Member Spotlight

Christina Rondeau, Rondeau's KickBoxing

I first met Christina at Chuck Norris "ultimate fight challenge" at Mohegan Sun in 2006! I would never have stepped foot in casino except for a group of us who took the bus to see the show...she was the only female-to-female kick boxer challenge.  Needless, to say after watching repeated blows to the face and back of the legs, I wondered how does she do this?  

Christina is a business owner, with 5 kickboxing gyms, a series of DVD self-defense routines, 2 kids, a following of "pink" fighters, and an amazing chutzpah to live life fully--she is focused on taking time out from the business at least every month--and on quality of work and family.  I caught up with Christina on a moms-with-kids ski trip and asked how does she lead in her own terms, stay sane and fit, and keep the business growing?

What prompted you to start your own studio?
As I was teaching karate I realized all the females keep quitting at a certain level. I did my research and
developed a program that would keep their attention and have them coming back for more. My classes
grew and grew and kept growing so I decided it was time to move to my own place and not work out
of the karate school anymore.
Now with growth in mind, 5 studios, how did you design your business to operate beyond you?
The most important part of my studios is that the licensee or manager is one of my head trainers.  The basic principle is to get them in at ground level:  I train them first as a trainer, then if their passion is to buy a license I train them in all the necessary business skills to run the studio.
What keeps you up at night?
What doesn't? I work around the clock to keep it all going.
I don't get to come home from work at any certain time and just "leave it at the office." My cell phone is my office, my car, my home, my living room and even on vacations .... I have to be "on" all the time to make it all successful.
There is always a question or a customer wanting information. I don't mind, though. I encourage the questions and I am happy to have a customer want information. This helps me to nip issues in the bud, delegate, and to keep solid quality control. Then I can relax to go skiing with the kids or take that trip to Napa Valley.  Being connected all the time means self-control--I answer or delegate when I know it will lessen follow up work.

What is next for Christina Rondeau, the woman?
I want to continue to license facilities to my trainers and I want to promote and market more of my books and DVD's.
What words of advice do you give women aiming to grow a business?
You have to trust your gut and surround yourself with the people who believe in you.
It's one thing to have someone play devil advocate with you when you ask their opinion but it is another to have people that are negative and tell you "you can't" do something. Stay focused and take baby steps each day towards your goal.  For example, I had a situation where an employee became a friend.  However, we had to lay down the boundaries because I noticed her work was taking a back seat and frankly the friendship was leaking too much.  I had to confront her, because quality was an issue (as well as my personal time!).  Ultimately, she was insulted, but we both decided she had to leave the studio if she couldn't get the work done well. I had to trust my instincts on what mattered in both the work and friendship.

Wildcard—what else do you  want to say about how this work matters to you?
It's my passion. I am passionate about it. This business is my life and it's not just about fitness for me it's about teaching people how to use their bodies as a weapon--both in terms of defense and when called upon offense.  I believe everyone should learn how to use their body as a effectively and learn common sense safety. {jcomments on}

Gail Ahlers, Ahlers Design

Gail  is our March 2011 featured member for the Spotlight.
Gail Ahlers, founder of Ahlers’ Designs, is a creative force who joined Soul at Work in 2009. Participating in the Unconference in July of 2009, Gail shared her philosophy of “the sisterhood of prosperity” with the group. Gail’s vision includes women working together to build strong foundations, while sharing joy, ideas and growth.  These ideas and her participation have strengthened our organization as a whole.
At the Village, Gail not only designs and creates her work but also convenes other tenants to focus on growing the community in the building!. "I am hosting a chili cook off next month to bring more folks together from our building (in Pawtucket)," Gail recently informed me as she added“Pawtucket is the Soho of New England.”  This is certainly a twist for a precious metal artist and sculpture, but for Gail it is all about designing--be it metal or community or prosperity for all.
GailAhlers Cox Award
Sculpture and metal work are at the core of Ahlers Designs. Her extensive collection includes unique awards, creative everyday items, fine jewelry and specialty gifts. Working with materials ranging from 18K gold to reclaimed and recycled wood and metal, Gail breathes life into everything she creates.  
Ahlers Designs creates gifts and awards that motivate, commemorate and celebrate milestone moments and short term goals. They make things that are meaningful to your target clients, employees and your socially responsible charities. See here for more on her custom awards.
As a designer, Gail's specialty background is in precious metals and sculpture. She is more than a quality designer; she is a qualiAhlersDesignsty artist. She studied art history in Paris and sculpture at the San Miguel de Allende Institute in Mexico. In 2009, Ahlers Designs won the Digital Growth Contest, co-sponsored by Cox Business and Ladies Who Launch for her compelling essay on how advanced communications technology will give her business more global reach. Ahlers Designs product line includes awards, gifts, such as unique business card holders, magnets, jewelry, sculptures and more. See her jewelry designs here

The custom awards that Gail creates are unique and personalized recognition awards that add unique value to any industry, event or special occasion.  But this has been an evolution from fine jewelry to custom corporate gifts and events. " Our biggest challenge is designing of custom products that can compete with the standard items produced overseas," says Gail.  "One example of our success was when we created a clock for an insurance company's 75th anniversary. Originally the company asked for 500 pieces,but loved the clock so much that they increased the order to 3,000. The clock was so successful with their customers that the clients reordered 7,000 more the following year." 

