These 36 women—all studio owners—aren’t just inspiring today, but every day.
From surviving horrific accidents and having to learn to walk again to giving up careers and following their hearts to the yoga mat (or Pilates reformer or indoor cycling bike), these incredible females made some of your favorite classes possible. They have not only fostered healthy, happy communities but they’ve used their courage to encourage others to make big changes in their lives, simply because they can.
At ClassPass, we pay tribute to all of the dedicated entrepreneurs who continuously shape group fitness, and we’re excited to share these powerful stories:
Kylie Roberts and Claire Bastow
Owners of Aleenta Barre
Kylie grew up dancing, while Claire was a certified Pilates instructor. So when the idea came for these two friends and workout buddies to open their own studio, they jumped on the business venture. Since dance and Pilates often use a barre-like workout routine, they decided to open a studio that would help others meet their goals and see results. They were driven by their passion for barre to create a space that was bright, fun, friendly and an escape from the stress of everyday life.
What has surprised you most about becoming female entrepreneurs? “Without a doubt the satisfaction and excitement we feel when we receive positive feedback from our students. Recently, a student sent us the most beautiful email telling us how practicing barre had literally changed her life. This was a really defining moment for us and made the time we have spent creating Aleenta Barre feel very worthwhile.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Go for it—there is nothing better than being the master of your own destiny. Make sure you are passionate about what you are creating, as you may need to work as a volunteer in your own business for some time when it is growing. If you love what you do, have a clear direction and plan and simply do what you say you are going to do, everything else will fall into place.”
Up next? Opening more locations!
Donna Burke Owner of FORME Studios
Donna lovingly refers to herself as a “studio junkie,” having dabbled in every type of workout from CrossFit to dance. But then she suffered an injury that causes her to gain 40 pounds and needed a low-impact exercise that would help her get back in shape (but also not be terribly boring!). She discovered barre and soon started teaching it, even developing a special hybrid class called BarreFusion. Though she never planned to open a studio, after others started falling in love with her method, she opened a space where anyone could walk in feeling comfortable and walk out feeling confident.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “My best advice is to start your business as a side gig and keep your full-time job. Most people work 9-5 with a lunch break and sleep seven hours. What are you doing with the other nine hours of your day? Those hours are where entrepreneurs are different from everyone else, and if your idea or product is good enough, you’ll see it grow rapidly. You’ll also find out very quickly if it’s something you’re good at or something that is a viable business. Be ready to work all day every day. If you aren’t willing to put the work in, you won’t succeed. Even when you’re not working, you’re working. Emails, business and issues don’t stop because you take a vacation.”
Up next? Her team is working on virtual memberships, expansion, teacher trainings and unique workout formats.
Owner of Pure Pilates Austin
From her days on the soccer field to running half marathons, this West Coast native has always had a passion for fitness. She didn’t understand the amazing results that group fitness could have until she discovered the Lagree Method on a trip to Southern California, and she has been hooked ever since. Ally also fell in love with indoor cycling and taught classes in San Francisco. But as a strategy consultant, she spent four days a week on the road and felt pinched for time for fitness, health and friendships. After years of this lifestyle, she decided to make a change to by leaving Corporate America, moving to Austin, Texas, and opening Pure Pilates Austin, which teaches the Lagree Method on the Megaformer machines.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “The most surprising about owning a small fitness business is the deep, personal connection you develop with each and every client. By working with clients in a small group setting, we are able to connect with them on a personal level, inspire them to reach their goals and see them achieve that many times. It is something that makes you feel warm inside about when you think of it It’s like, Wow, I am doing something that is truly helpful and important to the health of one person.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring female entrepreneur? “Like anything, opening a business is a ton of work, but if it is something you truly love, it is worth every minute of time spent. There is this misconception that when you work for yourself, you get to work when you want. The reality is that you do get to work whenever you want, but you are always working, as the success of the business is not just important to you, but to your employees too. Be willing to do anything you would ask an employee or vendor to do, as that is the true heart of understanding your business and allowing it to grow.”
Up next? While working hard at growing her two Austin studios, she’s also keeping an eye out for more locations.
