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Bird Scooters have landed in Memphis, expanding mobility options for the city

Through natural expansion and incorporation, the Memphis area has doubled in size over the past half-century. Unfortunately, access to transportation has not kept pace. The Memphis Area Transit Authority and an, on again, off again trolley system can only go so far.

“Memphis is a city that has some mobility challenges that includes a lack of options for our citizens. We have a very large city; about 340 square miles. We’ve doubled in size in the last 40 years. We haven’t doubled the amount of funding that we give to our transit system,” said Doug McGowen, City of Memphis' chief operating officer.

New services are coming online to fill the gap. Explore Bike Share, a station-based bike system, launched in May 2018, followed by Bird scooters a month later. These services provide another option for Memphians who are traveling from point A to point B, to get to point C.

For example if you live in Midtown and take the bus Downtown everyday, but your office is a mile away from the MATA stop, you can hop on a Bird for a fast, affordable way to make your morning meeting.

“We’ve seen shared mobility happening at a quick clip in America. We were thinking about this when Explore Bike Share came and launched a station-based bike system in the city,” said McGowan, who also sits on the board of Explore Bike Share.

On June 15, the California-based scooter-share company introduced 200 scooters into Memphis’ growing list of transportation options. The scooters are available around Downtown, Midtown, Uptown, South City and Cooper-Young. As ridership increases, so will the availability and number of scooters. As many as 500 are available under the city’s operating agreement with Bird.

Bird looks to partner and collaborate with cities — such as Memphis — that share a vision of creating a community with fewer cars, less traffic and more mobility options.

"Memphis is a city on the move in the middle of a transportation resurgence, and they are embracing new technologies and companies that are introducing multimodal transportation options to the city - including Bird,” according to a Bird spokesperson via email interview.

Rentals run one dollar plus 15 cents per minute. Scooters can be found via an app, much like rideshares like Uber and Lyft. They can travel with a range of 15 miles per charge. Those interested can download the app and sign up at www.birdapp.com.

And Bird says safety is a top priority, which includes: throttling the speed of scooters to a 15 mph maximum; requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 years or older; providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird. Bird has also donated free helmets to local users. 

“We collaborated with Memphis to create Bird parking spots throughout the city, and we are looking to continue educating riders on how and where to park,” according to a Bird spokesperson.

The city has also exceeded expectations in memberships and the number of rides with these new mobility options. Between the bike share system and the scooters they are pushing 50,000 rides, according to McGowan.

Gaps in service are common for Memphis’ public transit system. Waits are common for riders. Some areas have limited or even no service at all. Plans are to have the Bird scooters and bikes fill those gaps to connect areas to MATA routes.

“It’s complimentary so we now have a bike share system, Bird scooters, which can be first mile, last mile or only mile option, and those are matched nicely with our transit system provider MATA.”

MATA is looking to modernize their operation by making sure they are covering as many riders as they possibly can and connecting them to the places they need to be, according to McGowan.

Part of that modernization is coordinating with companies like Bird to connect all of Memphis.

On July 24, the city will vote on an ordinance to regulate shared mobility options like Bird. Issues around routes, parking and safety will be finalized. Bird has also committed to “low-income” outreach.

“Since Bird launched in June, the community of Memphis has rapidly embraced us as a convenient, environmentally friendly way to get around. As ridership continues to grow in Memphis, we are in close conversation with city leaders to increase the number of Birds to meet demand and to expand the neighborhoods in which they’re available,” according to a Bird spokesperson.

Right now, they are in the process of working with the city to extend the operating agreement. Seeing the demand from riders, they will be adding more scooters in strategic places throughout the city while the permanent ordinance is being finalized. Once passed, the city has three days to formalize the regulations. The company is currently operating under a temporary agreement.

McGowan said they'd seen other cities who had scooters deployed in their cities not go as smoothly as they might have, largely because there wasn’t coordination between the provider and the cities. Such was the case in Nashville. Earlier this year, scooters were introduced to its streets. In June, Bird suspended operation until rules are put in place to govern their use.

"So, several months ago, we set about putting draft ordinances, policies and regulations in place such we were ready when shared mobility assets came to Memphis.” said McGowan.

Assuming an agreement, if Bird can model itself of the success of companion-like Explore Bike Share, it can likely carve out a niche in Memphis where there is a need to be met.

There has been pretty widespread adoption of the bike share system in the city and the organization is getting ready for an expansion in 2019. They have 600 bikes at 60 stations on the ground and are getting prepared for another 30 stations and 300 bikes by the end of 2019. 

And maybe in time there’ll be a likewise expansion of scooters.

“End of the day, what we need to do is to get our riders where they need to be, connect employees with their jobs and to do it in a way that’s as efficient as possible by providing new options that shrinks our city,” said McGowen.


Independent craft brewer seal helps distinguish Wiseacre as a truly local brew

Over the past 20 to 25 years, beer has seen a renaissance in America. Once dominated by the big breweries, a few imports and a dwindling set of regional players, the flourishing of craft brewing has added hundreds of labels to the marketplace. It has also led to countless varieties and flavors for beer lovers to enjoy. Some of these labels even manage to stick around and become regional favorites themselves like Memphis-based Wiseacre Brewing Company.

Success, however, breeds familiarity. For craft beer aficionados, it represents a loss of luster. What was once special is now commonplace and, potentially, mass produced. It can also draw the attention of larger players looking to capitalize on another brewer's craft and buyout potential competition.

To help beer lovers spot the real deal, the Brewers Association has developed a certification for independent craft brewers.

Wiseacre Brewing Company is one local craft brewer that competes in this ill-defined playing field. The brewer received its certification from the Brewers Association last year.

“It seemed like a good idea for us. And I believe about half of the independent breweries in the country have adopted it,” said Kellan Bartosch, Wiseacre Brewing Company founder.

In the first year of availability, signups have been strong as 55 percent of the Association’s craft brewers have been certified. Tennessee’s adoption rate ekes out the national trend at 57 percent.

Founded five years ago, Wiseacre has expanded its reach. A regional name, it now has markets in eight states including Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama as well as Illinois and Pennsylvania. Currently, all of their beer, about 21,000 barrels per year, is made at their 2783 Broad Avenue brewery.

Plans are being made for a second brewery, which could increase production to the mid-40,000-barrel range, with possible expansion of up to 115,000 barrels.

So, with their customer base growing, truth in advertising is important to the brewery’s future.

“I feel like the underlying message is that customers want to know and deserve to know the truth. There’s a big conversation around illusion of choice,” said Bartosch. “An example would be: one of the major breweries in the world has bought six smaller breweries and say those breweries are the only options available at a bar. Instead of thinking you’re buying beer from different small breweries, you are actually buying beer from one big brewery.”

To meet the definition of a craft beer, certain criteria have to be met. In addition to the under six-million barrels maximum, less than 25 percent of the brewery can be owned or controlled by an industry member that is not a craft brewer. There also needs to be variety, with traditional or innovative ingredients, and brew techniques.

“There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace today because all four of the big brewers have acquired independent breweries in the last few years. Yet, when they do that, these formerly independent brewers, do not have the new name of the parent company on the bottles or cans. So, the beer lovers cannot tell who’s independent,” said Julia Herz, craft beer program director with Brewers Association.

Take the case of Goose Island. Starting with a single Chicago brewpub in 1988, it added a brewery in 1995. The expansion payed off as it grew into a regional favorite. Taking notice, Anheuser Busch, Budweiser’s bottler (itself, an Americanized version of the famed Czech beer, Budvar), purchased the label in 2011. Today, it can be found in most bars and grocers while still marketing itself as a craft beer.

Other large brewers have followed suit, snapping up more and more independent brew houses.

“It’s not about who makes better beer. It’s not about quality. It has to do with the fact that these small brewery businesses are having a harder time than ever in the marketplace ... especially because of these acquisitions of formerly independent brewers by big beer,” said Herz.

And the problem is exacerbated by the mislabeling of the beers. Craft brewers, which are by definition small, are being squeezed out by larger competitors with national reach and unfathomable advertising budgets. Others cannot reach the sunlight to see an inch of growth.

By distinguishing these smaller labels from their larger competitors, the brewers are protecting the integrity of the product, too. They are also protecting jobs. All those thousands of small breweries employ thousands of workers, after all.

