Miren Oca founded Ocaquatics Swim School to be an agent of change in her community – the company is a member of 1% For The Planet and Conscious Capitalism, offered paid time off for voting and volunteering, and they boasted a variety of programs that benefitted and uplifted their employees, customers, supply chain and other stakeholders. But that wasn’t enough for Miren – she wanted to not only provide these benefits for her direct connection and community but also inspire other companies to do the same in an authentic and transparent way. In 2019 she turned her attention to pursuing B Corp Certification and three years later the hard work of Miren and her team finally paid off and Ocaquatics joined the ranks of B Corps in 2022.
This spirit of dedication is nothing new for the daughter of immigrant parents from Spain and Cuba. When she was a young girl, she was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of her mother and father who opened two restaurants here in the US. Having a family business seemed like normal life to her and she modeled their hard work and dedication by beginning to give swimming lessons for extra spending money. She originally had no intention of turning that effort into a full-fledged business and instead aspired to attend medical school. Things changed when Miren unexpectedly became a mother of a baby boy after her sophomore year in college and she decided to put a pause on her education until he was older. In order to provide for her growing family, she turned back to her passion of swimming and began a business.
As her business began to grow, Miren was motivated by leading her team of employees to not only be the best they could at their jobs, but also be the best stewards of their community possible. As a single parent, she had a soft spot single mothers, women’s issues, as well as other social issues. She developed a scholarship program with free and reduced priced lessons for children in underserved communities, but again wanted to do more. She viewed Ocaquatics as a business that already did good things because they taught life-saving skills to families, but she longed to have a company that created a shared and durable prosperity for the community beyond what was expected from a typical business.
It was thanks to that desire and to her existing values-aligned programs that helped her and her company in many of its social and environmental initiatives and also achieving B Corp Certification. To learn more about her drive, mission and the journey to one of the toughest ESG style business certifications in the market, I sat down with Miren to learn more about her background and work.
Christopher Marquis: Share a bit about your background and why did you begin your business? Why this industry?
Miren Oca: My parents were immigrants with my father from Spain and my mother from Cuba. When they moved to the United States they opened 2 restaurants. Growing up in a family business meant that we lived and worked in the business and entrepreneurship seemed like normal life. As a lifelong swimmer, I taught swimming lessons throughout high school and I did private swimming lessons for extra money on the side. However, I never had any intention of opening a swim school, or any business for that matter. Instead, I wanted to get my degree in Biochemistry and attend medical school. Unexpectedly, my son came along after my sophomore year in college and I decided to wait until he was older to finish my education. That is when I decided to go back to what I knew best… teaching swimming, and I started my swimming lesson business out of necessity to feed my growing family.
I always loved working with children and families to help make them safer around the water. The more I taught, the more it became my passion. As my little business continued to grow, I loved the impact I could make when I hired more teachers in order to reach more students. Once I started employing others to help me, I realized how much I enjoyed leading a team and the momentum that came with it. I soon learned that there were skills I needed to develop, such as hiring and developing people, and running a business. So I focused on learning everything I could about the business side of things. I found myself really loving my business and all the good that comes from it.
Marquis: You’ve baked conscious capitalism into your business model from the beginning. How did you first learn of this way of working and why was it a fit for you?
Oca: One of my personal core values is growth and I love to read! As an entrepreneur, I have always been an avid reader of business and leadership books. In the early years, I could not afford to buy the books so I would sit in the book store with my son for hours and we would both read together.
As a single parent, I also had a soft spot in my heart for single mothers, women’s issues, as well as other social issues. I developed a scholarship program with free and reduced priced lessons for children in underserved communities. Ocaquatics was already a business that did good things because we taught life-saving skills to families. However, I also longed to have a business that did much more for the community than what was expected from just any business. As a team, we began to extend our social impact work by doing beach clean ups and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and doing all sorts of volunteer work.
About 10 years ago I ran into the Conscious Capitalism movement and I devoured everything I could find about the topic. As I have continued to grow my business throughout this time, I have emulated the principles of Conscious Capitalism.
Marquis: On your mission statement online you have a mission to customers and your team. Why was it important to you to highlight employees as well?