Owner of REV Cycle Studio
For the past 15 years, Esther has been thoroughly involved in the fitness industry: teaching group classes, serving as a brand ambassador for Lululemon, and learning all she can about leading and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Through goal coaching with Luluemon, Esther finally came up with a clear vision and quit her job in 2013 to take a part-time job as research project manager at the University of Maryland. It was there that she came up with the plan to open Baltimore’s first dedicated cycle studio.
What has surprised you most about being a female studio owner? “It’s incredibly rewarding, and it changes you forever. It allows you to grow in many aspects of your life and tap into new resources, both internally and externally. Once you’re a business owner, there is no way of turning back. To see your dream come true is an incredible, overwhelming feeling. I am forever grateful for my life this days and don’t take anything for granted.”
What advice would you give to other women who want to become entrepreneurs? “Do it. Don’t think twice and take that leap of faith and I promise you, you will never look back.”
Up next? Her team is working towards opening a second studio in Canton this year. They have plans to open a third and fourth in the county in 2017.
Owner of Btone Fitness Studios
After the loss of her mother, Jody started training for endurance events as a way to cope and turn her attention toward something positive. Throughout training, she realized just how powerful and amazing our bodies are and what they’re capable of. The experience made her want to pay it forward to other people and help them find their inner strength, too. While training for her longest triathlon in San Diego, she discovered the Megaformer workout and loved it. Since she and her husband had been thinking about returning to Boston to be closer to their family, and Jody knew there were no Megaformer studios there, she decided to open a studio.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “I did not even know the meaning of the word ‘entrepreneur’ until someone told me that I was one. I actually dropped the only business class I ever took in college because—and I quote—’I will never use this.’ So every day is truly a surprise to me to be an entrepreneur. It’s an honor to be in a position to inspire others and push them beyond their comfort zones. I wish more people would think less about the way they look, or their physical limitations they may have, and more about all the things that their bodies are capable of. I have the opportunity every day to help change the way someone thinks about themselves and that is pretty amazing.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Do not go into business for yourself with the idea that you will be simplifying your life. When you are self-employed, and have people who depend on you for their paychecks, that comes with a tremendous amount of work and stress. Educate yourself on all angles of your business, and get ready to get your hands dirty. As soon as you can afford it, start to build a team of people around you who understand your vision, your style and your business. Find mentors inside and out of your network and build as many relationships as possible. Be as authentic as possible. Being unique will always set you and your business apart from others. Always pay it forward.”
Owner of Mad Dance House
Meg trained in ballet and jazz since she was 6 years old. She loved the art form and the discipline it took to maintain her routines and postures, and she dreamed of having her own studio one day. For her, Mad Dance House is a real dream come true and something she’s been planning since, well, childhood—even teaching her brothers and sisters dance in a wool shed on their farm. Today, she’s thankful to have her studio in Brisbane, a place that feels like home to her and the best place to grow her passion and drive for dancing.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “I don’t see any difference between being a ‘female’ business owner and a ‘male’ business owner! I love being a business owner. Most of all, I love putting lifestyle first. My team and I have three-day weekends every weekend. Work is not meant to tire us out in my opinion—it is meant to give us life. Literally!”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Make sure you are passionate and make sure it is a product or service that is anchored in good values and a genuine desire to do good in this world.”
Up next? Opening a cafe in the studio.
Owner of Xtend Barre Charlotte
In her mid 20’s, Shawna was hungry for a workout routine and a way to integrate fitness into her everyday life. She tried everything: personal trainers, lifting, running, boxing, Zumba, yoga and barre. After four years of nothing really capturing her attention or motivating her, she took her first Xtend Barre class and was immediately hooked. She knew she had found ‘the one.’ While it took a while for her to open up her own studio—she worked in the federal government for 16 years and moved cross-country not once, but twice—she finally opened her own Xtend Barre location in Charlotte.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “I knew this journey would not be easy, but I severely underestimated the amount of work it would entail. It’s really hard to carve out ‘me’ time. I think as females, sometimes we want to say ‘yes’ to everything and lend a helping hand, but it’s also so important to have time to ourselves. I’ve also had to learn that I am only one person and can only do so much. I’ve been able to meet some amazing women, both as clients and fellow business owners. I’m thrilled to be a part of the super supportive girl tribe here in Charlotte!”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “I would encourage anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur to do your research! Create your business plan, do your research, and then come up with a plan B and plan C, and then research further. You can’t be too well prepared. I still work with a small business counselor from time to time to get a third-party opinion and expertise.”
