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Greenville Business Magazine

A Good Attitude: Uruguay natives build thriving taekwondo school in the Upstate

Jun 01, 2017 09:36PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Emily Stevenson

Photography By Amy Randall Photography

  Most people can’t fathom moving to a new country not knowing the language. Even more challenging is opening a successful business in that country. Lorena Ausa is not most people.

Ausa and her husband Daniel Madriaga moved to Miami, Fla., from Uruguay in 2010. A few years before the couple moved to the United States, Madriaga, who has studied martial arts since he was a child, came for a taekwondo tournament and fell in love with the country.

“When he came back home, he said, ‘We have to move and go for the American Dream,’” Ausa says. “I think everyone wants to move to the United States, especially people from South America.”

The couple owned a taekwondo school in their home country, but Ausa says it was difficult because “everything was expensive.”

“In our country, you work hard, hard, hard, and you still may not get what you want,” she says. “But [people in the United States] are telling him how successful you can be here if you work hard.”

Hard work wasn’t a problem for Ausa and Madriaga, who are fourth- and sixth-degree black belts, respectively. Still, moving to another country was a risk, especially since they didn’t speak any English. Living in Miami made things easier, as most people there are bilingual in English and Spanish. South Carolina was different.

“When we moved here, we had to learn the language because there was no choice,” Ausa says. “ Having the kids in school, we kind of learned the language with our kids, helping them do homework. Then talking with other people, that’s the best way to learn.”

The duo had worked in Miami for an existing taekwondo studio, but wanted to open their own. They are affiliated with ATA, the American Taekwondo Association, but the Miami market was already saturated with ATA schools. They checked in Georgia, North Carolina, Charleston, and Columbia, hoping to stay close to the coast, but the cities were already inundated with ATA-accredited schools as well. Finally, they landed on Greenville. Their first location, on Batesville Road in Simpsonville at Five Forks, was a hard-earned success for the couple.

“We had the basic money to rent the space and make a few changes, a few renovations, but it was a little tough,” Ausa admits. “The area is growing and things started going well, but it was tough at the beginning because we didn’t have any money.”

It was also tough to start a business from scratch and convince lenders and landlords that they could succeed.

“The biggest challenge was to make people trust in us,” she says. “When we decided to open a school, we didn’t have the company or anything. We had to open the company. We didn’t know how to do that, so we had to ask several people. Finally we did it, but we had no money in the pocket, no English. So when we came here and started looking for a space available to rent, we spoke with landlords and brokers and they didn’t think we’d succeed. Nobody was listening to us until one guy said, ‘Okay, why not?’ “

Ausa estimates that she and her husband met with between 10 and 15 brokers before they met the one who ultimately agreed to rent to them. He showed them several properties in the area, and the Five Forks location was their favorite. Black Belt Attitude School was born.

What started as a single location has blossomed into five schools across Greenville County, including a 6,000-square-foot location on Fairview Road in Simpsonville that celebrated its grand opening on May 18. That location offers, among other amenities, a gym for parents to work out while their children are taking classes.  

BBAS has 600 students and 12 staff members, although those numbers will likely continue to grow as Ausa and her husband expand their business. Expansion is easier now that the business is a proven entity.

“If we want to rent space to open a new school we just contact the same guy and it’s super-easy,” says Ausa. “But it was really tough at the very beginning.”

Their love of martial arts kept them motivated, along with a belief in their abilities, when times were tough.

“We feel comfortable if we have a space to teach classes, we will be successful,” she says. “It’s what we love to do.”

Despite the challenges of moving to a new country, learning a new language, and opening a now-thriving business, Ausa encourages others to follow their dreams.

“Just try,” she says. “You try. There are so many things that can be hard. You just have to believe in yourself and don’t give up.”