Oca: We have a twofold mission statement:
Our mission to our families is to teach our swimmers to love swimming and become safer, more comfortable, and more responsible in, on, and around the water.
Our mission to our team members is to grow our people within a framework of social and environmental responsibility, so that we grow our school in a sustainable way and make a bigger impact in our world.
We cannot have our mission to our families without a strong mission to our team members. We want to be a workplace that cares about our people and their development. At Ocaquatics, leadership training and inclusive decision-making is emphasized. We grow our team from within, helping them learn the skills they need to lead in a culture that is supportive and inclusive. Feedback from team members is often sought, highly valued, and always included in decision-making. This encourages recognition and accountability and means we are all aligned in our purpose.
We have found that our team members really enjoy working with an organization that cares about their growth and development. They also want to work with an organization that is making a difference in the community. Because of this, we feel that we have better team member retention and engagement.
Marquis: You also share your purpose is to make a positive difference. How do you think you achieve this?
Oca: Our purpose is to make a positive difference on our team, our families, our community and the planet.
We do this by teaching essential, life-saving skills to children and families that make them safer around the water. We are also a workplace that cares about our people and their development. We teach our team members about social and environmental responsibility and how a business can be a force for good through a number of initiatives: We ask our team to help us designate our charitable contributions by making donations to the charity of their choice on work anniversaries, birthdays and to recognize key milestones; we offer paid community service time; and we offer paid time off to vote in elections. We feel that we help our community and environment with all of these initiatives and are excited to continue doing them.
Marquis: Why was becoming a Certified B Corp important to you if you already have so many other distinguished partnerships?
Oca: Since our founding in 1994, we have always been a mission driven company, teaching life-saving swimming skills to children to make families safer around the water. We have grown into an organization that now makes a positive impact on our families, our team members, our community and our planet. We have always strived to balance purpose and profit while using the power of our business as a force for good.
When we discovered B Corp Certification in 2016, we found a way to objectively measure our impact and discovered implementable ideas for improvement. We had already been working on this for several years, but when the pandemic hit, we decided to focus our efforts and make B Corp Certification a top priority.
Marquis: Your journey to B Corp Certification was long and difficult, not to mention happening during a global pandemic. How did you stay focused on your goal?
Oca: Our certification journey took about three years to align every aspect of the company with B Lab’s requirements. During that time, Ocaquatics introduced multiple efforts towards more sustainability, including becoming: a member of 1% For the Planet, Certified Carbon Neutral, a partner of Conscious Capitalism and a Top Workplace recipient from the Sun Sentinel for the fifth consecutive year.
The positive encouragement we received from our stakeholders during our COVID shutdown made us realize we were doing a lot of things right! Because our culture is centered on doing our best for people we all came together to encourage each other and thrive during the challenging times.
We supported our team during our COVID lockdown by securing PPP loans, continuing to pay employee medical benefits, hosting zoom huddles, and doing celebratory ‘drive-bys’ for birthdays and graduations.
We continued to engage our swimmers through our online school where we provided videos featuring water safety skills that could be practiced at home. We kept in constant contact with our swim families through newsletters, social media, and fun ‘we miss you’ postcards.
When we returned to the pools, we did our best to keep everyone safe by reducing our occupancy, social distancing and masking up.
As a certified B Corp and Florida Benefit corporation, Ocaquatics continues to work everyday to become a better business for our swimmers, our team, our community and the planet.
At Ocaquatics, we always say “We are different and we make a difference!”
We’re committed to inspiring, influencing, and supporting swim schools and other businesses on their journey of sustainability. We are acting as the change we wish to see in the world!
Marquis: Finally, what advice would you give to today’s leaders looking to make an impact through more conscious business practices? How should they get started?
Oca: Every little positive change you make in your business adds to the critical mass of the movement. No change is too insignificant. Each drop, when added to another, becomes a ripple that continues on and can inspire and help others. I would encourage other business owners that are looking to make an impact through more conscious business practices to just start… start small…. but start today. I also feel that we are stronger together and I would encourage anyone who is interested in this space to join a group of like -minded, purpose driven businesses.