Entrepreneurship residency program gives Memphis youth a leg up on path to starting a business

Growing their idea is the goal of every entrepreneur, yet acquiring the know-how, space, money and time to achieve long-term success eludes many. However, through Arrow Creative’s Autozone Youth Creative Entrepreneurship Residency Program, in partnership with LITE Memphis, a few ambitious area high schoolers will be given a leg up to develop their creative outlets into profitable businesses.

[Related: Read “LITE Memphis receives $450K grant to expand entrepreneur program for Memphis youth” on High Ground News.]

Abby Phillips, founder and executive director of Arrow Creative. (Photo: Arrow Creative)“We came up with this residency where we work with two to three students each semester, giving them studio space and stipends to purchase materials to make their goods,” says Abby Phillips, executive director and co-founder of Arrow Creative.

The artists’ hub also provides studio space for artists and classes for those seeking to develop their talents. It was founded in 2017, following the closure of the Memphis College of Art, to help fill the gap left in programming, studio space, and access to professional-grade equipment.

Real world experience

After considering the idea for a few years, the partnership with the youth mentorship program followed — but only after a plan of action took shape that centered around students’ wants and needs. In addition to funding and space to sell their products, students are also provided employment in Arrow’s retail shop. 

“They work face-to-face with their audience and their customers,” says Nyale Sophia Pieh, program manager for Arrow Creative.

The yearly cost of the program runs around $25,000 and is underwritten by the main sponsor, AutoZone; numerous other individuals also donate their money and time. The program is open to students in grades 9 through 12. The next cohort will begin on Friday, Sept. 15.

In addition to the first-hand marketing research experience the job provides, participants also learn how to merchandise as well as other strategies necessary for growing a customer base.

Nyale Sophia Pieh, program manager for Arrow Creative. (Photo: Arrow Creative)“They also get a mentorship with somebody in the community, either an artist or somebody in their field they get to work with. They usually meet with them once a month to talk about their businesses and…just (about) everything (else needed to know) about growing a business and starting one,” says Pieh.

The past semester featured lessons from a local marketing manager.

“They partnered with Erika Caine. She talked to them about marketing their business, branding,” says Pieh. “She’s a powerhouse in the community with that kind of thing, so she was just educating them on all of that.”

Experts are chosen to fit the particular needs of the students, who fill out questionnaires to narrow the choice.

“When I got there everyone welcomed me with open arms and helped me move into my studio space,” says entrepreneur Megan Flowers.

Megan Flowers launched her skincare business with the help of the Autozone Youth Creative Entrepreneurship Residency Program. (Photo: LITE Memphis)
Young people: A good investment

A senior at Crosstown High, Flowers won approval to the program for her line of skincare products, Simply Marani. This is done after they attend an online LITE workshop, or through a partner organization. 

A sampling of the Simply Marani product line. (Photo: Simply Marani)“As I became a teenager, I had dry skin and acne that I couldn’t get rid of. I tried various soaps and lotions but everything had chemicals. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands,” Flowers says. “I decided to handcraft my own soaps and body butters that work for all skin types.”
Her interest in business ownership, however, started as a child. Through the guidance of another mentor, she nurtured her interest in skincare. 

“I watched my grandmother use various soaps and lotions to keep her skin healthy,” Flowers says. “Personal care was a huge part of my childhood. I then grew to love my skin through thick and thin.”
With her $500 stipend, she purchased ingredients for her products and other supplies. Mentors and staff also helped the student nail down her targeted audience, budgeting, and pricing of products. Simply Marani opened for business in January 2021. 
Megan Flowers, founder of Simply Marani. (Photo: LITE Memphis)The investment paid off. After her products sold during her residency, she is now exploring vendor opportunities at local stores.

“I decided that I would like to expand. I will be reaching out to the Women’s Exchange so that I could be selling my products there,” Flowers says. “My personal goal is to go to esthetician school and University Tennessee Chattanooga for business and finance.”

Like the young entrepreneurs, Arrow Creative’s leadership also has plans to expand the reach of the program. When it first started, it was limited to LITE Memphis and their students. Currently, their roster includes students from Rise Academy, Grace Lee’s Prep, and Hutchinson School. They are also working to involve area summer camps.

“We’re excited to reach beyond LITE and reach out to the community as a wider whole,” says Phillips.

Arrow Creative is located at 653 Philadelphia St. in Memphis. For more information on the Autozone Youth Creative Entrepreneurship Residency Program, visit www.arrowcreative.org or call (901) 213-6320. For more information on LITE workshops, visit www.litememphis.org or call (901) 209-9119.

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Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.