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SUMA METLA

Owner, Three Little Ducks LLC

Success:

Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Business Certification Training and Small Business Marketing Bootcamp; certification and financial counseling client

Hawaii has the ninth highest fertility rate in the U.S. and has the highest rate of infants and toddlers qualifying for early intervention at just over 7%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “early intervention is the term used to describe the services and supports that are available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families.” This includes a variety of services—like physical therapy and speech therapy—that can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills, overcome challenges, and increase their success.

Dr. Suma Metla is a licensed physical therapist specializing in pediatric care, certified infant massage coach, and registered yoga teacher. She was born and raised in Florida, where she earned her doctorate in physical therapy and did her training. In 2017, she relocated to Maui to work for a contractor to provide pediatric physical therapy services through the county’s early intervention program and the Hawaii State Department of Education special education department. It was then that she discovered that child development educational resources for parents were very limited and that there were little to no options for families to seek private physical therapy services in Hawaii. (This is also the case on Oahu, where Suma now lives.) As a clinician, she knew that many of the children she treated could’ve avoided physical therapy if families had more opportunities to learn how to play and engage with their children from infancy.

To address these needs and provide child development support from infancy to adolescence, Suma launched Three Little Ducks LLC in January 2022. “Preventative care is more important than care after a deficit,” she explained. “There needs to be more promotion of child development overall in the community.”

Suma found her passion for physical therapy in fifth grade when she had an opportunity to volunteer with the Special Olympics. “I fell in love with that community and was involved through college and graduate school,” she said. “It was very transformational for me from even as young as age 10 and I wanted to be part of that community. It’s really important to support people’s quality of life and start from a young age.”

Today, Three Little Ducks offers a variety of services, including baby motor classes, ohana (family) yoga, and infant massage coaching, as well as pediatric physical therapy assessments and treatment. Suma’s approach is also heavily grounded in parent education. “I believe in putting parents, families, and caregivers in the driver’s seat,” she said. “Ten minutes a day of a family implementing an exercise or activity makes a big difference. Family connection is amazing. That’s why I’m really big on family and kids’ yoga to create healthy habits and other opportunities to connect.”

There are over 200,000 physical therapists in the U.S. and the split is fairly even between men and women. As a woman and person of color, Suma believes she wouldn’t have pursued entrepreneurship had she opted to move back to Florida but said her experience starting her business in Hawaii has been more positive. She credits Hawaii’s diverse population and is grateful for the warm welcome she’s received. Her biggest challenge was finding the confidence to start. “I’ve been so unsure. Am I ready to take the leap? Sometimes I feel men don’t have that questioning,” she shared. “Hawaii has been so supportive of me and I’m really grateful.”

Suma also credits YWCA Oahu’s Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership (MCBL) and MBDA Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center for their support and guidance throughout her business journey. This year, she completed MCBL’s Launch My Ecommerce course and was the yoga instructor for the Girls’ Summit Youth program. Additionally, Suma was selected for the EWOC’s Business Certification Training and Small Business Marketing Bootcamp, and is a certification and financial counseling client.

Despite Three Little Ducks being a startup, Suma is already well on her way to success. She recently partnered with SALT at Our Kakaako to offer a family yoga class and was invited to participate in a baby gear event at Nordstrom Ala Moana. These opportunities have given her business great exposure with potential clients, and she hopes to find more partners so she can bring family yoga to communities in ways that are affordable and accessible. She also plans to incorporate other services into her business, namely speech therapy, occupational therapy, and lactation consulting. “I want families to have really healthy, active lifestyles,” Suma said. “I just hope to be a resource and a bigger part of the community.”

To her fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Suma offers the following advice: “Go for it. People shouldn’t feel like there’s no help out there. There’s a lot of support in the community and people are willing to share. I’ve had a really positive experience so far.”