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Mompreneur Monday: Gina Stern, A Million Dollar Mommy

Gina Stern, founder of D_parture Spa

Gina Stern, founder of D_parture Spa

Gina Stern is my favorite mommy BFF. Every so often, when we drop off the kids to our respective “wasbands”, we put on the Spanx , step into some killer heels and hit New York City hot spots like two young vixens—turning heads and taking names later.  When we’re not tapping into the inner mama under our outer mommy, we support each other in business like no other.

Even better, Gina has a phenomenal spirit and an amazing story. She is the epitome of triumphing over tragedy and circumstance. Gina is the founder of D_parture Spa with locations in Newark and Orlando international airports, and pioneered the airport spa concept before it existed anywhere.  In 2006, Gina’s business hit the million dollar mark and today, the sky is the limit.

But Gina’s early days were a lot less prosperous. A former high school dropout from the South Bronx, Gina grew up in an abusive home, was raised on welfare and left school in the eleventh grade.  Years later after going back to school, completing college as an adult, and starting a career in fashion design, she hit yet another major setback. She fell down a flight of stairs, hit a wall and threw out all the discs in her back.  She couldn’t work for over a month, so she lost her great job in fashion.  

“Lying on my back for all those weeks, all I could do was write and think. I thought about this idea I had for a spa in the airport but I was so busy at the job I hadn’t been able to surface it. Some time ago, I remember being stuck in the airport for several hours thinking there had to be a better way for the traveler.  During that time on my back, I wrote the twenty-five page business plan for D_parture Spa. I worked the phones and did all the research. Every day I breathed life into the concept,” Gina says.

But I’m sure you can imagine what it would take for a Latina woman with a GED and a college degree in fashion to convince airport authorities to give her retail space for an unproven concept. Everybody thought she was crazy! At times, even those closest to her were unsupportive.

Along the way, two beautiful boys and later, a difficult divorce posed their own challenges. But like I said, Gina is unstoppable. It took her two years to convince the airports to let her in.  But when she said, she immediately  took off, earning half a million dollars in revenue in the first nine months of business and racking up celebrity clientele like Nelly Furtado and Hilary Swank. But then another setback hit hard.

“After a rock-star start, God rendered me powerless after 9/11.  I could not figure my way out of a paper bag. When the towers fell the Transportation Safety Administration changed everything about the airport. I watched two competitors go out of business. One was a Harvard grad with a strong business background. And there was me. It was frightening. I was broken,” she says.

But not for long. Gina brought her business back from the brink with the help of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence (www.countmein.org)—an amazing non-profit that provides resources, business education and community support for women entrepreneurs seeking to grow micro businesses to million dollar enterprises. (I’m a member too, y’all)  But back to Gina—she found her real purpose along the way. “Today, I’m more purpose driven. I understand my responsibility with this success. This business is attached to my purpose—to testify that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. No thing can keep you down.”

Amen to that.

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