QUEST Alumni Updates: Erika Elko Wellness

Article by Erika Elko (Q15)

It is not everyday that a CPA quits her job to start a health and wellness company, but that is exactly what I did in the summer of 2012 in creating Erika Elko Wellness. My friends, family, and colleagues were all very supportive, but there were still many others who wondered how or why I made this transition or how exactly I got from point A to point B. Seemingly, there are very different paths with very different intentions. To me, the path I took is really quite simple. I graduated from one of the top business schools in the country. A university that always inspired me to channel my inner entrepreneur, set goals, and pursue them. Moreover, I was a part of a program that taught me how to identify a consumer need and create a solution – the QUEST Honors Program.

QUEST impacts students in many different ways. It brings students together from diverse educational backgrounds, different levels of expertise, and different ways of thinking. Some graduates from QUEST will utilize the hard skills that are taught in the program including process improvement and systems thinking. Others will learn how to work better in teams to come up with a solution. For me and for the inception of Erika Elko Wellness, the QUEST program has impacted me in almost every capacity. QUEST taught me how to leverage my strengths and ask others for support in areas I am weak. QUEST gave me the confidence to use my business knowledge to identify a need and come up with a solution. QUEST fine-tuned my public speaking skills and my ability to write business proposals and effectively network with the individual and corporate clients that I do business with. I’d also be remiss not to mention the countless times I have reached out to connect with QUEST alumni, faculty, and staff for support in growing my business and other networking opportunities. A difficult question for me to answer would be, “How has the QUEST program NOT impacted the inception of my business?”

The Start of Erika Elko Wellness

As a long time fitness enthusiast and having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (a digestive disorder causing chronic inflammation of the intestines) at the age of 11, I have always been intrigued by health and nutrition. I also, however, have had a passion for business and entrepreneurship – thus, graduating from Robert H. Smith with a double degree in Accounting and Operations Management in May 2010. Soon after graduation, I put my affinity for wellness to the side and instead focused on trying to “make it” in the big world of public accounting. I successfully obtained my CPA and began my life working as an audit associate for KPMG in Washington, DC. I followed the path that many accounting majors take after graduating and heading into the Big Four – I gained exposure to the world of public accounting, made amazing connections, and worked with some brilliant people. However, after two years as an auditor, I still wasn’t getting the fulfillment out of my job that I always sought out as a student at Smith – more specifically, as a QUEST student. My desire to work with others to come up with a solution, network and branch out into the community, and become my own idyllic “businesswoman” wasn’t being fulfilled.

While working for KPMG, I got a chance to learn a lot of business acumen and developed myself as a strong business professional. I also became an expert on how to prioritize my time and find a work-life balance that met my needs of living with Crohn’s disease, staying active, and eating healthy. I saw how difficult this idea of work-life balance was for many of my colleagues who struggled to manage working long hours and find time to eat right and exercise. Many of my coworkers spent their workweeks eating late-night unhealthy dinners, forgoing gym time, and pushing their minds and bodies to the point of exhaustion. I couldn’t help but want to share what I knew about the importance of properly nourishing and moving your body every day. After all, I have been medication and symptom free from Crohn’s disease for seven years, which I can attribute to a healthy lifestyle and a balanced life.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could capture both my knowledge of business and my passion for health into my own company as a health coach. My mission became clear – to help people understand how easy and accessible a healthy life can be. I decided I would take what I know about business and marketing and marry that with what I had learned through my experiences of living with Crohn’s disease in the founding of Erika Elko Wellness. While still working full time for KPMG, I decided to enroll at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I was trained in more than one hundred dietary theories and studied a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. I also studied to become an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Registered Yoga teacher to deepen my knowledge of the body and the mind and to be able to capture a holistic approach to health and wellness that I planned to deliver to my clients.

Fast forward just a few months into the beginning of 2013 and I have launched my website, completed several wellness workshops at businesses throughout the DC area, and am providing one-on-one coaching to private clients who want to better themselves through a holistic approach to health. I see clients with specific digestive disorders and clients who, like many working professionals, are struggling to find balance in their lives and want to learn how to make their health more of a priority. I also give wellness talks and “Lunch and Learn” workshops to companies who wish to implement health initiatives for their employees.

It is empowering and energizing to be the owner of my own business. I am still unsure where the next year will lead, but I do know that it has been such an amazing year of getting the opportunity to put the skills I learned as a QUEST student into action and doing what I love as a health coach.

Are you interested in a consultation or a wellness workshop for your company? Learn more about my health coaching and Erika Elko Wellness at www.erikaelko.com.

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