Self-care has never been more important than during this seemingly never-ending global pandemic, while at the same time its sudden onset made the ability to receive such care in person harder than ever. So like any good entrepreneur, Naya Powell pivoted.
Powell is the Founder and CEO of the Durham-based startup Utopia Spa and Global Wellness. It is a holistic one-stop shop for global wellness offering virtual classes that arrive six days a week and an on-demand library with about 300 classes available. In 2021, the company earned a coveted spot in Google For Startups’ Black Founder Exchange.
“We have everything from Latin, Bollywood, and belly-dancing dance classes, to kickboxing from the Philippines, to nice Zen moments like mindfulness,” said Powell. “We even have chair yoga for those in the office or who might have mobility challenges.”
The startup was originally called Spa Utopia and provided on-demand, in-person services such as massages, manicures, pedicures, and facials. Because of the pandemic, Powell and her team switched focus to revolutionizing self-care by offering virtual wellness classes from instructors across the globe to corporations—helping employees with their workplace wellness—and individuals.
“It’s focused on leveraging technology to deliver spa and wellness services to events and corporations,” Powell said. “Some of our clients have been the Ritz-Carlton, the Super Bowl, and my former employer—Red Hat.”
The goal is to connect people in ways that are safe, fun, and approachable. The live classes help people feel supported, but it also prevents people from feeling intimidated if they cannot keep up because they can simply turn their camera off.
Powell attended Clark Atlanta University and graduated as a business marketing major. Earlier in her career, Powell worked for the Hartford Insurance Company. But after learning about the spa industry, she knew she desired to take a different route away from standard corporate America.
“When I learned about it the bells went off—the butterflies started flying,” Powell said, “I knew that this was something that I was naturally drawn to, and I started to explore that further.”
Though the fact that she’s running her own business is no surprise—Powell is a third-generation entrepreneur. Her father was a pioneer in the federal government contracting space, and her mother was the first and only Black national director of Mary Kay for Virginia.
“Entrepreneurship just runs in my blood, in my veins,” she said.
She knew there was a need for Utopia Spa and Global Wellness because she experienced burnout and elevated levels of stress while working in a corporate job, and saw others experiencing it as well.
“My parents had a high level of burnout as entrepreneurs, and I saw it all around me—this lack of self-care and the toll that it takes,” said. “We are in a stress epidemic—80 to 90 percent of disease and death is caused by stress.”
She began her journey by volunteering on weekends at a full-service spa and salon in Detroit. Powell later went back to Atlanta, where she formalized Spa Utopia in 2018 to begin what she calls the company’s “Phase Zero.”
She said that 2021 was a monumental year because Utopia Spa and Global Wellness became one of 50 companies nationwide selected for Google for Startups’ Black Founders Exchange. It enabled her to get a lot of coaching, guidance, and resources.
The startup received $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, $120,000 in donated search ads from Google, ongoing mentorship, guidance resources, and wellness and self-care sessions. She said that the community helped her survive the pandemic.
“By April 2020, 40 percent of Black businesses had already closed their doors,” she said. “So we knew that for us to survive and eventually thrive, we were going to have to get creative and gritty.”
Pandemic leads to pivot
Thus Powell started to look for diverse ways to share wellness.
“We started with eight days of ‘Utopia Gratitude, Joy, and Resilience’ to try to do a soft launch,” Powell said. “And we did a series of live classes.”
They had people join from around the country and world, which Powell said gave them a taste of what they could accomplish. That led them to rebrand as Utopia Spa and Global Wellness, creating a new website and building a team in a matter of about two months. Then the support and recognition from the Google For Startups selection was a game-changer.
“The challenge that comes with being a Black female founder-led company is the lack of resources and funding,” she said. “It can be paralyzing for a business. So, receiving this reward was so touching and so moving and life-changing.”
Powell said that for her, Utopia Spa and Global Wellness is personal—it is a work of heart, passion, and purpose.
“As a Black woman, health disparities disproportionately affect my community even more than anyone else,” Powell said. “I just want to see us all thriving in our health—holistic mind, spirit, and body.”