Owner of AIR Aerial Fitness
Shama left her job as a corporate attorney in Chicago with one mission and one very big dream: to start a company that would revolutionize fitness. With a small business loan and a lot of courage and strength, she opened AIR Aerial Fitness and built her company on the challenge to always think outside of the box. In the past six years, AIR has locations all over the country, from Chicago to Los Angeles to Charlotte. In the next 18 months, they’ll continue to expand with new locations.
What surprised you most about being a female business owner? “I learned that a lot of other women began looking up to me pretty quickly because of the risk I took in starting my business. It’s important to be a positive role model, a good community leader, and serve as inspiration for women in my field.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Have some experience in the industry that you are looking to start a business in. If you don’t have any experience in that new industry, do your research, talk to other business owners, pick up a part-time job—anything. Just make sure you’re well versed in the area you’re planning to start your own business. Don’t just quit your job cold turkey and expect to figure it out afterwards. That can be very scary, and you may be setting yourself up for failure.”
Up next? Expect to see many more AIR locations opening in the next 18 months.
Gretchen Dusseau and Keri Croft
Owners of System of Strength
Keri and Gretchen met while they were working out together: Gretchen was a personal trainer, and Keri was a group fitness instructor. As they took new classes and challenged their bodies, they would often talk about how they would love to open a studio that offered a big mix of classes instead of just one particular workout. Three months after they met, they stopped dreaming of a studio and started creating one. Gretchen quit her job in marketing, and today, they have a system of six classes that mix different exercises at their studio, appropriately named System of Strength. Their promise? That the 60 minutes in class will never waste your time.
What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs? “You don’t have to go big or go home. We came in small and refused to go home. When we opened up our first System of Strength studio, we rented a warehouse in an alley. Keri and I got paint spray guns and painted the entire place ourselves, ceiling and all. For two years, Keri and I were the trainers, the accountants, the cleaning crew, the managers, HR and the owners. If your product is good and gives results, people won’t talk about the warehouse, they’ll talk about your workout. Slowly, as we made more money, we invested back into a bigger and better studio, along with a second studio in another location. Come in small and come to work.”
Up next? They’re talking about opening a third studio in Columbus and possibly a fourth studio in Ohio.
Owner of Crowbar Cardio
In the past 20 years, Molly has discovered how to truly love her body. When she first started working out, it was because she hated her body and wanted to change it. But now, she works out because she loves it. Especially since it’s endured and conquered having babies, eating pizza with children, training for races and, of course, opening her studio. She wanted to create a welcoming place where people could get an awesome experience and leave feeling more confident and happy. Enter: Crowbar Cardio, a hybrid workout that uses body weight exercises and IndoRow machines for a full-body exercise.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Make sure you have enough money and enough supporting players to help you because there will be many times when you need both. Opening a business and keeping it running is hard, but being able to share my love of fitness with other people has been extremely rewarding. It’s amazing to see our little studio make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Owner of The Dailey Method Denver and Co-Owner of The Daily Method Boulder
Carrie grew up playing tennis and running yet always felt like she was inflexible. But then she discovered The Dailey Method, and her life completely changed. Even though she says that she’s had some pretty cool jobs—including working five Olympic games with NBC—her all-time favorite is teaching. Once she became a Dailey Method instructor in the Bay Area, all she could think of was opening her own branch and running her own business. Today, she’s the owner of The Dailey Method in Denver and co-owner of The Dailey Method in Boulder.
What’s surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “I have found that people are really supportive and want you to succeed. I am so grateful for the community we have created.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Always trust your gut, take time for you (which can be very challenging at first), and get ready to pour your heart into it. I have worked so hard, but at the same time, it has not felt like work. But do prepare for high energy almost all the time.”
Up next? Adding cycling classes at her Denver location.
