36|86 Student Edition 2018 winner: ‘Show it off!’

Flo+Co. founder Meg Hutchinson talks blooms, branding, and the power of story.

Flowers and coffee — they go together, right? Meg Hutchinson, winner of the pitch competition at 36|86 Student Edition in 2018, is betting on it.

Inspiration struck two years ago when she was studying floral design in the UK. “I started noticing the pairings of flower shops next to coffee shops,” Hutchinson said. “It reminded me of a Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, and I want to offer that experience all year long.”

Reaching a new demographic is part of her plan. “I want to put high-quality flowers in front of consumers, particularly millennials, and one of the best places to do that is in a coffee shop.”

The result is Flo+Co., a combo flowers-and-coffee startup Hutchinson is building in between finishing her BA at UT Knoxville, working part-time, and acting as a business advisor to peers.

We chatted with her recently to find out how things are going.

Catch us up — what’s happened with Flo+Co. since you won the pitch competition last summer at 36|86 Student Edition?
I’ve continued to operate the floral side of my business, and I’m also working in a coffee shop to continue learning the art and logistics of the industry. I’ve become a mentor to several women at my university who are also trying to start their own businesses, and I’ve done speaking engagements to teach students how to pitch and develop business skills and personal branding.

I graduate in May and I look forward to pursuing my current floral company full-time while working toward funding a brick-and-mortar shop for Flo+Co.

Besides winning the pitch competition, what did you gain from your experience at 36|86?
I had pitched in a lot of competitions, but 36|86 definitely stretched my thinking, thanks to the judges’ commentary and questioning. I was able to take some of the judges’ questions into consideration and use them to further improve my business idea.

How did you prepare to pitch at 36|86?
Coming into 36|86, I knew that one of my strengths was storytelling, and I knew that I wanted the judges to get a good idea of who I was and why my story made my business special. I practiced my pitch a lot and would give it to anyone who would listen — practice makes perfect!

What advice do you have for this year’s 36|86 Student Edition competitors?
Someone once told me, “Investors are more likely to invest in an ‘A’ person with a ‘B’ idea over a ‘B’ person with an ‘A’ idea.” Don’t be afraid to show off a little bit of your personality! Your drive to make your company successful makes it special — show it off!

What advice do you have for pre-founder you?
I wish pre-founder Meg was less afraid of failure. When you start your own business, you are bound to fail a few times, but failure results in the best lessons and gives you more opportunity to grow.

How has your vision for Flo+Co. evolved over time?
Flo+Co. started as a single brick-and-mortar idea. Over time I have developed a scalability plan, and I hope to have multiple stores nationwide. I believe the Flo+Co. brand can become a household name and I’m excited to see how that evolves.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business?
Definitely the time-management aspect and FOMO. It’s hard being a super-involved college student, working a part-time job and working on a startup. There are so many mornings where I want to snooze my 5:30 a.m. alarm or days where I have to decline a fun trip or event with my friends. I think the whole experience forced me to grow up really fast and I had to develop good time-management skills — but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Where do you see Flo+Co. in five years?
I hope to have my first store open (hopefully in the Nashville area) and I hope to be focusing on perfecting my business plan and learning how to ship flowers to my customers.

36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival’s student pitch competition gives student innovators a platform to access funding, marketing, and community and corporate resources. Students from Tennessee colleges and universities are encouraged to apply by May 31. LaunchTN will select 12–15 finalists to participate in the pitch competition at 36|86: Student Edition, Aug. 28–29 in Nashville, for a chance to win a piece of $60K in prizes.

36|86 brings together innovators, pioneers, investors & visionaries to shape the future of business.