Founder Profile Series: Bridget O'Carroll

An Interview with Wharton graduate Bridget O'Carroll, founder of Studio Qila, the first Native-owned digital fitness studio.

Qila Founder Bridget O'Carroll.jpg

After feeling isolated and sluggish while on lockdown during the pandemic, Wharton graduate Bridget O'Carroll started Studio Qila, the first Native-owned digital fitness studio. The idea began with zoom workouts she hosted with her friends. After receiving positive feedback, she started the venture.

O’Carroll first got involved at the Venture Lab during the summer before her second year of MBA. After getting involved she has seen her business grow through various opportunities available at the Lab like the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund.

What is Studio Qila?

Studio Qila is a high-intensity Pilates-inspired, digital fitness studio. Through the funding from the Penn Innovation Fund, O’Carroll launched Studio Qila in honor of her Alaska Native heritage. Qila means spirit, emphasizing strength beyond the physical, in Alutiiq—O’Carroll’s Alaskan language.

O’Carroll designed Studio Qila with inclusivity in mind. It is apartment friendly, requires minimal equipment, and includes a variety of modification options to cater to all bodies. In addition, classes range from 5 to 45 minutes, offered both live and on demand.

Why did O’Carroll create Studio Qila?

O’Carroll built Studio Qila out of her love for intense and community-driven fitness. Her journey to discovering her love for that particular form of fitness began in her childhood.

Growing up, O’Carroll stated that fitness and travel were a big part of her life. She lived in over 40 different houses. In each location, she got involved with physical activities, ranging from competitive Irish dancing in Washington to women’s cross country in Massachusetts.

“I loved that intensity [I found in cross country],” said O’Carroll. “I love the team aspects of that competition.”

After finding these same aspects at fitness studios in DC, she became an instructor at a national fitness studio, which not only allowed her to embrace her love for fitness but to also provide for her family.

During the pandemic, O’Carroll had completed a second training and certification at another national fitness studio when everything went on lockdown. In order to remain active, she started working out with her friends, leading to the creation of her business.


What does it mean to O’Carroll to have started the first Native-owned digital fitness studio?

O’Carroll stated that while she found it exciting when she realized she was making history with her business, she also found it saddening.

“We're making history and feels all that more important, but I was really sad by the lack of Indigenous representation in the mainstream wellness industry, as well as the lack of coverage of Native-owned businesses in the media.”

Through Studio Qila, O’Carroll hopes to pave the way for more Native entrepreneurs. One way she does so is through her social media presence.

“As I grow my platform, I have made it my mission to uplift other Native voices. I often share round ups of other Native creators on my blog and on my social media channels, and am always open to supporting other Native entrepreneurs.”

She strives to uplift minority voices overall. She donates 10% of Studio Qila’s profits to organizations that support Black and Indigenous communities.

In addition, to promote accessibility in the wellness space, Studio Qila offers a scholarship program to anyone who needs it, which gives memberships to those who find the price to be a barrier between them and their workout.

How has O’Carroll depended on the Venture Lab to grow Studio Qila?

One of the biggest ways O’Carroll was impacted by the Venture Lab was through its Penn Wharton Innovation Fund.

Prior to the funding, O’Carroll started her brand with $16, enough to pay for a Spotify premium account and a Zoom membership. Beyond that, she would invest the money she made off of memberships in her business and to support herself during her second year in MBA.

When she received the $5,000 from the fund, she used it for rebranding.

“It was really nice to just be able to carve out that space to invest, to be really thoughtful, and I am just so happy with how it turned out. It feels so fulfilling and authentic to me.”

O’Carroll also stated that she found office hours at the Venture Lab very impactful. For example, she was able to talk to experts like Dhruv Prasad, CEO of Music Reports!, who gave her advice on abiding with music rights in her on-demand exercise videos.

“It was great to get these really candid and clear answers,” said O’Carroll.

What is the greatest lesson O’Carroll has learned so far from her time at the Venture Lab?

The biggest lesson O’Carroll has learned so far has been to ask for help. After interacting with various experts during office hours, she stated that she has learned to seek them out when she has questions.

“Understanding where you are the expert and understanding where you are not is key to success.”

What goals does O’Carroll have for her time in VIP-C?

Despite how time-consuming a startup launch can be, O’Carroll strives to continue to attend office hours and workshops at the Venture Lab.

“Access to these resources are so unique and such a privilege."

She also hopes to use all that she has learned to help other students.

What do the resources at the Venture Lab mean to  Bridget O’Carroll?

“As a first generation college student, as a Native woman, it is really nice to have access to these resources that I never thought I would have access to,” said O’Carroll. “Providing those to all students and those who choose to join the Venture Lab has been really impactful for me and something I'm really appreciative of.”