Owner of BIG Power Yoga
After being a lifelong athlete and playing tennis in college, Laura left school with a shoulder injury. She looked for an exercise to replace sports that would be safe, effective and fun. She took her first yoga class—Bikram—right after graduation and fell in love. She found yoga to be similar to tennis because both workouts were physically challenging and allowed her to sweat each day. After a year of focusing on Bikram, she moved to Houston and discovered Baptiste Yoga, and has been practicing it almost daily since 2009. In an effort to inspire others and redefine what a yoga studio should look like, she opened BIG Power Yoga, now with two locations in Houston.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “The moment when you are inspired by an idea is the moment to begin taking action to fulfill on it. Timing is everything, and there is no time like the present to do what you feel called to do. Chances are, if you wait, the idea will no longer serve the powerful purpose it had when you conceived it, or someone else will already be doing it. The greatest gifts you can give yourself as an entrepreneur are trust and the courage to move forward into the unknown.”
Up next? Supporting an aspiring entrepreneur—her husband—in his woodworking business.
Owner of MOJO Cycling Studio
From a very young age, Amanda enjoyed group fitness and dance, and even set her sights on becoming a runner by completing several half and full marathons. However, her body didn’t like running quite as much, and she found true happiness (and a great workout!) in indoor cycling classes taken during business trips. Going to those classes gave her a chance to meet people, and it inspired her to bring that same cycling community to Kansas City.
What has surprised you most about being a female business owner? “People, especially other woman business owners, are very supportive. I’ve learned that it’s important to have mentors. It’s hard, it’s stressful, but it’s so rewarding and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
What advice would you give to other women who want to become entrepreneurs? “Do your homework, write a business plan, and make sure have double the amount of money you think you need. Enjoy the journey—it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a team and a lot of hard work to see it through. Don’t quit, be strong and know that you are inspiring others to put themselves out there. You are doing something that many people never do in their lifetime, and that’s freaking awesome!”
Up next? Continuing to expand their offerings.
Owner of BARREtoned
Esther went to law school in the United States and Germany, so she wasn’t able to fulfill her dreams in other countries she lived, where her degree didn’t hold the same weight. She made the best of her day job as a contract attorney, but discovered barre after going to various studios. She loved it so much that she became certified. In 2011, she and her husband moved to London, where not only was she still stuck being a contract attorney, but she also couldn’t find a barre studio she loved. She finally took the leap of faith and opened her own studio a mere few months later.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “My biggest surprise was that even though you are a girl boss and hopefully an expert in your field with HR responsibility and financial decision power, some men still don’t take you seriously. I try to see it lightly and work with the ones who treat me and my team of mostly women respectfully. Sadly, I have also been asked by other women if my husband approves what I do. Well, yes, he does, he even takes our classes and supports me 200 percent, otherwise this would never have worked. We work and live as a team, and I get the same support for my job from him as he does for his from me. When he travels for work, I spend more time at home, and when I work in the evening or on the weekend, he is at home more with our son.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Schedule in your time with partner and children as diligently as your work hours. You’ll burn out if you’re always on standby for the business (and don’t forget to schedule me time!). I had to learn this the hard way. That means stop checking work emails, too. Nothing usually needs to be resolved immediately. Choose your business partners wisely. Hire a responsible staff you can trust without having to double check their work, otherwise you might as well do it yourself.”
Up next? Opening a new studio and having another baby (a boy!)—both due in the spring.
Los Angeles/Orange County
Owner of YAS Fitness Centers
When Kimberly looks back on her life, there’s never been a time when she wasn’t active. She took her first yoga teacher training while in law school in the late ’80s. She also became a professional triathlete and started spinning when it was created by Jonny G in the ’90s. She also thought it made sense to combine yoga with cardio, so after 18 years of working as a lawyer, she decided to make a studio dedicated to her preferred workout. Enter: YAS – Yoga and Spinning.
What surprised you most about becoming a female studio owner? “I had previously worked in male-dominated industries, so I was surprised that being a strong woman in the fitness industry wasn’t seen in the same light as law and manufacturing. (Don’t get me wrong, though, my style still made me a successful business woman.) It still surprises me to this day.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “I mentor women in business and have since I opened YAS. I often give this quote to women who are thinking of starting their own fitness business: ‘Just jump! Don’t worry, you will figure it out on the way down.’ That’s what I did.”
Up next? She’s expanding her YAS Teachers Training to include a 200-hour Yoga Alliance certification, which includes both yoga and spin.
