Irina_Fencing_Family_YSEName: Irina Chirashnya

Business Name: Academy of Fencing Masters, a school that teaches fencing

Type of Business: Other: Sport Club

Business Location: Campbell, California, United States

Twitter @AcadOfFencing

Reason for starting
After relocating to the United States, my husband and I were looking for ways for the family to stay physically healthy and bond over the experience. Having fenced in his youth, my husband found a fencing community in Silicon Valley and began to train again. My two oldest children, twins, watched their father train and fell in love with the dance that they saw. After talking to my husband and children, the older twins, at 5-years-old, began to take fencing lessons. As they began their journey of self-discipline, physical fitness, agility and mental sharpness, they also began growing closer to their father, bonding over fencing and making the family a stronger unit. As I watched my older set of twins practice, I found myself observing those around me. Soon I realized that there was a need inside the community. I could help make a significant impact by creating a fencing school that could support the Silicon Valley fencing community and help gain greater exposure for fencing in general. I wanted to create a club that takes a completely different approach to the family experience, by looking at developing the fencer as an athlete as well as a valued individual in society. It is a place, where parents like us, would like to take their children, a place that will feel like home. After talking to different parents I saw that the need is a real one and I started a journey which is the most exiting one I ever had before.

How do you define success?
It is quite tricky to define success in our case. There are several aspects of it: – Business: it should prosper in long term – Customers: they should feel they found their ideal club and the values we have are appreciated – Sport: Our fencers should achieve top national and international results – Community: we are part of the thriving community – both geographical and our sport community – Self fulfillment: everyone should achieve it – our employees, fencers and their parents. People should enjoy what they do and why they do it – And for myself: ability to create a right balance between career, running my own business, and enjoying the family of my husband and 4 children. In a long term I would define success if in every area I mentioned above we would reach the goals.

Biggest Success
We are really new business, and it is brick-and-mortar with all its challenges. But we can celebrate our wins: – within 2 months after opening we tripled our customer base, mostly because we succeeded to – the Bay Area fencing community recognized us as most advanced club in the area, – Michael Marx, a 5 times Olympian and US Fencing Hall of Fame member, giving his clinic in our club said that if he would have a pen to draw his ideal club that what he would do – The most important – our customers and community in general recognize our passion, customer care and love to what we do and how we do it

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Fencing is an Olympic sport. A new club faces a chicken and egg problem: we need to start showing results in local and national competitions, and for that we need to have advanced fencers. However, advanced fencers mostly reluctant to join a new club as they are loyal to their coaches. So we cannot have enough advanced fencers to generate a good experience for our members and it is difficult for them to show results due to lack of experience in the club. We try to create different programs for such competitive fencers, like open fencing when people from other clubs join us. We also try to create a very individualized approach to our fencers, so partially temporary lack of enough competitive fencers in the club is compensated by individual level of training. And of course, we put a lot of emphasis on new generation of fencers which we recruit.

Who is your most important role model?
My role model is Oprah Winfrey