Thinking big and daring to dream: an entrepreneur in India tells her story

Written by Madhuri Ruia, entrepreneur and participant in our Enterprise Development project with NEN.





My name is Madhuri Ruia. I am a 51-year-old nutritionist, pilates expert and entrepreneur. I run Integym, a personal training fitness studio located in Mumbai that provides innovative health and fitness services to help people transform their lives through intelligent nutrition and exercise.

The biggest inspiration for me to start my business was observing the impact that intelligent nutrition and exercise had on reversing serious health conditions like diabetes and heart diseases on my friends and family, and how it made me feel 15 years younger with so much more energy to do things!

Entrepreneurship has always been a dynamic roller coaster journey for me punctuated with highs, lows but always followed by continued determination, to do what I set out to do. As an entrepreneur, one of the first challenges I faced was to change my childhood conditioning. Though I had a good education, I grew up believing that I was supposed to be a housewife who should cook, feed and nurture; and at best, have a part-time hobby. Women in India then were not expected to think big or dream of becoming entrepreneurs. Today, in my eyes, very little has changed in the way of social conditioning. I was lucky though. I had the support of my family who believed in the power of education and the advancement of women. When I saw the life-transforming impact that nutrition and exercise had on people’s lives, I was inspired to get an education in nutrition and fitness. That’s how it all started, but the road was long. In the year 2008, I convinced my father to invest in my idea and set up a 500 square foot functional health studio called Half. But within a year, I was broke and ready to shut down.

That’s when NEN and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women came to my rescue. Their Tools for Growth workshop that I attended helped me understand the fitness industry and my target audience for the first time. I was also matched with a mentor who helped to transform a wishy-washy functional fitness studio to the solid brand for intelligent fitness. My mentor, Rajendra, visited me at my gym once a week for two to three hours for the first three months, and helped me identify market demand, set competitive pricing structures and instilled in me the courage to finally fire under-performing employees. Hiring the right talent was a difficult and often time-consuming task, and I often underestimated the value of this process, until Rajendra helped me see reason. I also now have a comprehensive induction package for all new employees I take on. Thanks to my mentor, I gradually began to rebuild my business again.

Today Integym is twice its size it was in 2008 and is known as Mumbai’s prime customised fitness destination. I have Rajendra to thank for this. My company’s annual sales turnover has gone up from USD 10,000 when I started to USD 250,000. My biggest challenge now is scaling this business, starting two more branches of Integym and finding innovative ways of overcoming huge investments.

My mentor has encouraged me to think big, dare to dream and believe that ‘women mean good business’.

My mentor has encouraged me to think big, dare to dream and believe that ‘women mean good business’. The whole experience has helped me to network and has given me a platform at both the national and international levels to talk of my journey and success.

My future aspirations and goals are to set up 100 Integyms by the year 2020, up-sell the brand and create new product categories such as health food, a chain of nutrition cafés, a health resort and internet based fitness programs. I would also like to mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs like myself, who could benefit from much-needed guidance and inspiration.