Owner of Studio PP
Following the 2010 Winter Olympics, professional snowboarder Stephanie suffered a horrific accident that broke her back and effectively took her out of the game. Her rehabilitation programs consisted of Pilates, which literally helped her get back on her feet—and her board. The experience, though difficult, ignited her passion for women’s health. She wanted to create a space that felt luxe but wasn’t intimidating, so everyone felt like they had a safe, comfortable place to work out. Today, Studio PP offers 52 classes, ranging from Pilates and HIIT to yoga, barre and boxing.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “It’s a constant battle and you always have to be prepared to take on new challenges. But what I love is the camaraderie. It’s what I loved about sport, and now it’s so nice to have created and received that within my business and the health community.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Back yourself 110 percent. Don’t think, just do. You will never be completely ready so dive in. Be prepared to sink or swim. If you genuinely love your job and are passionate, the fight is worth it.”
Up next? Expanding their online training guides, eBooks and merchandise.
Owner of Pilates ProWorks Miami
Summer grew up dancing; started taking yoga in college; tried Pilates, hiking and snowboarding in her mid-20s; and then trail running in her early 30s. But she always had a soft spot for Pilates and yoga, and she knew one day, she’d make it her career. Her journey to teaching Pilates and yoga started in San Francisco and took her to Denver and Miami. After teaching at the flagship Pilates ProWorks in San Francisco, she knew she had found the company she wanted to grow with.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Don’t let other people influence your belief in yourself. Everyone told me I was crazy to be moving cross country, having a baby and opening a business at the same time. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I couldn’t be happier with my life right now.”
Up next? Opening a second location.
Owner of Magna
Jenny’s fitness journey began when she decided to quit smoking and start running triathlons. She wanted to take control of her health, and exercise was her first big goal to accomplish. But when it came time to open her own studio, she didn’t want to stick to the basic offerings that everyone else provided. Instead, she wanted to bring together multiple practices, all focused on improving the overall health and lifestyle of her clients. Her studio, Magna, offers not only fitness classes, but also chiropractics, acupuncture, sports massage and nutrition guides.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “My advice to all women—entrepreneurs or not—is to love your clients, raise your standards and always be resourceful. I have a list of what I consider to be 10 important points attached to my notebook. When things are going great, I look at this list. When times are rough, which they often are in this business, I look at this list. I recommend that everyone find their own source for balance.”
Up next? Continue to hire, smart, talented people.
Owner of Hot Yoga Plus
Susannah started running in the fifth grade and has never stopped. It wasn’t until college that she discovered yoga as a way to cross-train and counterbalance running and other activities she loved: hiking, spinning and lifting. She also found mental clarity from yoga, something that didn’t always come with her other forms of exercise. She opened up her own studio to help others find—and indulge in—the same experience.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “Initially, it surprised me how many people wanted me to succeed. It has been such a wonderful part of this journey to come across both men and women who are rooting for me and Hot Yoga Plus—because I am a female business owner and because they believe in my vision for the business.”
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs? “First, you need to truly believe that, as Muhammad Ali said, impossible is an opinion and not a fact. But just as important, make sure your numbers work. Hire a lawyer to read your lease. Have an accountant look at your business model. Spend the money on the front end to make sure your idea is viable from a financial perspective. Once you have that confirmation, go for it!”
Up next? Grow Hot Pilates Plus across the Southeast.
Owner of I.AM.YOU Studio
Lauren used to hate yoga. As a captain of state championship teams in basketball, tennis, track and lacrosse, she didn’t get the appeal of flows, poses and om’s. She only gave yoga a chance because her now- husband suggested she try it, and she wanted to prove him wrong. Instead, she was proven wrong: She’s swapped running 60 miles a week for yoga classes and eventually quit her job as a vice president on Wall Street to open her studio. She also just published her first book, Retox, this year.
What has surprised you most about being a female business owner? “I have never really thought about being a female business owner. I am me. For my seven years on Wall Street, I was one of the only females but did not focus on it there, either. I believe in giving your life and business your all, no matter what your gender is.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Research the market, make a plan, and just do it. The highs are going to be super high, and the lows mega low. But just remember that if you believe, hard work and hustle will get you there, especially if you tap in to the natural female ability to multitask!”
Up next? She’s working on the process of doubling her studio schedule—and coming up with new book ideas.
