In most industries, the higher up you go in leadership, the harder it is to find a woman in the room. At SDSI, we’ve been working towards changing the leadership landscape of the Sports and Active Lifestyle Industry for almost 10 years. From entrepreneurs to the C-suite, we provide support, guidance and mentorship for women in our industry. It’s not the kind of change that happens overnight, but we’re starting to see progress. Read on to hear from SDSI members and program graduates, about how they’re moving our industry forward.


The Power of Community

Growing up, Kate Nowlan always wanted to be a businesswoman - and she achieved that goal, just in different clothes than she’d pictured. Less power suits and more performance fabric, Kate serves as the VP of HYLETE experience, building culture every day for the rapidly growing direct to consumer athletic apparel brand.

With a varied athletic and entrepreneurial background, Kate co-founded GRACEDBYGRIT in 2013. GRACEDBYGRIT designed and manufactured women’s athletic apparel with a focus on uplifting women and highlighting authentic stories of perseverance. In 2018, HYLETE acquired GRACEDBYGRIT, making Kate their first female executive. Through the experience of building a community at GRACEDBYGRIT and joining the HYLETE team, Kate recognized that “Community is everything. There’s such a higher chance of success when you have peers and mentors who understand where you are and what you’re going through. Though your mentors or peers may not be able to solve your problems for you, just having someone who relates to what you’re going through can give you the strength to persevere in tough situations.”

Community has played a large role throughout Kate’s life, but became especially impactful as the community at GRACEBYGRIT, and now the GRACEDBYGRIT Foundation at HYLETE, grows. “I love being part of an incredible team and progressive brand that mimics my beliefs and value system, and having a hand in building a culture that is supportive and accepting of all, including women. I like being a part of the entrepreneurial spirit here in San Diego, it’s contagious, it breeds a certain type of person, and you can feed off the energy.” said Kate. Whether it’s navigating challenges of gender or business, it’s clear that the simple act of support and understanding can make all the difference.

What It Takes To Accelerate Growth

When 3 friends decided to build a better sports bra, they didn’t quite understand they’d just boarded a roller coaster. Tera Kaia creates basewear for active women.  Basewear is a baselayer... AND a swimsuit. It's a water-friendly, super comfortable underlayer that’s versatile enough for any outdoor adventure. Basewear is designed to fit modern women, which means muscles ARE included.

When Tera Kaia started, they had challenges many small businesses face. “At our small scale we couldn’t get priority at our production facility, which meant we would run out of stock for several months on end while waiting for them to create our products. It was like a slow death sentence for the business. Additionally, we had some legal baggage in the form of unsecured IP and our finances were a big question mark.” said founder Bridget Kilgallon.

After finding the SDSI Accelerator program, Tera Kaia was paired a team of mentors to help them with their challenges. “There’s a whole community of people at SDSI who have diverse experiences and perspectives that want to help you make your plan 10000% better than it is now. To gain that knowledge you’ll have to listen to them and put your own biases aside. No one is going to hand the resources to you, but they will hand you a map to get there and where to find them.”

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Female founders face unique challenges - especially when you’re pitching the concept of a better sports bra and most investors are men. Bridget had this say, “I try to take every situation as an opportunity to change someone’s gender biases in a subtle way. Maybe after meeting me they rethink what is possible for women to do, or maybe the re-assess how they should treat women. Perhaps as a woman, they’re inspired to succeed themselves, or as a man they're motivated to extend more resources to other women in business. The more women we have setting an example of success the more we see “proof of concept”. Look, there’s a woman succeeding - surely I can do it too.”

Today, Tera Kaia is growing. They’ve secured a strategic financial partner with experience in production and is establishing retail relationships, as well as stabilized production and built a team experience in retail apparel.

Gaining Confidence, Gaining Knowledge

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Slyde handboards started with a food tray and a 14 year old’s quest to ride waves in new ways. Flash forward a couple decades and husband and wife team Steve and Angela Watts developed Slyde into an international business, including landing a deal with Mark Cuban and Ashton Kutcher on Shark Tank. Growing a business and preparing for the opportunities that may arise is no small feat. “Before SDSI we were growing, but really slowly.  We were in need of investment but didn’t know how to get it.  SDSI helped us with our financial models and the confidence to pitch to investors. They filled a hole in our knowledge base by giving us experienced experts to lean on. We really owe a lot to SDSI and the mentor programs. When it came to appearing on Shark Tank, we wouldn’t have gotten the deal with Mark and Ashton if we hadn’t gone through the program when we did.” said Angela.

As the CEO of Slyde Angela voiced concerns we hear from many female entrepreneurs and leaders. “Being a female executive, I’m often the only woman in the room.  One of my challenges was gaining the confidence to be comfortable in that position.  Having examples of other female executives, and learning how they navigate these situations helped to bolster my confidence and continue to grow as a leader.” said Angela.

Along with Slyde’s continued success, Angela now runs multiple direct to consumer companies with her business partners Mark and Ashton, including Veldskoen Shoes. With each business endeavor comes new challenges that Angela navigates by seeking knowledge and support. “I always aim to surround myself with people that know more than I do. Running a business can be isolating, so having access to experienced mentors and peers, even just to bounce ideas off of, can be invaluable.”

Want to get involved?

SDSI is a not for profit business community made of industry members, service providers and mentorship programs. From joining our membership, to sponsoring our efforts, to becoming a mentor or a mentee, there’s multiple ways you can help. Click on the buttons below to find out more.


Female Founder Update

Jenny took her company SOLO Eyewear through the SDSI Accelerator program in 2014 and recently had a successful exit in early 2019.  Here’s what Jenny had to say about her experience building her eco-friendly sunglasses company with SDSI:


“The SDSI Accelerator was a game changer for me and my company, SOLO Eyewear. When I joined the accelerator, I had a lot of uncertainty about our strategy moving forward. We entered the program with a lack of clarity about next steps and exited the program with new advisors, a sales strategy and an investment offer. I'm grateful for the SDSI Accelerator experience and wholeheartedly recommend it to any early stage startups in the active lifestyle space. There is always something to learn from challenges whether you're being introduced to new subject matter or learning to become more resourceful.  Having a solid support system and believing in yourself is critical.”

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