“The small breweries are small businesses and what they bring to our country and our culture, I don’t think gets enough attention: 135,000 full and part-time jobs directly from craft brewers. They contribute exponentially to tourism  more than 10 million people toured craft breweries in 2014. They donate millions to charitable causes that are local, regional and national  more than $70 million in 2016,” said Herz.

So far, the seal isn’t on individual bottles of Wiseacre brews. Some packaging materials lack it as well. As the old materials run out, new branding with the seal will be circulated in.

“It’s taking time to incorporate the seal into what we are doing. We aren’t just going to throw away all the packaging materials we own that doesn’t have it on there. Right now, it’s been incorporated onto boxes and the doors of the brewery. In time we will transition all packaging including the label to display the seal,” said Bartosch.

But, seal or no seal, when it comes to beer there is one thing that trumps all for craft brewers.

“We do think it’s (the seal) important, and people should be informed. But we want people to drink our beer because it’s good,” said Bartosch. 

 


Artspace lifts up artists to build capacity and community

Until their work becomes commercially viable, an artist often doesn’t see a return on their investment, countless hours, supplies and workspace.

In an effort to address Memphis’ struggling creative artists, nonprofit real estate developer Artspace has announced a new program addressing space-related issues – that could be anything from helping a local arts organization expand into a new space or assisting them to program a vacant space. Artspace Immersion will support a group of up to 10 Memphis-based arts and cultural organizations that are undergoing facility-related planning.

In consultation, they will work with participants to chart a path to each one’s vision for their arts facility. That may take the form of providing feasibility studies on the creation of an affordable live/work project. Other times, it is providing technical assistance to organizations that are undertaking a real estate initiative to fulfill a space need.

Related: "Artists can be the 'connective tissue' of a neighborhood -- but first they need a place to live"

 

Artspace is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops, operates and consults on the creation of permanently affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations across the U.S. The nonprofit developer has been engaged in Memphis for about ten years, primarily focused on the development of the South Main Artspace Lofts, a mixed-use project with 65 units of affordable live/work space for artists and their families.

In addition, the lofts will feature a community/gallery space, a shared art studio and office space for ArtUp, a nonprofit that invests in creative entrepreneurs and creative placemaking in order to empower disinvested communities.

Artspace will own the building, to be located at 38 St. Paul Avenue, in perpetuity, so they will continue to stay engaged in Memphis through that project and the community of residents/tenants.

Artspace Immersion is an 18-month cohort program designed to build local capacity for creating and maintaining affordable space for arts, cultural, and creative pursuits.

“The program immerses participants in Artspace’s mission-driven, artist-led process and connects them with other local experts in the field. Artspace draws upon its three decades of experience developing, operating and consulting on affordable arts facility projects across the country as it assists cohort participants,” said Anna Growcott, Artspace director of consulting and strategic partnerships.

Monthly meetings of the Artspace Immersion cohort will bring together a group of arts and culture organizations at various stages of facility and real estate planning. Through technical assistance, skill-building and networking will be developed to help advance their space-related goals. Peer-to-peer learning is also encouraged.

Project concept, budgeting for space, fundraising, applying for loans and internal leadership are the topics that will be covered in the cohort. They are designed to build organizational capacity.

“We also bring in local experts in such topics such as architecture, city resources, fundraising, etc, to present and continue to build a network of resources,” said Growcott.

Participants will receive free resources, input from industry experts to address the challenges they face beginning in Fall of 2019. It is funded by the Kresge Foundation.

Artspace invited Memphis Arts leaders to discussion and information sessions on June 20 - 21 to answer questions and demonstrate how to apply to this new arts cohort program.

“The information sessions had an excellent turnout. We met with representatives from a variety of organizations that are considering a new space-related initiative,” said Growcott.

The application process for the program begins on June 28, and they are hoping to hear from organizations that have: nonprofit status (or fiscally sponsored or B-Corps); dedication to an arts, creative, or cultural mission; located in Shelby County; and identified space-related need (planning underway).

While the Artspace Immersion is new to Memphis, it is based on the outcomes of a pilot program held in Detroit in 2015. As a result, Artspace was funded to bring the program to Memphis and Minneapolis. The Twin Cities’ program launched in February.

“In the Minneapolis and Detroit cohorts, we worked with organizations that have outgrown their space and are looking to expand. Some that need to find new space because their building is being sold by the landlord, rent has increased, or the space doesn't fit their needs for other reasons. Other organizations are navigating a new opportunity to fill a vacant building with arts programming, or are considering buying a building,” said Growcott.

And while each city’s space-related challenges will differ across the cohort, one overall theme remains the same for Artspace.

“For every organization, having affordable, accessible, safe, and appropriate space is very necessary for them to accomplish their mission-related work,” said Growcott.

 


$15 million loan fund focuses on growing minority and women-owned businesses in Memphis


If prospective entrepreneurs were queried on the number one impediment to launching and growing a business, the lack of access to capital would likely be right up there on the board.

The survey would also probably reveal that the problem is even more acute for minorities and women, in particular.

Related: "Memphis Money: Community-based startups struggle to find capital beyond debt-based platforms"
 

In an effort to chip away lending disparities, Epicenter, a local nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization, has partnered with Pathway Lending, a regional nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, to launch the Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund.

The $15 million fund, which is backed by three local financial institutions, will improve startups' access to capital, particularly for women- and minority-owned businesses. 

"We realize that women-owned businesses have grown over 114 percent in the last 20 years and firms owned by women of color have grown over 467 percent. Women-owned businesses strengthen our local communities, national economy and encourage other females to consider entrepreneurship," said Travis Hughes vice president of lending and clients relations in West Tennessee with Pathway Lending.

Pinnacle Financial Partners, First Tennessee, and Regions Bank anted up funding for the initial $15 million dollar bankroll.

“This particular fund is exciting for us. It recognizes the investability and pipeline of entrepreneurs and small businesses in Memphis and puts enough capital at play to have a significant impact," said Leslie Smith, Epicenter president and CEO.

An influx of capital will not only strengthen existing small businesses, but help others get off the ground, too.
 
"It brings the resources of a strong financial partner in Pathway, who has a great track record in lending, but is also supportive in programming and technical assistance that flows into the small businesses they support," Smith added.

The Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund will provide businesses in the Memphis region that may not yet qualify for a conventional bank business loan with access to loans ranging from $5,000 to $1,000,000 to support growth opportunities, Epicenter stated. Small businesses may also access technical assistance from business advisors. 
 

"One of the things we’re trying to do is ensure that entrepreneurs have the access to capital they need across the continuum and that barriers to that access are removed. That resources are abundant and appropriate,” said Smith, whose organization also offers programming, talent development, and startup accelerators to foster Memphis' entrepreneurship economy. 

The "flexible" debt-based platform gives entrepreneurs another option in scaling their businesses, Smith said. Early stage funding may come from family and friends or angel investment. After seeing growth, the entrepreneur enters a phase where they can take on debt to grow their business.

“You typically transition into debt or equity debt. If priced appropriately, it [debt] can be more affordable for entrepreneurs than equity because with equity, you give up a piece of your company and not all entrepreneurs want to do that,” said Smith.

However, many burgeoning business people accept the Shark Tank-style equity transaction. The Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund fund makes sure that options are available that are suitable to the particular stage of the company's life. Smith sees it as another piece in her organization's focus in developing Memphis' robust capital stack. 

“We refer to the capital stack as the varieties of capital that entrepreneurs need access to throughout the life of their business," she said.

"So we want to make sure that there’s access to equity in our community. All of those pieces of capital, which includes traditional bank set and later-stage private equity, are available in the appropriate scale. And that any barriers that exist to accessing that capital are removed."

Creating a pool of money is one thing, but leading the entrepreneur to it is another. To ferret out those great ideas bursting with potential, Epicenter has networked with other community partners.

“I think we’ve organized our partners in the community to create a robust referral pipeline into this opportunity. If you’re working with any partners out in the community with whom we are engaged with — which is pretty much everyone who touches small businesses and entrepreneurs — you can be referred to our Pathway partners,” said Smith.

Epicenter and Pathway Lending will provide further information in upcoming workshops. They will be held on June 25 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and June 27 from 8 to 9 a.m. at Epicenter, 902 Cooper Street.

“We are also doing a series of monthly workshops where we can get a bunch of folks who are interested in the underwriting and the terms and the appropriate sized deals can come and learn more,” said Smith.
 


The Mid-South gets sustainable with a plan to ease the damage of weather disasters

Memphis has taken another step toward addressing climate-related problems, such as flooding and wind damage, that can devastate the Mid-South environment. 