Owner of Perth Running Club
After competing as an Olympic runner, Sarah started coaching recreationally. She loved being able to pass along her methods and expertise to aspiring runners. Since running had always been a passion, she wanted to give others an opportunity to run and reap the benefits of what she calls “the best way to stay in shape.” Whether her clients can run the length of their driveway or not, she hopes to help them love running just as much as she does.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “A couple of things: Females who are just starting out on their fitness journey seem more confident in a female-owned-and-operated business. And on a personal level, being a mom of three little ones and operating my business demands a high level of organization!”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Have confidence. If you think you can’t do something, you are probably right.”
Owner of Sculpt Fitness Studio
Fitness has always been a way for Stephanie to release stress, but in college she took it to the next level as a Philadelphia Soul Dancer and an on-campus fitness instructor. Cardio was always her go-to, but a few years ago, she started incorporating strength training into her routine and saw major changes. When her friend introduced her to the Megaformer in 2013, her mind was blown—and she was sore for four days after the class. She quickly made up her mind that she’d take the Megaformer workout to Philadelphia by opening her own studio.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “In the beginning, it was getting landlords and developers to take me seriously. I was not only presenting myself as a business woman, but I was selling a fitness concept that didn’t exist in Philadelphia yet. The Megaformer is so different from any other workout that I was met with some resistance. This is where my sales background and tenacity has been my biggest asset.”
Owner of Club Pilates Arrowhead
Before opening her studio, Jennifer worked for 17 years in the real estate and mortgage industry. She started taking Pilates after suffering from back pain for spending too much time in her car. After her very first class, she felt an immediate difference in her posture, and only a few weeks later, her back pain disappeared. It also left her feeling less stressed, even when sitting in her car in traffic in Souther California. There was no question: she was hooked! When the opportunity came for her to complete teacher training and open a franchise, she knew the moment had arrived for her to leave a job she didn’t love to create one that she absolutely did.
What has surprised you most about being a female entrepreneur? “The fact that I’m referred to as a female business owner. I thought I was just a business owner.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Expect everything to cost more and take longer than you planned.”
Up next? Opening a second location downtown in April!
Owner of Yoga Pearl
Even though she’s always had an abundance of energy and a great appreciation for the outdoors and movement, nine years ago, Karen found herself drawn to yoga. She started working in a restaurant that was in the yoga studio that she now owns, and as her yoga practice grew, so did her desire to branch out on her own. When the opportunity came to take over Yoga Pearl, Karen knew the timing was right. And it simply felt like the right thing to do: she believed in the space, the practice and the teachers, and felt like something bigger was pulling her into the leadership role. Today, she’s opened a new restaurant in the space and rebranded to really give her clients a deep connection to their lives and practice.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “I suppose it’s that being a ‘female business owner’ is still a thing. Men get intimidated by a woman owning a business which never ceases to surprise me, and we don’t have the term ‘male business owner.’ I never think of myself as different because I am a woman that owns a business. It is just what I do because it’s what I love and happen to be good at as well. It surprises me when the public views me differently, or makes assumptions about me, because I am a business owner that happens to be a woman.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Stay true to yourself. Stand up for yourself. Listen to your intuition. Work hard. Study so that you know your businesses inside and out. Do not use your sex to sell yourself, or expect any special or lesser treatment because of your sex. Operate from a place of love, truth and intelligence.”
Up next? Starting a non-profit to benefit those who have been victims of trauma.
Owner of EVOLVE Movement
Chelsea grew up as a dancer and was quickly drawn to Pilates as a way to enhance her routine. She loved the way it provided a mind-body connection and started teaching it in 2000. From there, she began studying and teaching Shiva Rea’s Prana Vinyasa yoga as well. Since there were no Pilates studios when she moved to Raleigh, she decided to make her dream a reality and open a studio that would show the community the wonderful techniques of Pilates and yoga.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “I am surprised and delighted by how much all of our teachers love and support each other. Our studio is self-managed, meaning there is no direct hierarchy of management or leadership. This arrangement allows everyone the opportunity to take part in the creation of their own teaching methodology’s programming, hiring and direction. I am so surprised at how much positive energy all of our teachers infuse into the studio and each other. It is such an amazing organization, and I am so fortunate to get to work there daily.”
What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Don’t try to do it all; ask for help when you need it. Follow your passion and practice what you preach. Don’t make assumptions. Speak with integrity. Don’t take things personally. And, always do your best.”
