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VOL. 9 | NO. 12 | Saturday, March 19, 2016

Five to Watch

Memphis creative entrepreneurs share their stories, in their own words

By Andy Meek

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“You can’t live in Memphis without some kind of side hustle, right?” That’s the way former WMC-TV reporter Lauren Squires Ready sees it. Her side hustle, the passion project she’s been pursuing in her free time separate from all the writing, reporting and live shots as an on-air news personality?

It’s Forever Ready Productions LLC – a pun that incorporates her last name – which she and her husband launched about two years ago. The basic idea was to take her skills as a TV journalist and offer them to organizations like nonprofits in town with a story to tell and whose work might be underexposed at the moment.

The Readys’ clients include small businesses in addition to startups, for whom the pair creates promotional and website videos. Given that they make a point of seeking out clients with a mission of “making a difference in the city,” Ready says it’s helped her fall in love with Memphis more and more, ever since moving here to take the WMC job in 2013 and, through her news reports, meeting “people in Memphis with a resilience and passion for the city.”

Speaking of passion, she recently decided to do something about hers.

While voters were lining up at the polls March 1 for the Super Tuesday primary, Ready was finishing up her last day as a reporter. The following day, she threw all of her effort and time into Forever Ready Productions, now her full-time gig.

“This city just has stories everywhere,” Ready said. “I also believe there are so many nonprofits big and small doing amazing work. And I know in every neighborhood, on every street, there’s somebody making a difference, someone who believes in their city. I feel like every day, there’s something more to this city we can explore and learn.”

That includes learning something from stories like hers. It’s a common thing in Memphis – a creative entrepreneur with an idea, maybe arts-based, maybe a little off the beaten path – stacks up the risks, lines up the potential reward, and decides the latter outweighs the former.

And off they go, another addition to the city’s pool of creative talent deciding to try their luck here rather than someplace bigger.

Here are a few of their stories, in their own words.

Lauren Squires Ready
Co-owner of Forever Ready Productions

LAUREN SQUIRES READY

(Photos: Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“It started about two years ago,” says Ready, recalling an Ignite Memphis talk she gave in 2013 on the art of storytelling. “I think that was the beginning of something that I didn’t know was going to turn into this.

“It started as me making videos for nonprofits, because I found a lot of nonprofits didn’t have enough resources to tell their own story. That grew into a demand for someone to turn around fast stories for them. … I’ve been working both jobs for quite some time now, and there are a lot of similar things to the life of a reporter. I’m working on multiple things at one time, and I’m still telling stories – I’m just telling those stories in a more positive way, in a more call-to-action kind of way.”

In addition to being a former TV reporter, she has more than 13 years of experience producing content for TV news and websites. Her husband, Scott, has an MBA and focuses on the operational and technology side of the business.

He also helped secure an FAA exemption for the business so it can produce aerial imagery for clients, and designed the business’s custom editing PCs.

“It’s primarily video work, consulting on how to do the video and where to put it and how to make it relevant,” Ready says. “I take the journalism model I’ve always used and sort of the 1-on-1 with the client – I interview the client first and decide who we want to be in the video, and it’s all conducted in a very journalistic style. And I bring in the storytelling from my 10 years of television experience.”

Kayla Rodriguez
Chief operating officer of SweetBio

The leadership of SweetBio likewise thinks a lot about ingredients – about the ingredients of success for their startup, which specializes in wound-healing biomaterials with a dental focus, and on the actual ingredients it uses to do its work.

The venture’s first product is a guided tissue/bone regeneration membrane used in oral surgeries that uses honey to help increase gingival healing and decrease bacteria colonization. It’s based on three years of development, according to the company.

Rodriguez, a co-founder of the company, says its decision to participate in the ZeroTo510 accelerator sped up the company’s progress by at least a year.

“We’ve been reflecting on our decision to build SweetBio in Memphis,” she said, recalling the team’s choice between here and San Francisco.

It’s been busy ever since. The company announced at the end of 2015, for example, that it had raised more than $1 million in the last six months.

In the next few months, it will be completing testing to support a submission to the FDA and will be spending a significant amount of time, Rodriguez says, learning from dental clinicians in both private practice and universities as the company continues to shape its go-to-market strategy.

A few weeks ago, a SweetBio team was in Chicago for a dental conference and networked with clinicians and distributors. In recent days, the company also visited its membrane manufacturer in Texas, conducting a full run with them while becoming familiar with their facilities.

“Our success is driven by the Memphis ecosystem we call the trifecta,” Rodriguez said. “We’re surrounded by medical device and academic giants, we’re uplifted by organizations like EPIcenter, Bioworks, Start Co., the (Greater Memphis Chamber), and many more.