Flooding has been an issue in parts of Memphis for years. Its proximity to the Mississippi River and its local tributaries doesn’t help. Development has also exacerbated the problem. In fact, some communities are panic-stricken when heavy rains move through.

The Shelby County Office of Resilience has released the draft recommendations of its Regional Resilience Plan with solutions across agriculture and technology to help Memphis be better prepared for climate disasters. 

Announced during a series of public meetings held by the Shelby County Office of Resilience in late May, the developing set of strategies will be winnowed down from an original wishlist of 16 public policy changes and projects recommended by Sasaki, the consultant that is leading the resilience plan development.
 

Related: "City's efforts are a drop in the bucket to mitigate flooding risks in Whitehaven"
 

“The two biggest areas of immediate concern are power outages and flooding along the region’s smaller creeks and streams," said Chris Horne, project manager at Sasaki.

"Fortunately, these issues are very solvable with current knowledge, and as an added bonus, many of the solutions will enhance other aspects of quality of life, such as through improved parks, trails, and water access."

As the effects of climate change begin to manifest, communities across the globe are beginning to develop plans to brace themselves for the future. The Mid-South is no different in this regard. A few months back, the Shelby County Office of Resilience started developing a master plan of their own.
 
The Regional Resilience Plan will cover all of Shelby and DeSoto Counties, along with parts of Marshall and Fayette Counties. In addition to preparing for the future, the blueprint is to help the area recover from a series of storms that swept through the region in April of 2011.

In January, residents were invited to participate in public workshops in phase one of the Mid-South Regional Resilience Plan development. Those workshops offered an opportunity to share opinions on strategies to mitigate effects of and manage recovery from future weather-related incidents. For each of the three phases, public events are scheduled to gather feedback that helps inform the next phase.
 

“At the last meetings, we had the maps where we asked people to indicate where there was flooding," said Horne.

"What was interesting about that was there were certain places that were indicated as having floods that the official data wasn’t capturing. So, we thought that was interesting and that we should crowdsource this to make sure our data set is as comprehensible as possible."

Residents that experience chronic flooding can now use a new online tool to identify flood-prone areas. The information will be part of a regional flood dataset that supplements existing data. It will be also be used to prioritize needs during the final phase of the MSRPP development process. The flood identification tool can be accessed here.

Related: "Mapping a way forward to prepare the Mid-South for global warming-related weather disasters"
 

With a more complete picture coming into view, a range of proposals are now being looked at to provide relief. During the presentation, Horne broke down the strategies into three categories: regional, neighborhood (residential and commercial) and site/building specific.

On a regional scale, water farming has been proposed to address the issue of flooding on the large scale. Generally, tracts of agricultural land, like in Marshall County, Miss., are dammed to capture excess runoff. Like a retention area, the water is released slowly later once the flooding has subsided downstream.

“They basically function like sponges around the region. It’s a way to supplement some of the traditional engineering solutions,” said Horne.

Water farms also help reduce pollution and, depending on design, can actually help clean water. They can also be used as recreational amenities, like a park, for instance.

“When these are done well, they can be attractive and create habitat," Horne added.

On a neighborhood scale, Sasaki talked about redefining residential and commercial areas in a way that would ease flooding and build in amenities for residents. Parks that are designed to flood a few times a year will double as green spaces during drier weather.

“It’s a mini version of water farming, really. You get a little sponge that mitigates the flooding,” said Horne.

Similar projects have already been implemented in areas of town, like water retention basins. These structures hold water during rainy periods and gradually release it to allow creeks and streams to drain. Snowden Field at Snowden Middle School is an example.

Berms to protect vulnerable buildings are a low-cost option for residential and commercial neighborhoods, along with roadside swales designed to collect runoff from roads, sidewalks and residential lots to prevent flooding by allowing the water to seep underground.

Streambank restoration is another idea pitched to mitigate flooding with a reasonable price tag, according to the consultants. Many estuaries have seen erosion on their banks over time. These banks could be rehabbed with terracing the land and planting of native species to keep water moving along. Additionally, amenities have been proposed alongside the rehabbed areas, like recreational trails, parks and docks.

Memphis has also seen its share of wind damage from the lasting damage of Hurricane Elvis to the storm of 2016 that leveled trees throughout the city. In their wakes came massive cleanup efforts and, for some, suffering through weeks of power outages.

“Since damaging wind and power outages were identified in the January meetings as such a huge issue, that’s something we wanted to spend a significant amount of time looking at,” said Horne.

In some instances, power lines can be buried. Felled trees are the culprits in many outages. This would generally occur in areas that routinely see high winds and are prone to downed utility poles. According to MLGW estimates, a city-wide conversion to below-ground power lines would take 50 years and cost $3.6 billion.

While costs force the city to be selective about making improvements to the local power grid, some options are relatively cost-effective.

“Out of all the options we have been researching, the smart grid concept seems to be one of the most promising in terms of its impact relative to its cost,” said Horne.

Memphis began implementing smart grid strategies and technologies during phase one of MLGW’s Smart Grid initiative. Residential meters, for example, are digital. They feed real-time information back to the utility company, so they can manage day-to-day peaks and ebbs on the local grid more efficiently. It’s the first step in building a modern digital grid for the city.

For building and site-specific strategies, expansion of solar power made the list. Rooftops of larger buildings are natural landscapes for panels. Solar charging stations would benefit many during general outages. It would also make microgrid installation far easier. Powered by alternative energy sources at key locations, microgrids would provide power locally to key buildings in the event of a grid failure.

Some environmental activists hope that the regional plan considers solar power as a means to restore power in the occasion of fallen power lines. 

“... There should probably be a big, utility-scale solar implementation so that all of our power generation doesn’t come from one place. My wife is from Puerto Rico and her parents only got power restored a few weeks ago," said Dennis Lynch, transportation chair at Sierra Club, Tennessee Chapter and a participant at the public meeting. "We need to be certainly thinking microgrids and not just some solar charging stations."

Phase three of MSRRP will be accompanied by tough choices. Vital improvements will face the chopping block as the master plan is put to paper. 

At a recent public meeting, home energy efficiency, stream bank restoration, roadside swales and burying power lines came out as top priorities. Moving into its final phase, the end goal is to develop out the strategies that seem most promising and resonate with residents and local officials.

Consultants will do a deep dive on those ideas: how would this strategy work, how would we implement it, how would it be funded and where would it go (under whose jurisdiction). A third set of public meetings are planned for mid-October for further feedback with a draft documentation of the resilience plan available online for comment.

“If we have this plan and the community pushes for say more solar then the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] will have to recognize it. It’s a long-term solution but we have to start now with the thinking, planning and solutions,” said Lynch.


Newly launched startup accelerator expands innovation economy in Memphis

Before launching the startup she brought to Memphis as part of 2018’s “Summer of Acceleration” startup accelerator programming, Stephanie Cummings was working in health care information technology. She was constantly busy, traveling across the country.

She’d come home and see clothes piled up, laundry needing to be done. No groceries stocked or food in the fridge. She needed help, in other words, with the minutiae of the daily grind she kept falling behind on.

That was her light bulb moment.

“I started looking for a solution to help me stay on top of my day-to-day while I was working,” said Cummings, the CEO and co-founder of Please Assist Me, one of six startups in this year’s new Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator, powered by ServiceMaster and Start Co.

It’s how the idea for her company was born and how it started Cummings and her team down a path that eventually landed them in the new startup accelerator. The goal of this new partnership between ServiceMaster and Start Co. is to find game-changing companies and ideas in the home services market.

“Please Assist Me is a mobile app that allows users to outsource all their weekly chores - from groceries, laundry, even washing dishes to their own dedicated personal assistant,” Cummings said.

Her company, along with the five others in the new home services accelerator, have their own dedicated space in ServiceMaster’s “Ground Floor” innovation center. That’s a combination co-working space and startup hub in ServiceMaster’s Downtown Memphis corporate headquarters. As part of the program, accelerator participants get an undisclosed financial investment from ServiceMaster and Innova Memphis.

Startups coming through the accelerator focus on everything from smart home data to customer service platforms and the home services supply chain. The inaugural teams, besides Please Assist Me, include:

-- Pest Pulse, commercializing a smart device that attaches to snap traps mostly for rodents and monitors them for activity.

-- ServiceBot, a software tool to manage home service businesses and automate most back office and customer service functionality.