Owner of SPARKCYCLE
Growing up, Stephanie was a horse jumping competitor and found the adrenaline high from show jumping unlike anything else. She played three sports in high school, but after graduating from college, she felt like “working out” became a necessary evil that she did but didn’t enjoy. Her view changed after she stumbled across an indoor cycling studio. Working out became something she looked forward to again, just like horse jumping. She decided to open her own studio to give people that same energy and renewed connection that she found on her bike.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “When riders at SPARKCYCLE find out that I am the owner, they are usually surprised. I think it’s because I’m young—I’m 28 years old—and female, and they aren’t used to seeing a lot of young female business owners. I was initially surprised (and actually still become surprised) by their reactions, and think, ‘Why is it weird or surprising that I am the owner?!’ To me, age and gender don’t impact what I believe I can accomplish.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “There are far fewer female business owners than male business owners today, but that shouldn’t dictate what women believe they can accomplish. If a person, male or female, has the passion to create something and is willing to put in the work necessary, the sky is the limit in what can happen. The first step is believing in what you want to achieve, then continuing to move forward and find solutions even when obstacles get in the way.”
Owner of OMpower
At the age of 19, Jennifer was a passenger in a head-on collision. Though she survived, she was told she’d never walk again, or if she did, she would have a pronounced limp. She made it her mission to prove them wrong. She started with swimming, then cycling and then running—even completing a marathon. But after a decade of being a triathlete, she needed more balance and discovered yoga. She realized that it wasn’t just one workout that made her body and mind connection strong, but the combination. She used what she’s learned as an integrative rehabilitation therapist to create what she calls a playground: her studio, OMpower. They offer indoor cycling, yoga, rowing, TRX and dance classes.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “Everything and nothing. I think it is more surprising for other people when I tell them I am the sole proprietor with no backers and no partners.”
What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Go for it! Listen to that small voice inside, and when it becomes clear, don’t let anything or anyone stop you. You got this, and there are so many of us out there willing to support you and cheer you on. Live courageously, live boldly, be uniquely you, and surround yourself with people who do the same.”
Up next? She wants to get back to teaching and writing. But most importantly, she wants to create opportunities for women in leadership and entrepreneurs to gather support and tools needed to progress and grow.
Owner of FUELhouse
Molly’s career in fitness began in 2000 at a local gym, where she folding towels and greeting members. She knew from the start she wanted to move up the ranks, so she became a personal trainer and, eventually, the director of membership. But as she started to become more involved at the corporate level, she missed working the personal connection that comes with working with members. So in 2010, she started hosting indoor and outdoor bootcamps, until she grew tired of carrying kettlebells around the city and decided to open a studio of her own. She had the dream of making it feel like a giant house where everyone would feel comfortable working out and hanging out. Her home, FUELhouse, has been open a year, and she says she’s still pinching herself.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “The support I get from like-minded people and other small business owners who genuinely want to help you and see you succeed!”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Build relationships with other female and male small business owners. Unite with like-minded entrepreneurs and be a sponge. Be okay with not knowing it all and remain humble as you nurture your calling. I had a wonderful mentor, Peter Shmock, who taught me his philosophy of how people need to feel when first introduced into ‘your house.’ He used to say, ‘Greet people as if you are the host of your own party. Think about how would you want to be treated and introduced if you were a stranger walking into a new place for the first time.’ That’s what I hope I’ve created.”
Cari Benz Allen
Owner of Core 3
Cari always loved teaching fitness classes in high school and college, even post-graduation. She found it was something that helped connect to her body and stay injury-free, especially while she was training for marathons and triathlons. In the back of her mind, she knew she eventually wanted to open her own studio, but the magic happened when she took a trip to Costa Rica. She took classes on a Surfset board and realized what St. Louis needed was a surfing studio! Now, Core 3 offers Surfset, RealRyder cycling and TRX—all exercises that strengthen your core.
What surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “The biggest surprise for me if that some level of failure is guaranteed. I don’t think there is any way around it—part of the plan is not going to go exactly as envisioned. When this happens, it stings but you have to be resilient, pick yourself up and keep moving forward.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Business ownership can be really overwhelming and lonely at times. Get ready to cry a lot during the first years and second-guess why you decided to make the leap into business ownership. Stay the course and stick to your plan, but be prepared to adjust on the fly if needed. Just remember to hold off on making big changes until the emotion passes. One of the biggest benefits of owning a small business is that you can be nimble and change quickly to meet your customers’ needs.”
