In recognition of International Women’s Day, OP-ED by Bianca Ventura, Founder & Co-owner, Off The Handle Cycling Studio

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OP-ED:
We’re Still Open: How Two Young Female Entrepreneurs Kept Their Spin Studio in Business During a Global Pandemic

Aimee Howe and I sat alone in our empty spin studio one warm spring afternoon. We had rented out every bike to our Off The Handle community. We didn’t know what to do next. Shortly after everything shut down in March 2020 due to the global pandemic, we pivoted and started to record virtual workouts for our members.

We had been told there would be setbacks, failures, and obstacles when running a business, but with COVID-19 there was no playbook we could turn to for guidance. COVID-19 presented so many unknowns for individuals and business owners alike. Off the Handle spin studio was only 10 months old when the pandemic hit–barely enough time to get its footing with members in the Sarasota community.

Some days, it still feels hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Mount Everest-type hurdles were hard to grasp; our studio closed for two months, but it felt like two years. Half of our customers disappeared over night. Our landlord raised the rent even as our revenues dwindled.

But Aimee and I comforted and lifted each other up even when we might not have believed we could. Despite the devastating blow to Off the Handle, we were overcome with joy at how this small but mighty community rallied behind us.

It was a tough pill to swallow to see our nascent business shut down. It felt like every bit of blood, sweat, and tears that we had poured into this fledgling studio was falling apart brick by brick in front of our eyes and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do to stop it. Once we accepted there was no option other than to fight to stay alive— no matter how difficult — the hurdles became much easier to absorb. When we reopened the studio, our loyal customers came back. Empty bike seats were filled with warm bodies. And Aimee and I were reminded that our members relied on us just as much as we relied on them.

Off The Handle Cycling Studio opened in May 2019. It was a dream born from an idea on a napkin and a love of spinning and fitness. While living and working in Chicago at a technology company was amusing during my early to mid-twenties, I was not passionate about the work. I was just paying the bills. I lived for the evenings after work where I could lose myself sweating in a dark room listening to pulsating music and inspiring instructors who made me forget that I was burning almost 600 calories in just 45 minutes. I loved and craved indoor cycling.

Shortly after I discovered this new cycling passion, I dreamt of opening my own studio after I relocated to DC. I had moved to DC for a job that ultimately was deeply unfulfilling. I explored potential studio locations and wrote my business plan. I had hoped to start my first spin studio in Barracks Row, a commercial area in the Navy Yard neighborhood of DC. However, quickly I realized I did not have the capital or the resources to make it a success.
Over a Christmas family vacation, my parents suggested I relocate to Sarasota, where they lived, to cut my teeth on my new entrepreneurial endeavor.
I quit my job in DC and began to execute on my business plan. I was only 26 years old. Right before my move, I had begun discussing an instructor position with my now-business partner Aimee, without whom none of this would have ever been possible or successful.

I moved to Sarasota in January 2019 and Aimee and I quickly decided to partner together and open a studio as co-owners. We launched a search for the perfect space and within a few short months landed on the Expo Center on Clark Road.

We enlisted the help of everyone–family, friends, and boyfriends–to build out the space. Money was tight and we bootstrapped the whole thing ourselves with savings and small loans from family. It was a Herculean effort but by May of 2019 we officially opened with a launch party. Our launch party was the culmination of our intense labor of love. I don’t think Aimee or I had ever been as happy as we were on that day. We were filled with a type of joy that is hard to replicate.

Off The Handle is a happy place. It’s a safe space and all shapes and sizes are welcome. Our classes are just as mentally cathartic as they are physically energizing. It’s more than just calories burned at Off The Handle classes, it’s a release from the chaos of the world around us. Fitness is our release from the stress that this past year induced, and it’s our greatest defense against sickness. As long as we have physically sound bodies and minds, we can tackle anything.

As we approach the one year anniversary since the world as we knew it changed forever, I’m reminded of the good and bad days. I’m reminded that so many businesses and people around the globe have had their own Mount Everest to climb. And for many, they are still climbing as the pandemic continues. My once brightly-burning entrepreneurial flame may have been dimmed but it was not extinguished by the worst crisis our generation has ever seen.

Bianca Ventura
Founder & Co-owner, Off The Handle Cycling Studio

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