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Former Gymnast Grows Pilates Studio, Overcomes COVID Challenges with Support from California CDFI

Financial and Social Impact

  • Woman- and Black-owned fitness studio able to grow from one teacher to a staff of 7 instructors

Client: Ayanna Makalani, owner of HEAL: Pilates
Client location: Albany, California (Alameda County)
CDFI: Working Solutions CDFI
CDFI service area: California
CDFI services provided: Financing and technical assistance, with support from the Grow with Google Small Business Fund and Grant Program

Ayanna Makalani discovered Pilates during rehabilitation for knee surgery after years as a competitive gymnast and avid dancer. In 2015, a microloan from Working Solutions helped Ayanna launch her own studio, HEAL: Pilates, and in 2019 she returned for a second loan to help her business grow. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ayanna had to close her physical studio and pivot to online classes. In summer 2020, she received an emergency COVID-19 relief grant through Working Solutions in partnership with Ocean View Brew Works in Albany, CA, in addition to support with lease negotiations, operations, and marketing.

Since its launch, HEAL: Pilates has been deeply community-focused and committed to standing in solidarity with other small businesses and all those fighting for racial justice. In 2020, even in the midst of the pandemic, HEAL: Pilates held donation-based virtual classes as fundraisers for the Black Lives Matter movement. HEAL: Pilates has grown from one teacher to a committed staff of seven instructors, whom Ayanna refers to as the “heart and soul” of the business.

Ayanna shared the following about her experience working with Working Solutions: “As a low-income, Black, female entrepreneur, I faced many barriers when opening my boutique Pilates studio, HEAL: Pilates. Working Solutions provided a startup loan that allowed me to open my doors and a second loan in 2019. But what has been invaluable the last five years has been their business advising services. They’ve helped me navigate lease negotiations and transitioning my staff to employees. Particularly in the COVID-19 environment, I am grateful that I can turn to Working Solutions for challenges big or small and they will always do their best to help and support me.”

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