Michelle Koton and Deanne Berry
Owners of MPower Pilates
Deanne and Michelle are really a power team. With Deanne’s background in professional dance and Michelle’s 17 years of teaching Pilates, they’ve both devoted their lives to movement, health and fitness. After many years of exercising independently, they decided to create a space where everyone would feel inspired to be their best self, regardless of their age, gender, or physical conditions or limitations.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “Truthfully, with no preconceived ideas that being a business owner would be anything but a chosen challenge—it has been just that. No huge surprises! I think that if one presents professionally and with authenticity, a business owner is a business owner—female or male.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female business owners? “Find what it is that you do well and keep learning. Look around at what is happening in your industry, but do not try to be all things to all people. Stick to what you know, learn as much as you can, and work to be the very best you can be with honesty and integrity.”
Up next? They will be launching a comprehensive teacher training certification program.
Owner of Body Aligned
Throughout her childhood all the way to her early 20s, Natalie was a ballet dancer. But at age 30, she discovered she had degenerative discs in her lower back and decided to use Pilates to alleviate the pain. After having success with Pilates, she gave barre a chance and found she loved it, too. It wasn’t until she was a partner in two other business ventures that she realized she needed to go out on her own. To date, she says it was the best decision of her life. Her studio is a business, but it’s also what she calls her “happy place.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Just do it! You’ll love it.”
Up next? They’re looking into opening a second location and starting a Pilates instructor training program.
Michelle Epstein Owner of Elle Fitness and Social
For Michelle, fitness was the ultimate escape, the one time during her busy day that she could lose herself in the movement and leave everything behind. While she was fine motivating herself at the gym, she preferred the energy and magic of group fitness classes. But they had to be the right ones: challenging, innovative and exciting with inspiring instructors and workouts. After teaching classes herself, she decided to open her own studio that would give other people the same sense of fulfillment and escape.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “What has been the most wonderful and pleasant surprise is how supportive other women have been in helping us grow our business. It is tough balancing work and home, and women seem to have an unspoken bond about how hard it is to maintain a work life balance, especially when you have small children. I have also loved being able to mentor young female talent and employ young women at a time in their lives when they are still figuring it all out.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Hard work and sacrifice are non-negotiable when growing a business. You also have to be prepared to do every task required, whether it is mopping the floor or getting interviewed for a media spot. Don’t ever expect anyone to do a job you wouldn’t do yourself.”
Owner of Kondi Fitness
At the age of 16, Lacey was already making health and fitness her life, starting with teaching classes at the YMCA. For years, she tried every type of exercise and wanted to create a method that would combine everything she learned into one workout. She began by studying Callanetics, and in 2008, perfected her own method, branding it Kondi Fitness. Today, her classes offer a mix of strength and resistance training combined with cardio.
What has surprised you most about becoming a female entrepreneur? “My journey through owning a business has pushed me in directions I never knew I was capable of. I have learned so much about myself and I love learning something new every day. I am so grateful to do what I love because I want to, not because I have to.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Do it. My mom told me once if you can create a business out of what you truly love to do everyday without being paid, believe in yourself and take the risk. It will be worth it no matter what.”
Up next? Taking her workouts online.
Lauren Price and Vanessa Ligorri
Owners of LavaBarre
They started as workout buddies, then barre instructors who taught at various studios. After searching for the most challenging and effective barre technique without much luck, they decided to create one of their own. What started as a barre studio now offers TRX, indoor cycling and yoga classes, giving an option for every fitness enthusiast.
What has surprised you most about becoming female entrepreneurs? “As female business owners, we were surprised to have days when we felt like we needed to prove ourselves more. The best thing, though, about being female business owners in this industry is being able to promote positive body images to both women and men and having the innate ability to connect with our female clientele.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? “Dig deep. You will need a lot of energy and time to build your brand, but it will pay off if you persevere! Don’t feel nervous to ask other business owners or experts for advice, and a trip to the Small Business Association is never a bad idea at the beginning.”