-- SecondKeys, a platform that helps homeowners, landlords, tenants and vendors find reliable maintenance workers.

-- LawnTap, an app that automates the lawn care process.

-- eCINCHal, a subscription box service for automating home maintenance needs.

“What’s exciting about this year’s ‘Summer of Acceleration’ is we’ve added the new industry vertical, with the focus on home services,” said EPIcenter president Leslie Lynn Smith. “We’ve also seen ServiceMaster step up and lean into investing in programming and teams, which I think is huge as other corporate partnerships shift toward being more supportive of innovation and entrepreneurship. We’re hopeful more and more corporate partners are going to jump on board.”

Smith said it was ServiceMaster’s high-profile decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Memphis but move it Downtown to Peabody Place - and the subsequent investment that followed into that space - which led to the company’s involvement in the accelerator. “When they were designing their space,” Smith continued, “they did a series of community interviews to talk about what kind of valuable innovation space could be added to their footprint Downtown.”

The new accelerator is a key offering that’s part of Memphis’ so-called “Summer of Acceleration,” now in its third year, which sees partner organizations like EPIcenter, Start Co. and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation team up to lead startups. In this summer’s case, 12 startups through 100 days of educational programming. That programming, and those high-growth startups, are focused on specific industry sectors: home services, medical devices, supply chain and logistics, and agriculture technology and innovation.

Over the course of the summer, Start Co. will lead what amounts to centralized programming that forms the core accelerator curriculum. That means walking the startups through the essentials, regardless of their sector, like how to build a business model, customer discovery and sales pipeline development.

The individual accelerator partners, like ServiceMaster, will offer their teams sector-specific programming, connections to mentors and more. And while the home services accelerator will have space inside ServiceMaster’s headquarters, where they will get their programming tailored to them, all the teams across each accelerator will co-locate at Start Co.’s Downtown space throughout the summer.

Besides the new accelerator, Start Co. also operates Sky High as part of the joint programming, geared on education-focused technology solutions. This summer, EPIcenter is hosting Truckish, a startup that provides hardware for trucks as part of EPIcenter’s recruitment of supply chain and logistics startups, while the Memphis Bioworks Foundation operates ZeroTo510 - a medical device-focused startup accelerator.

AgLaunch, a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, operates a year-long acceleration program that supports agricultural technology and innovation startups. Meanwhile, female startup founders going through any of those programs can also participate, if they want, in Start Co.’s parallel Upstart track, which provides networking and mentorship opportunities to women entrepreneurs.

The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 16 with Demo Day, a day when the startups get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors, network with community leaders and hopefully put themselves in a position to score follow-on investment funding.

Partners and sponsors for the Summer of Acceleration include Launch Tennessee, American Airlines, Archer Malmo, AutoZone, IBM, Baker Donelson, Mosaik, The Marston Group and ServiceMaster, among others.

“I feel like we’re about to lift into the future we’ve imagined for Memphis,” Smith said. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. I really see it all coming together, and I think we’re going to start seeing some interesting outcomes in our portfolio and attract some really significant investment - which are great signs for Memphis.”


$75 million redevelopment planned for Memphis Riverfront


On May 22, the State of Tennessee approved a necessary piece that could transform Memphis' puzzle of an underutilized Riverfront.  

The State Building Commission’s executive committee agreed to expand Memphis' Downtown Tourism Development Zone to encompass the Riverfront and Mud Island Park. This modification means that more public funds can be used to redevelop these areas without draining the City's operating budget. 

While Downtown is drawing employers and visitors, pockets still exist Downtown that require attention, like the along the Riverfront. 

The TDZ expansion complements efforts made by the Fourth Bluff Project, a collection of leaders backed by the Kresge Foundation and charged with reimagining Memphis' relationship to the river. 

Each partner carries a stake in the revitalization project, either by proximity or mission.

“It’s a series of small connected elegant moves along the riverfront. As the mayor says, we’ve got a good riverfront because we’ve got a great river, but we don’t have a great riverfront. I think that’s what together we want to make it,” said Carol Coletta, Memphis River Parks Partnership during a May 8 panel discussion about the Fourth Bluff Project hosted by ULI Memphis.

The project is centered on four blocks in Downtown Memphis that were deeded by the city’s founders for public use. Among the assets along the Promenade are the Cossitt Library, Riverline Trail, Memphis Park and Mississippi River Park. The goal is to link high traffic public areas Downtown with these underutilized ones. Obstacles often range from physical, economic, socioeconomic, cultural, and political.

For instance, the statue of Jefferson Davis, the South’s president during the Civil War,  was featured prominently for decades in what is now Memphis Park. It was by design an impediment to inclusion. It has recently been removed, along with other Jim Crow-era monuments placed in city parks.

“These assets are so close together; it’s just such a good opportunity. We knew the statue was a major barrier to that park being active and welcoming,” said Coletta.

So far, $75 million has been earmarked for phase one of the Riverfront redevelopment. It will include improvements to Tom Lee Park and Riverside Drive. Mississippi River Park is also slated for upgrades with construction scheduled to begin June 1 and end around Labor Day in early September.

“I think the money is well within reach and we have a fantastic board of civic leaders working to raise that money and make sure the plan comes together in a timely way. This is not a plan that is sitting on a shelf,” said Coletta.

“People are kind of hungry for another place to be and interact with people they may or may not know that is beyond school, home, or work. These sleepy assets are very likely to be a wonderful opportunity for Memphians and people in other cities to find that space,” said Justin Entzminger, executive director of Innovate Memphis.


 

Efforts have already been made to awaken these Downtown assets. Lights were placed at Cossitt Library and Memphis Park to draw attention to their locations.  A seasonal ice rink was placed in Memphis River Park, and RiverPlay, a pop-up park on Riverside Drive, also drew people to the Riverfront in the past year.

“It went to a place where most people didn’t visit and over the course of a year, 15,000 people visited just in those two pilot efforts alone,” said Entzminger.

People have also turned out for “Fourth Bluff Fridays” and weekly yoga programming in Memphis Park.

While money, programming and awareness campaigns have been effective in limited trials, other problems persist in breaking down barriers to engagement. Poverty and homelessness are everyday realities for inhabitants of the Downtown district.

Instead of treating the poor as a nuisance, Fourth Bluff, and the larger Reimagining the Civic Commons national initiative to which Memphis' effort belongs, are striving for a mixture of economic backgrounds to visit and commune in these areas.

One partner that is following that approach is the Cossitt Library. Founded in 1893, the historic library has long been a space for the local homeless population. Recently, it has been undergoing renovations.

“We are designing Cossitt for everyone. Public libraries are kind of like the last great neutral ground. We are divided by so many things, race, belief, identity. The library opens the door and welcomes everyone,” said Shamichael Hallman, manager of Cossitt Library.

The digital age has been rough on local libraries, Hallman admits. 

“You can’t get an experience on Google. In the library you can meet that person. You can talk to those people. In a library, in a public space, you can talk to other people that have other thoughts and different opinions about things,” said Hallman.

Hallman also pointed to the digital divide that exists in this country. Some kids do their homework on their phone instead of a laptop while others don’t own a phone and much less have an internet connection.

“There are a whole lot of other people that don’t have that. The library serves that very vital need,” said Hallman.

Eventually, the goal of the Reimagining the Civic Commons program is to link revitalized areas to those still on the margins on a national scale, community by community. By connecting these areas, there is potential that South Memphis, for example, could see a rebound not unlike Cooper-Young.


Making Memphis a first choice for new graduates

Many high school graduates often look outside Memphis for college or employment to start their futures. A new effort led by nonprofit City Leadership seeks to retain Memphis' brightest minds. 

“My goal is to connect and equip these students with professional development skills and anything else they need to help them pursue opportunities in the city,” said Joi Taylor, City Leadership alumni coordinator for Choose901’s alumni program.

Formerly known as Alumni901 during its pilot phase, the program works with graduates from four high schools — New Hope Christian Academy, Collegiate School of Memphis, Soulsville Charter School and St. George’s Independent School.

“About a year and a half ago, alumni counselors from our partner schools expressed interest in working with us. We really admired what New Hope, Soulsville and Collegiate were doing with their alumni, particularly New Hope’s counselors’ long-term, sustained relationships with students,” said Luke Pruett, City Leadership recruiting director. “We would love to see more schools pick up these alumni counselor positions. It’s not common nationally or in Memphis.”