A Rhode Island resident since the 1980’s, Gail is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design where her independent spirit and energy infiltrated the school. Getting her BFA in light metals in 1985. She held the office of President of the Foundry Artist Association and was the leader of the Rhode Island Alumnae Association for many years. Her education continued internationally in both Paris and Mexico where she focused on art history and sculpture. Gail recently received a scholarship for attending the Tuck-WBENC Executive Program, proving that one only benefits from opening your mind and embracing knowledge. 

What has kept Ahlers' Design in business for so long? 

"Ahlers Designs is always evolving. Because it is always changing it allows me to grow as an artist and a designer."

How do you keep yourself going?

"Simply I love what I do.  I rather work a 14 hour day doing something I love than wake up dreading the tasks ahead. I enjoy the interaction with my staff, my clients, my suppliers.  Bringing ideas into the 3rd dimension is a fascinating task."

What advice do you have for other women interested in starting, growing or evolving a business?

"Everyone is an expert at something but identifying what you don’t know is the key. Once you know what needs improvement find someone to help you. Ask for help.  Always keep learning.  It is about progress not perfection."

Gail Ahlers, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, is a WBENC certified female minority business owner and an active member of in the small business community of Rhode Island. Her website is

Julie Sygiel, Sexy Period™

Julie SygielJulie is our January 2011 featured member for the Spotlight.

Our first Soul at Work Member spotlight features Julie Sygiel.  She has been a member since 2010, when we met up at Jennifer Kennedy's dancing class spring of 2010.  (Julie continued with the class. I need to start again.)  Turns out Julie may be dancing her way to the bank, as she is now launching her Sexy Period™ lingerie line after many months of prototyping!

This January they are releasing 500 pairs in a preview sale exclusively on their website:  Now we are going beyond lingerie...and having a conversation about what seemed "taboo":   making a woman's "time of the month" more fashionable and providing a solution to an issue about that pesky monthly leaking! These entrepreneurs have developed a line of womens' lingerie that aims “to complement feminine products to give women the confidence and comfort that they deserve.”

Thank God!

This is a dream come true; from winning the statewide “elevator pitch” contest sponsored by the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition in 12/6/2008 to--flash forward to 2011-- being featured in Style Week Providence 1/21/2011 (see the film below) Julie Sygiel and her fellow Brown University graduate Eunice Png are in seventh heaven.  But in the beginning it was a tough sell as the men who judged the contest at Brown failed to see the product’s potential.

“We realized that men didn’t know,” Png said in an interview after their successful second pitch. “They don’t see the product as needed. So we really pushed that in [the second] pitch.” And then they did. The new presentation clicked, with the panel of four judges saying Sexy Period sounded like an innovative solution to an age-old problem.

Sexy Period LogoFounders Julie Sygiel and Eunice Png met in an entrepreneurship class their Junior year at Brown University. When they realized their idea of fashionable, leak resistant underwear (as a backup to prevent period spills) might not be so crazy after all, they set out to make Sexy Period™ a reality.  Okay I must say, I did blush about the idea, but, heck, this makes sense and the styles are irresistible.  (If investors can invest in ManPacks, a "time saver for men in buying their underwear", why not something that really helps all of woman-kind by keeps us fashionable, and saving us a HUGE embarrassment, during a perfectly natural part of our lives?)

 As posted on the Sexy Period website: 

"After two years of product development during which they designed the patent-pending fabric (leak resistant + breathable!), 500 pairs are being released in a Preview Sale exclusively on starting on 1/31/11.  The Sexy Period™ team is pouring pink champagne and toasting women everywhere as these revolutionary undies are available to empower women all 28 days of the month.  'Not only can you stop worrying about leaks, but you can chuck out those unflattering panties that you only wear at that time of the month. Who said you can't be sexy all the time? '– Becca S."  See more testimonials here:

Our questions for Julie:

Why did you start this venture?

"We started Sexy Period because of the overwhelming positive feedback that we received from friends, boutique owners, and buyers when we did market research during our entrepreneurship class in 2008. I love that our product empowers women to stop worrying about OMG period spill moments so we can take on the world every day of the month." 

What is a key lesson learned you'd like to share?

"The greatest lesson learned throughout the last two years of the start-up phase has been to always have a positive outlook. Even when things are challenging and everything seems to be going wrong, if you are persistent and exhibit continuous optimism, you can overcome obstacles that otherwise would be impossible. Don't take 'no' as an answer."

More information here: 

The story:  Underwear that women can wear during their period (not a substitute for tampons, but a back up) and to make it FASHIONABLE.  Download the Pod Cast here: The Story, 01/20/11

How Sexy Period product works

Film from Styleweek Providence