Bridgeport pilates studio receives $10,000 from women’s business group

BRIDGEPORT — During a recent visit to the only Pilates studio in town, State Rep. Steve Staffstrom, D-Bridgeport, learned how to do double leg presses.

“Steve did some exercises on what’s called the Wunda chair,” said Laura Pennock, owner of Staffstrom District-based Black Rock Pilates Studio.

The special chair was purchased through the matching grant from the Women’s Business Development Council.

But the grant didn’t just buy Pennock exercise equipment, it also saved her business, she said.

Staffstrom and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz stopped by the studio this week as part of a tour. Bysiewicz visits 129 businesses across the state that have received the Women’s Council Equity Grant.

Bysiewicz said the program was launched in 2020 after she, along with Council CEO Fran Pastore, noticed that many PPP loans were going to white, male-owned businesses during the height of the pandemic.

“The Equity Match Grant program grew out of generous contributions from a number of private funders and collaboration with our state Department of Economic and Community Development,” Bysiewicz said.

According to Bysiewicz, Pennock’s company received $10,000 from the grant this year. Her business was able to weather the pandemic after Pennock switched to online classes. While the restrictions are now long gone, Pennock has kept classes online, saying they continue to be popular.

But the road to recovery has been arduous.

“It was definitely a success…and as we fully opened, we worked with about a quarter of what we had been. But now we are up and running as we have in the past, if not even better. So we survived,” Pennock said.

Pennock’s business was one of 31 small businesses to receive a matching grant from the council this spring. The grant is for women-owned businesses in the state.

While Bysiewicz didn’t do any drills, Pennock said the lieutenant governor’s presence there showed that small businesses, especially those owned by women, had resources at their disposal.

Thanks to the grant, Pennock was able to obtain more chairs, which allowed him to introduce more strenuous classes.

“With this grant, I’m going to be able to have five chairs that all look the same so we can start doing a more athletic workout-type class,” she said.

Companies wishing to apply for a grant must meet several conditions. The money cannot be used for current expenses such as inventory, repayment of past debts or physical improvements to the location. Business must be 51% or more female-owned, located in the state, be open for at least two years by July 3, 2022, and have generated at least $25,000 in annual revenue during the year elapsed.

The grant money is courtesy of Webster Bank, which Pastore says is crucial for continued funding.

“WBDC is very grateful for the continued support of Webster Bank, the founding funder of our Equity Match grant program. Generous contributions from organizations like Webster will enable WBDC to empower women entrepreneurs statewide and make great strides toward women’s economic equity,” Pastore said.

Pennock said the grant will result in more money down the line and better compensation for its workers.

“We hope to add three to five classes per week, which will create significant revenue for our business and provide work for our instructors,” Pennock said.

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