Eventually, it was decided that students needed a professional connection. That’s where Taylor comes in to connect them with opportunities in Memphis. 

“After they graduate from school is when I start contact with them. The schools we are working with have alumni counselors who have already built relationships with the graduates. I have relationships with each of these counselors that afford me the opportunity to make connections and talk to them about the wonderful things Memphis has to offer them,” said Taylor, who joined City Leadership in May of 2017.

Taylor generally connects with the students via text or social media. Speaking once a week, they discuss future plans as well as how their summer’s going.

“Once they give me a path or lane they tell me they are trying to go down, I point them to things, resources and opportunities that we have here in the city that could be beneficial to them,” said Taylor. “We just try to meet them where they are. That’s the goal.”

Once the students' interest is piqued, Taylor talks to a jobs coordinator about specific opportunities. Those opportunities range from educational pursuits like college and trade schools to joining the military or finding employment.

Some of the opportunities arise from partnerships with Choose 901's organizations around town. For instance, Taylor has directed students to the Memphis Teacher Residency graduate program. Other partners include Memphis Athletic Ministries, Streets Ministries, Church Health Scholars, AutoZone and Methodist Hospital.

Memphis’ largest employer is also on board with the program.

“We have started a relationship with FedEx trying to get students in to build an internship program. We are trying to get more into the for-profit world. We are able to leverage our many close relationships in the nonprofit world to open the door for more alumni to get in, but it’s the for-profit world we are trying to get our foot in the door. We had a meeting a couple of weeks back with ALSAC to see what we can do to create a pipeline with them,” said Taylor.

In the past year, eight students have found jobs through the Choose901 alumni program, which also helps students beyond their early post-high school years.

“We have a student in Knoxville who graduates this May. She was interested in education so we connected her to TFA (Teach for America),” said Taylor.

The nonprofit helped the student with mock interviews, resume work and an application. Eager to come back home, they also helped the Soulsville Charter School graduate find placement in her alma mater, starting in the fall.

“Choose901 will continue to be a megaphone for the city of Memphis. Our goal is to recruit folks into our partner organizations like Memphis Teacher Residency, City Year or Teach for America, so we are going to continue to be about that work. But the ability to target particular candidates who already have interest in Memphis by it being their hometown, it’s a direction and way forward for our work,” said Pruett. 

Part of the message will be combating the notion that Memphis doesn’t have many opportunities.

“There are two myths we really want to go after. One of them, and this is true of not only alumni but many Memphians, is the belief the jobs aren’t there. Our experience has been quite the opposite. We not only want to help people get connected to economic opportunities, we also don’t want to lose talented people to other cities like DC, Nashville, or Atlanta.”

Pruett also said employers can be guilty of selling Memphis short, too. Often times they look out of town for new talent.

“The other myth is employers believe the people aren’t there. Our Choose901 job board is the most-clicked link on our entire website. So there are actually a ton of people looking for jobs and employers that need jobs filled.”

Regardless if you are nearing graduation in high school or college or jumping into the job market, Choose901’s goal is to convince young graduates the soundest career move is close to home.

“We believe your best job is right here in Memphis,” said Pruett.


Agricenter International goes organic

For the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a steady transition from the technology-driven age of abundance to more traditional organic farming practices. Evidence of the shift is all around.

For instance, just a few years back, grocers often would devote but a small corner of an aisle to organic products. Now, entire grocery chains like Whole Foods and Fresh Market are competing to fill demand.

“Today, there are several options for growing food. Sixty to 70 years ago, it was all organic,” said Dr. Bruce Kirksey, director of farm and research with Agricenter International.

But along with the post-war economic boom came a boom in agricultural capacity. New machinery, fertilizers and pesticides brought plenty to a generation that grew up with very little. Eventually, backyard gardens gave way to pantries crammed with canned goods and processed foods.

Agricenter International, which sits on 1,000 acres of farmland, is getting back to its roots with an organic research division.

“Because of the way science and technology has evolved, we’ve come up with other ways to help raise our crops and our gardens with certain synthetic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and harvesting machines.

We felt like because of people’s increased interest in organics again that we would start our own research center focusing on that (organics),” said Kirksey.

Research is the Agricenter’s bread and butter. Typically, the facility picks up work from businesses or other organizations seeking expertise on proprietary material. The downside is that the research is proprietary, too. Owned by the business or organization, the Agricenter has no right to it.

But for the Agricenter, the organics research will be different as it will be their data. The organics arm of research started a couple of years back.

“So what we’ve done is set up about 10 acres, and we started two years ago,” said Kirksey.

Since then, the land has slowly been built up to be certified. Out of production for three years, instead of a commercial crop, a ground cover or “transitional crop” is planted to add nutrients back into the soil along with other organic materials. No synthetic chemicals are used and equipment was bought to be used solely for organic growing.

“By the fall of next year [2019], our three years will be up. An inspector will come in and check our records showing what we’ve done organically and then we get the stamp of approval as a certified organic farm,” said Kirksey. “It’s the process that every producer who wants to grow certified organic crops has to go through.”

But this initial 10 acres is just a sliver of land compared to spread the Agricenter will eventually be working. Next month, 208 acres of offsite land the center has access to will receive its organic certification. Early plans are to devote the smaller parcel to research and the other for testing on a large scale, although nothing is set.

“We don’t know exactly what we are going to do with that yet. We might just plant soybeans on it and continue to build the soil up,” said Kirksey, who recently hired Chris Lankford as organic farm Manager.

Soybeans, of course, are a staple crop in the Mid-South. Along with corn and cotton, the “big three” crops dominate the Mid-South’s growing landscape. Much of the organic research done will be done on behalf of staple crops vital to the region’s economy.

“The addition of the Organic Resource Center to Agricenter’s research capacity will enhance our ability to service the needs in the community and the region,” said John Butler, president of Agricenter International.

Side-by-side studies will be done on organic versus commercial farming practices. Successes and failures will be cataloged while each year with more trials added. Eventually, up to 40 acres could be allotted for organic research. Hopes are, in two to three years, the program will be self-sustaining and will no longer require outside funding.

“So, when we have a farmer that wants to grow something organic, they can come to the Agricenter, and we will have all that information researched and gathered for them. It will be a whole package,” said Kirksey.

The present seems like a great time to get in on organic research. As more information is put out in the public space about the benefits of organic farming with a population growing more health-conscience, demand is expected to grow with it.

“It also depends on the market. An organic soybean market we may not have yet, but as we get more people interested and understanding growing organic soybeans then the market may be there in a few years,” said Kirksey.

Testing will also be done on commercial organic products to see what works and what doesn’t. Test subjects will cover fertilizers, pesticides and plant varieties.

“There are a lot of products out there sold in the organic industry that there’s just not a lot of data on them. If you think about it, most of the organics are grown in California or Florida so we don’t have data on the Mid-South where it’s 100 degrees in August at night. So, we need to test these things here, these organic products,” said Kirksey.

As far as if organics are a long-term endeavor for the Agricenter:

“This is going to be an ongoing project. We see this as the opportunity to grown crops a different way. We also look at it that it’s going to have to be part of an overall picture to feed and clothe the world for the future. By 2050 we are supposed to have 9 billion people on the planet. We’re not making any more land. We have to be more efficient, use land that’s not currently being farmed and look at all the alternatives, depending on science to help us get to that next level,” said Kirksey.


Health & Healing: A church-based clinic brings physical, mental and environmental care


For years, Bishop William Young and Pastor Dianne Young of The Healing Center have been
nurturing an idea to have their house of worship serve the spiritual needs of their community as well as temporal ones, like housing and health care. 

Founders of the Suicide in the Black Church Conference, which has garnered national attention, the husband and wife team have a strong background in community health with a focus on mental health issues. So the new health and wellness clinic, housed on the campus of The Healing Center Baptist Church, in the Oakhaven community in South Memphis, was a natural fit for them.

“An unique thing is for the clinic to be housed at a place of faith, a trusted institution in our communities. Our church, The Healing Center, has been cutting edge in addressing emotional fitness, suicide, and mental and behavioral health,” said Pastor Dianne Young.

The couple shared their vision with Dr. David M. Stern, vice chancellor for health for statewide initiatives at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and he began the work of creating a unique partnership of volunteers to launch the clinic. Partners include the church and volunteer support from UTHSC, the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, local government, Memphis Area Legal Services, and the West Cancer Center.

