping people grow families than making money.
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