An Interview with Wharton graduate Bridget O'Carroll, female founder of Studio Qila, the first native-owned digital fitness studio.
After feeling isolated and sluggish, Wharton graduate Bridget O'Carroll started Studio Qila, the first native-owned digital fitness studio, while on lockdown during the pandemic. The idea began with zoom workouts she hosted with her friends. After receiving positive feedback, she started the venture.
“That was my entrance into the entrepreneurship world,” said O’Carroll. “It was very much here's a problem, and I'm going to put on a class to solve it and now it is all I ever think about.”
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. After rebranding with the funding from the Penn Innovation Fund, Body by Bridget was renamed to Studio Qila in honor of O’Carroll’s Alaskan Tribe heritage. Qila means spirit, emphasizing strength beyond the physical, in Alutiiq—O’Carroll’s Alaskan tribe.
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 hula dancing in Hawaii 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 studio, which not only allowed her to embrace her love for fitness but to also provide for her family, who comes from a low-income background.
During the pandemic, O’Carroll had just registered to start training at a local 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 that 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 to see that it hadn't been done before and that the coverage of native owned businesses was just much lower than I had realized.”
While she stated that she was aware of low indigenous representation in industries overall, she was especially surprised to see low representation in the wellness space where many techniques are based on indigenous practices.
Through Studio Qila, O’Carroll hopes to pave the way for more Native American entrepreneurs. One way she does so is through her social media presence.
“Now I officially have a professional line which I'm building up, but I'm trying to continue to integrate that mission to uplift other voices, so I'll be doing, for example, a round up of other native creators as a blog post and on my social media channels.”
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 help those from low-income backgrounds, her studio has a no questions asked scholarship program 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 only had the funds 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 like something that just 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 just so great to get these really honest 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 rely on them when she has questions.
“Understanding where you are the expert and understanding where you are not the expert is so key to success.”
Instead of searching on Google for answers to questions, she recommends for people to have courage to ask questions to experts at the Venture Lab. Doing so has allowed her to learn a lot and ultimately build a successful business.
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.
“Taking the time and realizing access to these resources are so unique, like that is such an extreme privilege, and taking the time to put those time slots aside and really make the most of it–I think that is definitely my central goal at the Venture Lab.”
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 from a low income background, 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.”