Dr. Stern is the executive director of the clinic. Peter Hossler, PhD , an assistant professor of Urban and Community Health at Rhodes College, will serve as the program director. The clinic is targeted to reach the uninsured and its services are completely free to patients.


On March 12, healthcare, academic, faith, and government leaders, along with members of the congregation and the community, gathered at the church at 3885 Tchulahoma Road for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the first-of-its-kind clinic.

The church was founded in 1991 by Bishop Young, and his wife, Pastor Young, and has been an anchor for the community, which Dr. Stern believes is key to the success of the clinic.

“In places like Memphis, there is not a lot of trust between the underserved African-American community and any part of the establishment, including the medical folks. If you want to reach everyone, you have to think of an inclusive strategy, and the church is a logical place to reach out to engage the community. The church, generally, has established trust in the community,” said Dr. Stern.

The Youngs view the church as a hub of activity for the community that is in part faith-based and also leverages spiritual guidance to provide other kinds of help to the community. Dr. Stern says this is exactly what he was looking for.

“We are bringing the doctor to the community rather than the community to the doctor. The key to the clinic is the trust the Youngs have built over time,” said Dr. Stern.

The clinic plans to offer free primary health care, medication management, substance abuse and mental health counseling. In addition, resources will be available to help patients with housing, employment, stress management, and legal issues, factors which impact overall health and wellness.

“Medical care is different if someone doesn’t have housing, doesn’t have transportation, has a mental health problem, has a substance use disorder. It makes the situation more complicated,” said Dr. Stern. “We felt in this kind of environment it was important to have a different approach which is body, mind and spirit.”

They will screen for substance abuse. The body can’t be treated effectively for diseases like diabetes and heart failure if there is an underlying addiction issue, Stern said. Mental health will be addressed. If the mental health problems exist, it’s difficult to get the medical issues under control.

“So, addiction and mental health has to be in dealt with in concert with physical health or it won’t work,” said Dr. Stern.

The last part of the equation, which Dr. Stern classifies under the spirit, are the social determinants of health.

“It’s everything the doctor has not traditionally looked at but if you don’t look at these things you can’t help a certain group of patients,” said Dr. Stern.

These have to do with housing, transportation, employment, educational opportunities, legal services, food insecurity — all the things that are not considered physical health issues but influence phsyical health.

In the clinic, Memphis Area Legal Services will provide pro-bono work, ranging from help with evictions to expungement of felonies and aid with immigration issues; there will also be assistance available with employment, housing, transportation and benefits.

A team will be assigned to a patient based on their particular needs that might include a social worker, mental health worker, legal aid — anything else the patient might need right along with the doctor.

“It’s our notion of integrated care — a wraparound approach. Our goal is to see if we can break a generational cycle of poverty and chronic disease. Things that make it difficult for a person to reach their potential,” said Dr. Stern.

The clinic is housed in a separate building on the church campus. It will include three exam rooms and rooms for classes and group meetings. Initially, it will be open one Monday a month from 5 to 8 p.m., with plans to expand to once a week in six months to a year.

Approximately $125,000 from a Community Enhancement Grant Program is being used to upgrade the facility for its new purpose.

UTHSC is providing furniture, exam equipment, and resources for the building, along with medical, physician assistant, nursing, and pharmacy students and faculty volunteers.

The clinic will work with volunteers from the social work program at the University of Memphis; Memphis Area Legal Services volunteers; and nutrition and fitness support volunteers from Rhodes College.

West Cancer Center will be on site periodically to screen individuals for grant-covered medical services.

According to Dr. Stern, the clinic will operate like all academic medical centers, with trainees in the different professions supervised by faculty members or professionals.

In addition to improved health outcomes, another goal with this wrap-around approach is to see decreased hospitalizations, decreased emergency room visits and EMT calls, which are all expensive health-related costs.

Dr. Stern and his team will track various data points through an electronic health record. They'll follow how many patients are signed up; how many patients are returning; how many have been helped with employment, legal services, mental and substance use problems.

“We are going to track the outcomes so we can see if we are having a significant effect. If it works, I think it could be a demonstration model that could be adopted elsewhere in the state and nation,” said Dr. Stern.

Supporters, including the Youngs, believe the clinic can be a model for services that improve not only the health but the lives of underserved communities in Memphis by embedding them in a trusted place outside of the usual healthcare setting.

“It is important to give hope to people who have lost hope that things can be different for them and their families. It is also important that this Wellness and Stress Clinic is the first of it’s kind in Tennessee and possibly the country.

We have an opportunity as a city to make a difference in the lives of residents of this Mid-South area. We can not only give help, but hope that good health and living is possible,” said Pastor Young.


Former U.S. Army supply depot "reclaimed" as urban farm for veterans


Nonprofits Alpha Omega Veterans Services and Memphis Tilth are teaming up to start a working urban farm at the former Memphis Defense Depot. The two-acre stead, located adjacent to Alpha Omega's housing facility for homeless veterans at 2226 Ball Road, will be used to teach veterans a variety of skills and provide horticultural therapy to those who are transitioning back into society after serving in combat.

“The main goal is to find a way to engage with veterans that live or are served by Alpha Omega in the project. There is going to be an education component, life skills and job skills,” said Chris Peterson, farm manager of the Alpha Omega Veterans Services urban farm.

The Alpha Omega-owned land will be used to grow produce and fruits. Clients will also maintain a chicken coop and beehives. Around 40 percent of what’s produced will be used by Alpha Omega facilities in Memphis. Three of their six locations serve up three meals a day to veterans.

Another 40 percent of the produce will be sold to Memphis Tilth’s Bring it Food Hub. The remaining 20 percent will be sold at farmers markets. Peace Bee Farm master beekeeper Richard Underhill Of Conway, Arkansas will help set up and advise on the hives. The urban farm has been in development for around nine months.

“This provides an opportunity to our clients for horticultural therapy. There is a lot of research that’s been done on the benefits of horticultural therapy for people suffering from the issues many veterans have,” said PZ Horton, chairman of Alpha Omega. 

Memphis Tilth will also teach classes about healthy eating while providing recipes and cooking classes for the veterans. Alpha Omega branded products such as pesto, salsa, and sauces, will be eventually produced in the kitchen and sold locally.

“It’s another opportunity. Maybe someone doesn’t want to get out in the dirt, but enjoys cooking so there’s an opportunity to learn in a commercial kitchen,” said Horton.

Alpha Omega, founded 30 years ago, already offers spaces for clients to garden. In fact, the organization already has a small garden at the Defense Depot facility where residents cultivate tomatoes, greens, peas and okra along with blueberry bushes and fruit trees.

Alpha Omega currently has 45 clients living at the Defense Depot facility. Overall, 140 are housed in six Memphis facilities.

“Over those 30 years, we’ve had about 10,000 veterans come through our program. We’re proud of the program because we’ve had a 90 to 95 percent success rate. That’s people coming into the program and then moving back into society,” said Horton.

A lot of work needs to be done before the farm turns a profit. The land itself isn’t ideal farmland.

“Because the land is Bermuda grass and low-quality soil, there is significant work to be done before planting can be done in-ground,” said Peterson.

Peterson says the land at the Defense Depot has been tested and fully remediated as the site was once used to dispose of leaking mustard gas munitions post World War II. He actually remembers studying the site in an environmental ethics class at college.

“One of the nice things for me is I think it’s a really cool way to reclaim an area that was not so well used,” said Peterson.

For several years, Alpha Omega has offered gardening options for their clients. Those have mainly been small raised bed gardens that they tended on their own.

Unfortunately, the gardens didn’t engage the vets as hoped, which led Horton to the idea of an urban farm. Production on a real farm, meanwhile, will offer more than fresh air, manual work and healthy fare. It will provide marketable skills that clients can take with them when they move on from the program.

“There are the core skills of learning to grow and raise plants. We’ll have a greenhouse — that’s a viable business idea in its own right — to start and grow seedlings, whether for sale or for use in the garden. There are post-harvest handling skills that are transferable to other industries. There will be machinery that will need to be maintained. Animals that need to be taken care of. There are a lot of different kinds of skills that can be learned,” said Peterson.

Memphis Tilth holds a three-year contract to implement the project. It has done similar urban farm projects around town at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and numerous community gardens.

“They [Memphis Tilth] are bringing community gardening, urban farming expertise to us,” said Horton.

Including Peterson, who was hired on as farm manager, there will be three full-time employees the first year. They will include an assistant farm manager/volunteer coordinator and a kitchen coordinator.