“We expect to be on the market in 2017, and after speaking with over 100 dental clinicians, we can’t wait to get our product in their hands.”

Emmanuel Amido
Filmmaker

EMMANUEL AMIDO

Speaking of storytellers, Emmanuel Amido – originally from Sudan – has for a few years now been using his camera to tackle heavy subjects and tell stories of consequence.

Amido is the founder of Merkinile Media, a video and media production company, and Amido Films. His documentary about Orange Mound (“Orange Mound, Tennessee: America’s Community”), which won the Soul of Southern Film Award during the 2013 Indie Memphis Film Festival, is reflective of his work and ambitions.

He’d originally envisioned it as a film likely to focus on how crime had left an indelible scar on the community, but ended up shifting his focus to the community’s character, legacy and the stories of individual residents who define place and a neighborhood’s identity.

“I consider myself an independent filmmaker,” he said. “I released my second feature documentary last year that also played at Indie Memphis. It was on race and the church, based on the Martin Luther King Jr. quote about Sunday morning at 11 o’clock being the most segregated hour in America.

“Right now, I’m working on a new documentary and a narrative film. I like intense subject matter. Heavy stuff.”

He says his films take at least a year to make.

“I like to read a lot of nonfiction. That’s one way I get inspiration for my stories. I’m always looking for more books, professors and authors on that subject matter. And asking myself, how can I tell a story and from what point of view.”

His goal: to eventually make a full-time living doing video work and movies, telling the kinds of stories he wants to tell.

Chris Taylor
Founder of MEMPopS

CHRIS TAYLOR

For Chris Taylor, the product is not a story but a sweet treat on a stick.

He’s the founder of the MEMPopS popsicle truck, which got started last year peddling its wares at various gathering spots around town. And in recent days, it took a big step – opening a brick-and-mortar location at 1243 Ridgeway Road in Park Place Centre.

He got the idea after encountering similar versions of the same thing in other cities outside Memphis and thinking it could also work well here.

“I started doing it last spring part-time, just doing things like events, and people really seemed to like it,” said Taylor, whose business’s cream popsicle flavors include Mexican chocolate, strawberries and cream, arroz con leche, orange vanilla and dulce de leche.

The fruit pops include avocado lime, strawberry, pineapple coconut, mint lemonade and spicy pineapple.

“I started doing this full-time last summer,” Taylor continued. “It was always my plan to have a physical space. I was trying to get a spot in Overton Square before even doing a cart. Ended up deciding to see how the cart goes, then saw the potential, and I looked this time last year for space and found this perfect spot here. It was already built out and small enough. It had a nice open design, really high ceilings in front, a real open space.”

Now that the store is up and running, he wants to expand the off-site presence. That currently includes two carts, an old mail truck and a 1979 Airstream Argosy that’s being renovated.

The hours at 1243 Ridgeway – where over two days recently, the team produced some 1,000 popsicles – are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

“I feel like a lot of good chefs in town are opening people’s eyes to what food can be now,” Taylor said. “I was a chef 12 years ago, and now I feel like it’s easier to get locally sourced products and that people are more educated about where their food comes from. We use all-natural ingredients here – fresh fruit, nothing really from a can.”

Lauren Carlson
Founder of Question the Answer

Lauren Carlson shares that same desire to get products into customers’ hands. She’s the founder of Question the Answer, a jewelry line that includes necklaces and rings that started as a hobby when she graduated from the University of Memphis a few years ago – before the hobby became something more.

Last year, she spent time in Austin, Texas, to better understand how to set stones. Question the Answer’s designs can be found in local stores like Broad Avenue’s City & State, as well as online at etsy.com/shop/questiontheanswer.

Last month, she introduced a set of spring 2016 gemstone pendants.

“Over 2016, I’m transitioning to a new technique called casting,” she explained. “It’s called the lost-wax method. I’ll be casting molds, plaster molds, of wax. The wax will evaporate, and then whatever I’ve made that mold into, the metal will fill that opening.

“As far as making money and selling on Etsy, I have specific products I can make in a certain amount of time, and they’re priced accordingly. In October, I also moved into a new studio space Downtown.”

Memphis, she went on, has plenty of attractions to keep a creative like her here compared to looking elsewhere for opportunity.

“I think being interested in fashion in general, it makes you inclined to think what if I was to go to New York City, that things might be easier,” Carlson said. “There are a lot of different places in the U.S. where I could definitely go and learn and be better educated about my craft. But I don’t love the idea of being so educated that I kind of lose my look.

“I would also say, I really love – this is my hometown. It’s important for me to stay here. I love Memphis. It’s very affordable for me to live here and afford studio space. And I’m really excited about where it is right now and about how many creatives are choosing to stay.”

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