It’s safe to say that Austin is the city that never sleeps when it comes to innovation, brainstorming, moving and shaking. And while the word ‘startup’ is seemingly often associated with the tech and smartphone applications, this city boasts its fair share of fitness and wellness-minded startups.
Search Yelp for “Fitness and Wellness” in Austin, and you will find more than 1,200 results—many of these being locally owned and operated businesses.
So when Laura Shook, founder of Soma Vida, had a vision for starting her own wellness-minded business nearly eight years ago, she knew Austin would be the perfect fit.
To create a space and health practice aimed at empowering other entrepreneurs to thrive in their own startup businesses and private practices.
In 2008, the first-ever co-working space in Austin was born, and it just so happened to be a co-working space dedicated to the holistic health community.
Shook, a somatic psychotherapist by profession and single working mom, was initially inspired to open a co-working space during her time as a resident of Sweden and Canada.
“I moved away to get experience in other parts of the world, and while living abroad, I really noticed the differences in the business cultures and attitudes. These were socialist countries and economies, where the people were really just super supportive of one another—wanting to help each other out. Women helping women, others helping others succeed in their own businesses. Not quite as competitive,” Shook said.
When she returned to her homeland of Texas, Shook instantly took notice of the fast-paced, individualistic, self-serving attitudes many of her contemporaries had when it came to business.
“I was a single mom at the time and, while we Americans are very driven hardworking people, I really began to think that individualism in business was overrated. I really wanted to do business with support, and thought, ‘I wonder if there is a way to re-create what I experienced abroad over here?’” she said.
Shook had never heard of a co-working space before, but it was around the same time that she stumbled across an article on the movement of co-working happening in New York City and San Francisco, and she was instantly intrigued.
“The article I read was about this co-working space called In Good Company, based in New York, where various like-minded entrepreneurs and business people came together to share space and work virtually, since the cost of rent for office space was so high in the city. The article was aimed at the co-working movement for those within the tech industry—software developers, programmers, graphic designers, Web developers—complementing industries and jobs. I put that article down and said to myself, ‘That’s awesome for them, but that doesn’t exist in my industry of health, wellness and client care,” Shook said.
Then, an idea was born.
“Why couldn’t it exist for my industry?!” Shook said.
Shook began to dream about what that could look like—creating a space for holistic practitioners in the city to come together and work alongside one another, find office space and affordable rent for their practices, and ultimately support one another in the process, while being encouraged and reminded to take care of themselves, first in foremost.
“In order to help others, you have to first help yourself,” Shook said. Adding, “Oftentimes, when you are the only one running your business, or starting a business, it is easy to neglect yourself,” Shook said.
Shook made it a priority to provide a nurturing and wellness-conscious business environment into her plans as Soma Vida began to unfold.
In the early stages of planning, Shook linked arms with a fellow entrepreneur, single mom, business coach, and marketing guru here in town, Sonya Davis. The two women became close friends and even roommates, sharing child care duties for each other’s children as each juggled working full time while drafting business plans for Soma Vida.
“Originally, we thought it was going to be at least two years before we even thought about opening any place—we wanted to be ready. However, as luck would have it, we stumbled upon the perfect space on the east side, and it happened to be the right place, at the right time, at the right price. Soma Vida was officially born,” Shook said.
From the get-go, a diverse group of health and wellness entrepreneurs flocked to fill the office spaces and co-work alongside one another at the new center—from naturopathic doctors, to massage therapists, acupuncturists, psychotherapists and, of course, yogis.
“Yoga was always a part of the vision. Yoga had played a tremendous role in my life—a healing and self-care practice, as well as the lives and recoveries of many of my clients, and I just knew it had to be part of the space—both for serving our members (the practitioners), working so hard in their own businesses, as well as their own clients’ healing journeys and the local community as a whole,” Shook said.
Additionally, Shook said she had a particular heart for yoga teachers.
“There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of support for many teachers in this community—a place where yoga is so big. Sure, there are a ton of yoga teacher trainings…but what happens after that? The teachers are expected to go out on their own and start their practices; or work for other studios, but those studios don’t really support them at their other studios,” Shook said.
This realization sparked another idea: a yoga collective.
“I wanted to offer yoga teachers a space to grow their own practices, a place to develop their own clients, host events, and also share more about who they are with others, all the amazing stuff they were up to. I wanted to provide a space for yoga teachers to begin to really begin to find out who they are and gain a following,” Shook said.
In addition, Shook set out to offer a place for yogi-preneurs to develop their own private, professional practices.
“You have your yoga teachers, who just teach yoga as a hobby, a passion, or on the side; then you have your instructors who really make yoga their career—or a big part of it. Today, in particular, you have more and more professionals—therapists, counselors—incorporating yoga into their own private practices, and Soma Vida has plenty of space for those practices to happen,” Shook said.
This summer, Soma Vida celebrated its seventh year anniversary in its new re-located space at 2324 Cesar Chavez—a stone’s throw from the popular Juan In A Million restaurant, and housed next door to the local Corner Vet. Shook notes that the details of the studio space are just as important as the practice and people who occupy it.
“I make a conscious effort to provide wellness in all facets of the space—from the eco-friendly cleaning systems we use, filtered water, water-filtered clean air, open spaces with plenty of sunlight coming in through the windows, various yoga classes throughout the week, herbal teas offered all day—a space conducive to giving it your all to your business and yourself.”
As a member to the Soma Vida community, entrepreneurs are invited to join a network of fellow community members and welcomed to host their events, meet with clients, co-work, attend various meet-ups throughout the month, contribute guest blogs and find refuge behind the doors of the holistic healing bungalow.
While Shook may take a non traditional stance on entrepreneurship she hopes to expand her business—something that is typical of nearly every business owner.
Shook has found success as a heart-centered entrepreneur, and encourages other like-minded people to follow a similar path while keeping in mind a small piece of advice:
“To do what you love, you must first love and value yourself; put the time and investment into your self-care, your wellness, your sustainability. It will only make you that more successful. As an entrepreneur, no one is providing you with the work-life balance package. YOU are your company. How much care you are giving yourself is vital – can I invest in you?”