Raised beds will be built out and planted first around the end of March to early April after the last frost date.

Infrastructure will be needed to run the farm, too. A storage shed, the greenhouse, and a certified wash and pack area, for example, will be built by summer. The partners' hope is to get part of the inground planting done by the fall.

The first two years will include a lot of instruction for clients.  Alpha Omega, the primary funder of the program, will take over operations by end of the third year.

“In the military, you’ve heard of the term ‘esprit de corps’, that’s what we really want to accomplish with the farm. We want the guys to be involved with this and feel like it’s theirs,” said Horton.


Melrose High School students make tough calls at financial education simulator


During the course of one’s education, disciplines like mathematics, language arts and science are vigorously stressed. Unfortunately, with the three-headed approach to curriculum, other disciplines receive short shrift, such as like financial literacy.

In the past, schools would only brush on the subject. A rudimentary math class or home economics may include a lesson or two on balancing a checkbook.

To help better prepare local students for financial independence in the future, RISE in partnership with SunTrust Bank launched their first “On My Own” event, held at Melrose High School on February 22. “On My Own” is an interactive financial simulator to give youth insights into personal financial literacy. It was developed by Bank On Memphis and the Family and Consumer Sciences department of The University of Tennessee Extension. 

“It is a simulation to help students see what it’s really like to take care of a family in different scenarios. I think that is one of the key things for them to learn,” said Linda Williams, CEO and president of the RISE Foundation.

Related: "Unbanked: The high cost of doing business in ZIP 38126"
 

"Own My Own" has been offered in schools across the state and has reached over 30,000 students each year. This is the first time RISE and SunTrust have facilitated the program. Melrose High has a previous relationship with RISE and SunTrust through their goal card program, which is a points-based system that sets goals for students. They can earn prizes or bank their points for a bigger reward.

“In our goal card program, we have integrated financial literacy in the work we are doing with young people in an effort to help them graduate from high school to be ready for post-secondary education or other types of skills training that will allow them to be employed in jobs that will help them take care of themselves as well as their families,” said Williams.

For the event, Melrose’s goal card students were given life scenarios such as simulating a single mother or a father with two children. They were also given professions and accompanying wages. They were then tasked with managing a monthly budget, including food, housing, transportation, childcare and other expenses.

Once they see what their take-home pay would be they move around to different stations that represent typical expenses and make decisions on how they spend their money.

“It was interesting to watch them. Some of the young men said I really need a wife that works and not a stay-at-home mom. But when they looked at the cost of childcare, they realized it may be better to have a parent stay at home. They really have to make real-world situations,” said Williams.

The partners also stressed the importance of savings. Students were required to sock away $25. It is to encourage the teens to become lifelong savers, regardless of the amount set aside. Students were also given check registers to keep up with expenditures.

“We’re in a day where everybody uses debit cards and EBT cards but you still have to learn to write it down and keep up with what you spend so you can balance everything at the end of the month,” said Williams.

The simulation also included typical payroll deductions, like FICA tax.

“We discussed with them what FICA is and as well as the other holdings you can expect once you are employed. Then they would see once you make all those deductions from your gross pay, what you really get to take home is not as much as it would appear,” said Williams.

Around 25 SunTrust volunteers manned the stations. They guided students’ decisions based on what they could afford such as a house note or a rental apartment. They also threw financial curveballs at them like an insurance co-pay at an emergency room.

Johnny Moore, president and CEO of SunTrust Memphis and Melrose High School alum, served as the keynote speaker for the event.

“You always get goosebumps going back to an institution that’s been so important to your life. It was important to be in front of those kids to let them know it’s a big world out there beyond the Orange Mound community," he said.

"Don’t let this community alone be the box you live in. Expand your horizons. Push yourself to be better. Dream hard but dreams are just dreams unless you put some action to them. Learn how to act on those dreams to make them a reality."

The executive helped students draw connections between their studies in and their future employment. He pointed out that English, and particular writing, is as critical to a career in finance as mathematics. Moore also explained the importance of a checking account and understanding a basic budget.

“I said to the RISE kids, ‘How many of you guys walk down the street and just throw a 20 dollar bill on the street on purpose’ and they said ‘We wouldn’t do that on purpose.’ I pointed that’s exactly what they do if they don’t have a checking account and pay somebody 10 percent to cash your check. This is an unnecessary expense,” said Moore.

Williams was pleased with the outcome. The simulation helped young people think about their decisions and follow their best interests.

“Kids need to have people they can aspire to and he was able to talk to them about the different schools he attended. They were amazed to see someone who went to the same school they did who made it as a CEO of a major bank,” said Williams.

Williams was pleased with the outcome. The simulation helped young people think about their decisions and follow their best interests.


As part of a national entrepreneurship tour, Memphis leads the "rise of the rest"

Memphis has been selected to join the “Rise of the Rest” tour of emerging cities for entrepreneurial culture. As part of the national tour, Memphis will also receive a $100,000 investment from Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm.

Revolution has led seven “Rise of the Rest” tours since 2014, the focus of which is to encourage and highlight emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems that lie outside of U.S. coastal cities.

“It brings the attention of the world outside of Memphis to the investability of Memphis, which means our companies will start to get more access to capital, customers and talent, which we are ripe for right now. We are ready at this moment to receive the extra capacity,” said Leslie Smith, executive director of Epicenter.

Chattanooga joins Memphis on the 2018 tour. Nashville was a stop on the tour on its first go-round, making Tennessee the only state that has earned three stops on the tour. So far, 33 cities have been selected nationwide.

On May 8, the 12-hour daylong event will kick-off when the bus arrives in Memphis at 7:30 in the morning. A pre-breakfast and press announcement will be held, which will include comments from political leaders. It will be followed by a breakfast event with 100 local entrepreneurial leaders. During an ecosystem crawl, attendees will get back on the bus to visit the ServiceMaster Innovation Center, FedEx Institute of Technology, and other development hotspots.

“This is an extraordinary leveling up of our efforts by putting them on a national stage, not just a regional stage,” said Smith.

There will also be a fireside chat hosted by national industry leaders. Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution, as well as an accomplished entrepreneur, will talk about the importance of developing entrepreneurship and about the work of “Rise of the Rest.” A pitch competition will then be held among local entrepreneurs.

“The winner gets a $100,000 investment, but all those that didn’t get the investment will have pitched and become known to a much broader network of potential investors,” said Smith.

Businesses can apply online. All entrants will be invited to attend a workshop put on by Case and his team.

“In the ‘Rise of the Rest’ concept, Case is recognizing that while there are a lot of great things happening on each of the coasts in the U.S. and that middle America represents this huge opportunity for founders, entrepreneurs, investors, partners, and customers to find great innovation, it feels that they’re missing out if they are only looking at the edges of the country,” said Smith.

Last year, Epicenter board member Spence Wilson, Jr. had an opportunity to meet with Case. They talked about Memphis’ entrepreneurial efforts and investments, which piqued Case’s interest in the city’s ecosystem.

“Once Steve and his team learned about us from Spence, he reached out to Charlie Brock at Launch Tennessee, who also supported our efforts,” said Smith. Brock is the president and CEO of Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership that promotes entrepreneurship. It partners with entrepreneurship centers, like Epicenter, in six regions across the state and offers development, sources of capital and resources for entrepreneurs.

“I applaud any efforts that lift the profile of area entrepreneurs and increase their capacity; the ‘Rise of the Rest’ tour is a win for those companies and for Memphis and Shelby County,” said City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

During the application process to be a “Rise” city, Memphis touted its diverse base of participation with both tech and non-tech innovation. An evaluation subsequently gauged the city’s hospitableness to startups: is it collaborative, connected, and supportive of new ideas? Are there startups ready for investor interest? Is the community engaged? The application process took about 3 to 4 months.

“I think what’s most exciting about being chosen, it is such a validation of the work we’ve been doing as a community to life up entrepreneurs and build solid companies around great innovation,” said Smith.


Hey! Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy launch pedestrian safety campaign

Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy have kicked off a public awareness campaign to increase safety for pedestrians who use crosswalks around campus.

“We had a tragedy last year with one of our students being killed in the crosswalk at Tucker and Poplar,” said Laura Hine, Memphis College of Art president.

Poplar Avenue is the main thoroughfare between Midtown and East Memphis, and it's not necessarily a safe avenue for pedestrians. Throughout the day, the intersection sees steady to heavy traffic. It also serves as an entrance point for the college, a large apartment building, a residential street, Brooks Museum and the zoo.

