Karla Medina is Owner and Founder of Sudor Taino Fitness Studio.
A fitness enthusiast and 20-year veteran, retired police sergeant of the Hartford Police Department, Karla conducts workshops on body image and self-motivation and lead team building activities, mentoring programs, and leadership challenges for Hartford-area adults and children. She received the Latina Symposium’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014.
Karla’s entrepreneurial spirit and mission to support a healthy community encouraged her to launch her own fitness studio on New Park Avenue in West Hartford. She recently told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about her startup experience.
NAN PRICE: How did you end up opening a fitness studio? Did you always have an entrepreneurial drive?
KARLA MEDINA: I was actually talked into it. I had been a fitness instructor for many years. My friends said you have the following, you should open your own studio.
In 2008 I began renting out space and hosting fitness events. That’s when Sudor Taino came to be. “Sudor” means sweat in Spanish. “Taino” represents the Taino Indians, who cultivated the land of Puerto Rico, which is where I’m from. And I attribute the same kind of cultivation to a person—meaning that you cultivate yourself by healthy eating and working out. It’s parallel to what the Taino Indians did with the land, except you’re doing it with yourself.
NAN: So, the Sudor Taino brand launched in 2008, when did you open the studio and transition to being a full-time business owner?
KARLA: We opened in our New Park Avenue location in 2012. We were in a 900 ft.² space for two or three years and then we expanded to here. We were actually thinking about expanding again, but after consulting with my members, we realized they enjoy this space and what it brings.
NAN: Many gyms and fitness studios are cropping up in the area. How do you stay innovative and differentiate yourself?
KARLA: I think it goes back to my entrepreneurial spirit. When I was teaching at gyms, I felt like my creativity was being held back as far as the kind of classes I put together. For example, I wanted to mix kickboxing with dance. I wanted to combine yoga with hip-hop. I wanted to bridge all of the experience I’ve had over my 20+ years of teaching fitness. With my own studio, I can do that and I can switch the schedule every two months.
NAN: The classes really are creative—and your energy is addictive. From what I’ve heard, the clients appreciate the schedule change ups, as well.
KARLA: Another thing that’s different at Sudor Taino is the vibe, which is very inclusive and welcoming. Everyone—from the staff to the members—is very helpful. I feel like the positivity outweighs the negativity. If a person comes in with a negative attitude they are usually overpowered or they just don’t come back because they are not ready to receive it.
NP: It’s true. I definitely felt the positive energy when I first came to the studio. Let’s talk about your past experience. You’re a retired police sergeant of the Hartford Police Department. Did that help shape you as a businesswoman or as an entrepreneur?
KARLA: Yes, in different facets because I did supervise people, so I learned to listen to my subordinates and really support them in the process. That’s what I do at Sudor Taino. If it wasn’t for my team, I would never be able to do what I do fluidly. So I appreciate my team, I listen to their ideas, I listen to their wants and needs, and we make it happen together.
I’m the face of Sudor Taino. I’m the heart and soul of Sudor Taino. But they are intricate branches of Sudor Taino and they believe in the mission, so together we can bring it forth. I would never be able to do it without them.
Also, as a police officer and sergeant I learned to develop confidence. And again, I learned to listen to the community. And I’m very compassionate because I grew up in Hartford and I’ve worked in the city. So I bring it all together.
NAN: Getting back to the startup process, did you have any business training or did you just jump in?
KARLA: I have a degree in business management. But as far as having a business plan and presenting it, I didn’t because my business grew in small stages. My original aim wasn’t to have 150 members. It was that I wanted people to experience my vibe, which became my mission—and then it became the Sudor Taino mission.
When I was developing my startup plan, I knew I wanted to be labeled as an innovative variety fitness studio. Because we will be innovative, we will keep changing, and we will always be aligned with variety instead of being aligned purposely with one type of exercise, such as spinning or yoga—not that there’s anything wrong with those types of fitness studios!
I remember my husband saying: We can do this. We were already hosting fitness events and traveling with certain pieces of equipment. We started with four bars and six sets of weights. It was fine. We had drop-ins all the time; we didn’t even have members. And then it started to grow. And we began to realize: This might be an actual business.
NAN: It seems like you grew organically with it.
KARLA: Exactly. And I was perfectly fine with that.
NAN: Any plans for future growth?
KARLA: I have plans to grow in my reach of people. That doesn’t necessarily equivocate with growing in space.
I enjoy doing workshops. I’ve run workshops with more than 300 people for a corporate field day. I’ve also hosted done lectures for 100 people. I recently did a Latina symposium where I ran a workshop called “Building Bridges like a Warrior.”
I want to continue doing workshops—those are the types of things that I want to grow in reach, not necessarily grow in capacity. If that type of growth happens simultaneously at Sudor Taino, that would be amazing and definitely a blessing. But, it’s really about making sure that I do not leave this earth without planting as many positivity seeds as possible.