The Early Years
Katie and Leigh met when Leigh stayed in Katie’s dorm on a tennis recruiting trip to Gonzaga University. Katie likes to believe she's the reason Leigh went to Gonzaga; Leigh finds this mildly annoying, but not entirely untrue. They played tennis together for 3 years, and later worked in DC (Leigh in international development and Katie as a lawyer).
During a vacation to Nicaragua, Katie began to notice boys playing sports everywhere, but wondered where all the girls were. She also knew that girls’ conditions in Nicaragua were extremely poor. She became obsessed with a thought: what if sports could be a tool to improve girls’ conditions?
After discovering research that sports have enormous benefits for girls, Katie up and moved to Nicaragua to promote girls’ sports with the World Health Organization. She learned that two main barriers are a lack of awareness and a lack of funding. She also fell in love with the bright “macen” material used by the locals. The idea clicked to create Activyst's very first product - a women’s gym bag out of that material - that would both raise awareness about the importance of girls being active and fund girls’ sports programs worldwide.
Katie filled Leigh in on her idea, and lots of chatting ensued. Blair, Katie’s friend from DC and a management consultant, was also on board to make it happen. After serious prototyping, lots of learning, and a little bit of winging it, they launched the company in 2013 through a crowd-funding campaign. They decided on the name Activyst (with a "y") because of their foundational belief that when girls are active, it's a catalyst for broader positive change in their lives.
Activyst is now based in LA. Through apparel and bag sales, they have funded 7 girls’ sports projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, Ethiopia, the US, and Canada. To them, creating something of value for women while helping more girls lead active, healthy lives is the ultimate win-win.
Katie Rock, Co-founder and CEO
I grew up in Arizona with three crazy brothers, and spent my childhood riding my 10-speed, creating highly unnecessary competitions, believing I'd be the next Mary Lou Rhetton, and (after accepting an Olympic dream was not in the cards) playing tennis at Gonzaga.
After studying international relations and Spanish in college, law school at the University of Michigan, and practicing at a law firm in DC, I went to work with the WHO in Nicaragua researching gender equality in sport. I've always known that my background in sports has helped me achieve in other areas of life. I’m excited to work towards a world where girls all over are playing, running, high-fiving, and believing they can achieve.
Leigh Orne, Co-founder and COO
When I think back on my connection to sports it all comes back to family. My grandfather was a prolific marathon runner, my mom a dancer and my dad an all-around amazing athlete. Being active is in my blood. Sports brought me to Gonzaga where I played tennis and studied international affairs which opened my eyes to the world around me. After working in international development, I got my MBA with the goal of bringing about social change through business.
I want more girls to have the same opportunities and role models I had growing up. Now more than ever I am convinced that changing the way we think about business can change the world, and through Activyst I believe that sports can be that spark.
Blair Warner, Co-founder and Strategy Adviser
Raised in San Diego, I was blessed with a family that pushed me to try new things. I played softball, my dad coached my soccer team, I earned a black belt in karate with my mom. So maybe it's no surprise that when I was asked to join UCLA crew because I was tall, I said, "Why not?”
This same attitude led me to study Economics and Communication Studies and then attend Yale Law School (Connecticut? Why not!). I later joined a management consulting firm, loving the team element that pushed me to grow. When Katie shared the idea of Activyst with me on a trip to Nicaragua, I was hooked. It combines my business training with helping girls access the types of opportunities I’ve been so fortunate to have.
Thanks to other Activyst team members and contributors who have helped make this happen:
Advisers: Jason Gerros (Production & Logistics), Becky Bodony (Legal), Tristan Tyler (Legal), Claire McGowen (Retail), Joe Zavaglia (Financial Strategy & Production)