And then there’s the park itself – families in cars, runners, bikers, dogs leading their owners – in addition to Levitt Shell during concert season.

“For us, there is an awareness because of the loss. We have come out very strongly in our internal communications about the crosswalk. I think the notion was some thought they could cross not at an intersection, and so we communicated very clearly using the pedestrian cross button," said Hine.

"It actually gives you more time to cross the street. And our kids are carrying portfolios, art supplies. So, they are heavily laden with their equipment."

To prevent another tragedy like 22-year-old Kelcie Ashmore, the college reached out to the Overton Park Conservancy and the City of Memphis engineer’s office.

The Conservancy was aware of the intersection’s hazardousness. It had already launched an ioby crowdsourcing campaign in 2016. They worked with an organization called Transit Center which offered matching funds to projects benefiting pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

“Our offices overlook that intersection and we can see just how dangerous it is. We’ve seen so many car wrecks there and how hard it is for pedestrians to cross. The crosswalks were in pretty bad repair. The lines had really eroded. So, we thought - let’s start there," said Laura McMaster, 

There is a transit shelter right there. We were able to raise the full amount of funds and planned to turn those over to the city. Last year, they striped the crosswalks. They added the countdown clocks and put the protective crosswalk where pedestrians get about 10 seconds to cross before cars get the light,” said Melissa McMasters, director of communications with Overton Park Conservancy.

After fundraising, the Conservancy handed the proceeds over to the city, but the money was returned. “The city agreed to do the project on its own. So, they said ‘Hey, we don’t need the funds,’” said McMasters.

The infrastructure at the intersection limits current upgrades. Further improvements will be made in 2020, when federal funds arrive.

So it was decided the unspent OPC money would be devoted to a public awareness campaign. The Midtown campaign is based on the Medical District’s Vision Zero campaign and even uses some of the same materials.

In need of talent to create the visuals for the public awareness campaign, the Conservancy and MCA forged a partnership with art students contributing to the overall design.

“ ... We drive the notion in our students, artists can have contributions and change things in society. They do it in ways that other people can’t. It’s not a narrative. It’s a visual,” said McMasters.

Two work-study slots were created for students, who created signage for billboards and sandwich boards located around the park as well as an animated educational video.

“I met with the OPC about three times throughout the semester to discuss what they wanted and to show them my progress along the way. I made the designs for the t-bar design at the entrance of Overton Park, the sandwich boards in the park's entrance, and also a framed sign that's on North Cooper and Poplar,” said Oziel Jaurez, a junior graphic design student at MCA.

The video will be shown on screens around campus and during concerts at Levitt Shell.

“I have to cross that intersection several times a day and seen many scary, unsafe situations. Because of this, I knew how important it was to get more pedestrian safety information out there," said Esme Perkins, a junior animation student at MCA.

"For the film, I wrote the script, designed characters and environments, animated, recorded audio, and did post-production. As an animation student, the project was a big learning experience in video production and working with a client in general."

The video can also be seen on YouTube.

“One of my co-workers described it as a 'Powerpuff' feel. It’s really stylish and its focused primarily on the pedestrian. While the signage is focused on making drivers aware of pedestrians,” said McMasters.


Mapping a way forward to prepare the Mid-South for global warming-related weather disasters

As the effects of climate change begin to manifest themselves, communities across the globe are beginning to develop plans to brace themselves for the future.

The Mid-South is no different in this regard. A few months back, the Shelby County Office of Resilience started developing a master plan of their own to prepare for weather disasters. 

“It’s to protect property, life and the ability for our residents to bounce back from any sort of hazard or stress that could be placed upon the city," said Jared Darby, national disaster resilience planning manager with the Shelby County Office of Resilience.

"This plan is going to provide recommendations, further opportunities for research and funding sources. People need to be involved so they can make sure their community’s needs are being met when it comes to resilience to those kinds of stresses and shocks."

The Regional Resilience Plan will cover all of Shelby and DeSoto Counties, along with parts of Marshall and Fayette Counties. In addition to preparing for the future, the blueprint is to help the area recover from a series of storms that swept through the region in April of 2011.


Three weather systems left extensive damage to the area. Days of torrential rains swelled creeks and tributaries beyond their banks. Infrastructure was overwhelmed by the aftermath. Businesses and neighborhoods experienced significant flooding.

“There are still homes and businesses that have damage from it that have not fully recovered; the term the federal government uses is unmet recovery needs. The flood itself was a presidential disaster declaration, and the federal government determined Shelby County was the most affected in the state of Tennessee,” said Chris Horne, associate with Sasaki Design and project manager with the Mid-South Regional Resilience Plan.

In 2015, the U.S Dept. of Housing and Urban Development set aside $1 billion in funding to state and local governments still dealing with the impact of the disasters in 2011 to 2013. Applications were submitted to HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition, a program to promote innovative resilience projects so communities can better prepare for future events. In January 2016, Shelby County was awarded $60 million in federal funds for its Greenprint for Resilience project.

The resilience plan is being put together with the collaboration of experts in the field guided by the Sasaki team. Data has been collected over the past few months, and public meetings are scheduled to get community feedback and kick off the project publicly.

Three will be held initially, starting on Tuesday, January 30 and running through Thursday, February 1. They will be held at the Memphis Leadership Foundation, at 1548 Poplar Avenue; the Millington-Baker Community Center, at 7942 Church Street, in Millington; and at the Southaven Public Library, at 8554 Northwest Drive, respectively.  The workshops will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Forming a plan will take about a year.

“We want to reach folks in every direction we can because this is important and people need to have a voice as this is the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County’s plan. This is a big deal. We are only one of 13 jurisdictions in the country and we got fully funded,” said Darby.

Along with recovery and climate change, other natural disasters and events that could conceivably hit the area are considered.

“Flooding is at the forefront. It’s what is getting the most discussion, but there’s climate change, drought. When I say climate change, it’s becoming warmer, days over 95 to 100 degrees are growing longer. Our rain events tend to be more heavy and shorter in duration. There’s earthquakes, tornadoes, windstorm damage, and on and on," said Darby.

"How is our infrastructure impacted by these hazards, how are people impacted by these hazards, how are businesses impacted?” 

The Greenprint for Resilience project encompasses four resilience activities: Big Creek, Wolf River and South Cypress Creek and the resilience master plan. The three site-specific implementation projects are currently underway. These undertakings will soak up the bulk of the $60 million.

“The way the regional hydrology works the edge of the Mississippi is elevated on a bluff so Downtown Memphis is pretty insulated from direct flooding. It didn’t even flood it during 2011. The key issue with the flooding is the secondary tributary creeks and rivers,” said Horne, whose firm is the lead consultant on the South Cypress Creek project and sub-consultants on the Big Creek project.

When heavy rains come, the water rises and backs up into the tributaries. Low-lying communities along their paths are vulnerable.

“The three implementation projects are engineering and landscape architecture focused — where they are basically taking a segment of the river and literally intervening in some way like either changing the path or creating a berm or creating a new park to absorb water,” said Horne.

But the Regional Resilience Plan is a broad look across a wide region for planning purposes.

"We look at infrastructure vulnerabilities. We look at vulnerable communities. We are the bigger picture, figuring out where the vulnerabilities are long-term strategically, what are the big opportunities," said Horne.

Once the data collection and research is finished, the next phase of developing the master plan will be devoted to finding potential solutions. Design concepts will be vetted. Scenarios will also be run and the solutions tested for viability. The third and last phase will move into a final set of recommendations and a final plan will be submitted that has depth in terms of implementation, funding and identifying what people, agencies might own each recommendation.

"Most importantly, we want to solicit feedback from residents, from the public, from technical experts,” said Horne.

While Mid-South officials are preparing for a more precarious future, the area doesn’t face the consequences that others do. Models show coastline inundation, particularly along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico. Desertification will spread beyond the Southwest. Some areas in the Deep South will be unlivable without the constant hum of air conditioning. Other than adjusting to longer, hotter summers and shorter, warmer winters, managing and recovering from extreme weather events, like the 2011 flood, will likely be the region’s burden.

“Every region has its strength and weaknesses. I personally think the Mid-South is in a pretty good position. It has lots of great assets. Memphis is protected naturally by the bluff. The emergency management community is very impressive. Memphis is in a good position relative to its drinking water supply with its aquifer.

If managed correctly, the region is good to go for the future,” said Horne.

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