By Nicole Davis
“Be the first on the dance floor so everybody else can have more fun.”
Casey Wright uses that mantra in many facets of her life, from literally dancing – a hobby she loves – to growing her youth-centric athletic businesses. That willingness to take risks has transpired into a rapidly-growing business and most recently earned her recognition as the 2019 Small Business Person of the Year for Indiana from the U.S. Small Business Administration. She was honored alongside the states’ winners in Washington D.C. during National Small Business Week from May 5 – 11.
“The award is awesome,” Casey said. “I love it more that I get to represent Indiana. We are an entrepreneurial state and the world is now starting to pay attention.”
A second-generation entrepreneur
Casey is a second-generation entrepreneur. Her parents, Bob and Dana Wright founded Wright’s Gymnastics Academy in Whiteland, now in Center Grove, in 1975.
“They took a risk,” Casey said. “They both left teaching jobs to start one of the nation’s first private gymnastics clubs. At that time, athletics only existed in schools and community centers, but no one had private clubs. It was really a visionary move.”
Casey grew up in the business, beginning her coaching career at 13 years old. She coached in Greenwood for nearly 20 years. When she got married and started her own family, she said she felt prepared for a change.
“I was ready to take the leadership that I learned from coaching and use that in my business,” she said. “I started looking at how can I impact the community rather than how can I impact the athlete with these skills.”
She ran Wright’s Gymnastics with her parents until 2000, then managed the business on her own until she purchased it in 2006. She opened Wright’s FUNdamentals Center Grove, a gym designed for children ages 6 months to 18 years in 2009 followed by FUNdamentals Southeast in Greenwood in 2013.
“I was sitting on the bleachers, talking to another mom and watching my daughter take class,” she said. “The mom says, ‘my son would love this but my husband would never go for it.’ Traditional gymnastics gyms are 95 percent girls. The boys we did have were very young and usually were out by the time they were 6. There was a need for a gymnastics-like program for boys.”
At the time, the reality television show American Ninja Warrior was coming into popularity along with parkour. Inspired by that conversation and current trends, Casey came up with the idea of Ninja Zone as a way to offer a gymnastics-like program which could improve the mental, emotional and physical health for both girls and boys. The program was designed in a manner by which it could be licensed and utilized at other children’s gyms.
“It took off,” she said. “We now have about 300 locations around the world. We are working with a large group in China that is going to use Ninja Zone as entire hubs at its children’s center. The program has grown so much that myself and many other club owners have standalone areas for Ninja Zone. It’s put a different culture into all of our gymnastics programming. It’s new. It’s based in the natural instincts of children. It makes sense to kids and it makes sense to the parents. It’s fun and it’s good for them. We are continuing to expand.”
Ninja Zone piloted in 2014. Casey opened FUNdamentals North in 2015 and founded Ninja Zone Global that same year. Ninja Zone Academy, “the professional training facility of Ninja Sport for children ages 3-11,” started in 2017.
“I used to think I just tripped over something,” she said. “At first I felt like I was just lucky. But it was really all the doors I opened throughout my career, following what felt right, what my parents did and the support of people in this community, being surrounded by people who have truly acted from their heart that set me up for (success). I was empowered by a lot of people. Being a coach and team-centric coach really taught me to find each person’s unique strength and use that. I didn’t write the curriculum. It was an idea. I went to the coaches in my gym and said ‘let’s do this, how are we going to do it?’ They believed in me.”
The businesses in total employ approximately 150 people.
As much as the business has grown, Casey said she has a hunch it’s leading to something even bigger. They’re looking into building a multi-space facility. They’re looking to grow Ninja Zone International, to train more coaches to focus on the child’s wellbeing before training in the sport.
When not working, Casey spends most of her time with her family. She and her husband combined have four children, ages 6, 8, 11 and 13. She primarily works from home, but travels to speak or for education. She’s active in Entrepreneurs’ Organization and is on the board for Purposeful Living in Hamilton County. She conducts a podcast titled The Sports Entrepreneur with a goal to raise the conscientiousness of entrepreneurs.
“I feel like my job is to learn, lead and share,” she said. “I don’t watch television. I don’t listen to the news. I don’t have anything in my Instagram feed that doesn’t help me achieve my goals. … I’m lucky in this industry that it’s really integrated. I don’t feel like I’m going to work. If I’m traveling or speaking, my kids know I’m off learning to be a better mommy. My best example for my children is to be who I want them to be and lead a life I love.”
Getting to know Casey…
– I love to dance. I love hip hop. I’ll dance in the car, anywhere. I love to dance with my kids.
– I meditate twice a day. It’s kept me grounded.
– Favorite podcast: I’m currently listening to Primal Potential podcast. I listen to two or three books a week. The book Principles by Ray Dalio is a game changer. Think and Grow Rich (by Napoleon Hill) is another game changer. No Ego by Cy Wakeman; Dare to Lead by Brené Brown; A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.