On Tuesday, Gabby Lubin ’14, founder and CEO of spark, gave a talk about her experience in forming a start-up company. spark, established in March 2020, offers exercise and mindfulness programs to educators both virtually and in-person.
In her talk over Zoom, Lubin explained how she conceived of the idea to create spark as a combination of her experiences in teaching and the fitness industry. After graduating from Bowdoin in 2014, Lubin worked as a schoolteacher in Washington D.C., where she encountered the stressful nature of a career in education.
“[Teachers have] little money, not enough time, not enough energy, not a lot of support,” Lubin said.
These problems influenced her transition into the fitness industry, where she taught over 20 private classes a week, a livelihood that was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was a gig-worker at the time, and had to think quickly on my feet and made the decision to start teaching a virtual fitness class the same day that the D.C. community shut down,” Lubin said. “What came together was a HIIT [high-intensity interval training] class with a meditation at the end … and we had around 60 people signing [up] on that first day.”
It was the community response to this first class that sowed the seeds for Lubin to forge her own path in the fitness and mindfulness industries through spark.
“The things that we developed could be delivered to any individual … that exists on this planet because everyone experiences stress,” Lubin said. “But my drive was to solve this unique problem for educators.”
Spark currently partners with 15 schools, allowing 500 educators in the United States to access her service. The company works mainly with charter schools, but Lubin hopes to tap into the public education system next.
Lubin was adamant that her focus on teachers is essential, separating spark from other services like mindfulness apps and Peloton. At the end of her classes she presents a mindfulness technique that is relevant and specific to the daily lives of educators.
“At spark, we encourage our instructors to provide teachers with a tangible way to apply [our resources] to their day,” she said. “At the end [of the HIIT class I taught today] I said, ‘hey, teachers—today, there’s probably gonna be a moment where you’re gonna feel overwhelmed; before you respond to that, take five seconds to notice your anchor, and respond.’ So it’s really making that directly applicable to their lives.”
Paul Russo ’23, co-leader of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Club, which hosted the event, invited Lubin to talk at the College partly because of his own experiences on campus.
“I wanted to better understand the mindset of a teacher and how I can treat them better, because I think even at Bowdoin, we often underappreciate our professors,” Russo said.
Lubin has her eyes set on another untapped, thankless industry for future expansion of spark: nursing.
“When nurses mess up, it’s a big deal, and it’s an incredibly stressful place to be,” she said.
Despite Lubin’s hope to expand her customer base beyond educators, the central goal of spark still remains personal to its founder. Learning from her time as an schoolteacher, Lubin believes that spark is a fundamental tool that can help teachers stay in the classroom.
“We’re working really hard to hire current or former educators … if I had this maybe I would have been saved from the classroom,” Lubin said. “That’s really the goal: ‘let me save future ‘mes.’”