Written by Meg Hutchinson
If you told the freshman Meg Hutchinson that by her junior year of college she would own her own business, she probably would have laughed at you and told you that you were crazy. Well, if this story teaches you anything- it’s that life changes. Looking back at the start of my freshman year, I would describe myself as pretty naïve. I believed I was on the fast track to graduation with no twists, turns, or diversions. I had been accepted into the College of Nursing, I was in the Chancellor’s Honors Program, and I rushed and pledged the sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi. My freshman year was pretty much consumed by those three things and I felt like I was set.
It wasn’t until the start of my sophomore year that I started to feel like something was missing. Throughout high school, I had always taken the time to exercise my creativity and considered myself a creative person. As my sophomore year began, I realized that I had completely abandoned that side of my personality to take the more conventional, steady route in life. It became increasingly difficult to concentrate in my classes and I felt as if there was a whole part of me waiting to be expressed. So, with the support of my parents and friends, I switched out of College of Nursing and joined the Haslam College of Business where I believed I could learn the entrepreneurial skills needed to pursue my childhood dreams: starting my own floral business.
Soon after switching majors, I found a floral school in Bath, England. With the advice and support of CHP associate director, Ms. Page, I enrolled in floral program and Dr. Hulsey’s honors study abroad in Oxford. The financial support of the Ready for the World grant through the CHP made my summer in England possible. It was while I was in England that I began to notice that coffee shops were strategically placed next to flower shops. It was like a Saturday morning at the farmers market offered all year long! I sat and thought to myself, “Why don’t I just put a flower shop into a coffee shop?” It was then that my business idea for “Flo+Co.” was born.
I returned to UT for my junior year ready to kick start my business. That spring, my Student Alumni Associates advisor, Gina Martin, offered to let me decorate Neyland Stadium for Senior Toast. My first large floral event, Senior Toast invited select UT seniors to connect with successful alumni at the Tennessee Terrace. After this event, things really took off. The Haslam College of Business spotlighted “Flo+Co” and the university really started to pay attention to what I was up to. I planned a huge Valentine’s Day flower sale on campus and I was featured in a Floral Art show in the Old City. The orders were rolling in and I became a full-time business owner on top of being a full-time student.
At this same time, I was enrolled in entrepreneurship classes and I decided to look into some of the “pitch competitions” to try and win funding for my business idea. I was excited that my career as a florist was taking off, but I was ready to incorporate coffee into what I was doing and I needed the funds to make it happen. The UT’s entrepreneurship program offers 3 competitions: Volcourt, The Graves Business Plan Challenge and the Boyd Venture Challenge. I became one of the first students to win money in all three competitions. All in all, I was awarded $14,500, an office space in UT’s business incubator, website design services and more to support my small business.
While I experienced all of these big changes, the Chancellor’s Honors Program remained constant in my life. The staff and students really believed in me during all of my ups and downs. Without the program’s continuous support and resources, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or resources to change my path. As a member of the CHP honors council I helped start the “What an Honor(s)” campaign to begin a spirit of giving back to the Honors and Scholars programs. My honors experience has meant so much to me and I look forward to continue my involvement in the program. My plans have changed a lot during the course of my four years at UT, but CHP has always been there to support and cheer me on as a student and in my business.