Author: Amanda Cook

Featured Member – Plopper & Partners

What do you think of when you think about visiting an attorney’s office? You may often envision a stuffy, up-tight attorney sitting behind a big desk in a tall office tower with their practice name on the side of the building. In many cases, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that. The team at Plopper & Partners is mixing it up in a very traditional industry and setting their own standards.

Licensed attorney, Nick Plopper, and Legal Assistant, Sara Jenkins, didn’t set out to break the mold of the traditional attorney office space. But that’s exactly what they did when they joined zWORKS last month. They made the decision based on a series of factors that led them to believe now was a good time to consider an alternative arrangement:

  • Along with most of the business world, they learned from remote work during COVID. 
  • Nick’s father and firm partner, Stephen Plopper, is nearing retirement.
  • The expiration of their office lease in Carmel was looming.

“Sara and I both live in Zionsville, so we thought it would be great if we could find something closer to our homes,” says Nick. “We no longer needed an office, but we still needed a space to meet with clients. zWORKS was a great compromise with being able to reserve the space when we need it and meet with each other to get work done.”

Plopper & Partners has over 60 years of combined experience helping clients protect their futures through business law, real estate law, and estate planning. This also includes small and medium-sized business counseling and startup formation to help set a solid foundation from the start.

Their most rewarding work is in estate planning because it allows them to get to know their clients, help them prepare for the future, and ensure that their vision is carried out as they wish. Everyone can benefit from an estate plan regardless of family dynamics or financial status. This plan is a collection of documents that specifies how you want your assets distributed. 

The biggest advantage of estate planning is to avoid conflicts and disputes at death, which can lead to lengthy court battles and headaches. Disputed estates often take time, money, and cherished assets away from the loved ones or others you intended. Planning can eliminate this challenge for loved ones during a time when emotions and stress-levels are already high.

End-of-life planning may seem morbid, and clients may have difficulty thinking about their mortality. Once it is all completed, they often sigh relief because they know they’ve taken steps to protect their assets. Given the subject matter can be delicate at times, Nick and Sara were cautiously optimistic about how their clients would perceive their new office arrangements.

“We were definitely a little concerned how our clients would feel no longer going to our dedicated office,” says Sara. “But to be honest, we’ve received nothing but positive feedback, and no one has even batted an eye. It has even allowed us to say, “we can come to you, or we can meet you for lunch in the Village.”

Nick also mentions the other advantages they have already realized by joining the zWORKS community. Aside from walking to lunch and taking advantage of other Village businesses, it helps them grow their own business.

“It was like getting an instant raise, and we can invest that money in other ways,” says Nick. “We no longer have to worry about the overhead of the office. Sara no longer has to figure out why the internet isn’t working, or the printer is broken. Those things are taken care of at zWORKS.”

Sara agrees the move has been great for clients and the business.

“It has really increased our productivity. When we are together in a conference room, it creates a forced efficiency,” says Sara. “We meet with a client and then use the rest of our time together to accomplish a lot, then we can separate when we go home and get our jobs done.”

One final thought from Nick: “Go for it. Do it. You won’t regret it.”

Plopper & Partners is excited to be a part of the zWORKS community and they look forward to meeting the many members. They would like to extend a special invitation to all zWORKS members and supporters to receive a discounted estate planning package. Please reach out to Sara to set up a time to get started at sara@carmellawfirm.com.

Fun facts about Nick:

  • Nick recently became a blended family of two sons and two stepdaughters. 
  • Plays the didgeridoo
  • Once a member of a Ween cover band

Fun facts about Sara:

  • Sara recently celebrated 20 years of marriage and enjoys her two daughters
  • Enjoys traveling, and her favorite trip so far was to Hawaii for her 20th anniversary
  • Loves to cook

Featured Member – Intelligent Living Solutions

The age of smart home automation technology is well-rooted in our lives, and many people are incorporating these comforts and conveniences into their homes and businesses. From safety and security to custom lighting and audio solutions, smart home automation technology has found a place in our homes and in Zionsville’s Village.

“When zWORKS moved out of the space on Cedar Street, we were thrilled to see that zWORKS member, Intelligent Living Solutions, would be moving in and transforming the former coworking space into their new Smart Home Experience Center,” says zWORKS Executive Director, Vickie Hall. “This is truly our mission in action and exactly what we hope for when startups come to zWORKS and grow into their own spaces”

Showcasing the options and opportunities to incorporate smart home technology, Intelligent Living Solutions has come full circle from a coworking space startup to zWORKS graduate. This idea that turned into reality was a long time in the making.

Instead of playing with GI Joes as a kid, Intelligent Living Solutions’ owner Dan Killinger says he took apart radios, phones, and any electronics he could get his hands on. He then figured out other ways to put them back together to make them work. Dan owned and operated his own handyman business while in college at Ball State University, where he earned a degree in landscape architecture. He worked in the construction, home renovation, and landscape design industries and owned his landscape and pool design/construction company.

“Many of my clients were requesting more technology in their outdoor living spaces, so I was doing a lot with outdoor lighting and audio,” says Dan. “As the technology got more sophisticated, I realized there was an opportunity to do more. I enjoyed applying the same concepts to indoor spaces, so I decided to focus my new business on smart home automation and include both indoor and outdoor solutions.”

Dan founded Intelligent Living Solutions in 2013. Over the last ten years, he has expanded commercial and builder partnerships to include customized automation designs for new builds and renovations. The Intelligent Living Solutions team has grown to include ten professionals.

Dan didn’t always envision the Smart Home Experience Center, but he knew he had to start small before growing into a space of his own. zWORKS allowed him to keep his overhead low and build the business while giving him a space to meet with clients.

“We needed a space that would allow us to meet with clients and show them the possibilities,” Dan said. “The relationships I built at zWORKS allowed me to become a part of the Zionsville Village community and access resources that ultimately helped me succeed and build my business.”

As the business has grown, so has the technology powering these solutions. Sometimes you don’t even know it’s at work behind the walls or in the ceiling. That’s the mission, according to Intelligent Living Solutions. Installation of smart home technology by unskilled hands isn’t necessarily attractive. Even in small quantities, cords and equipment can be disorganized and unsightly. At Intelligent Living Solutions, the team uses wireless solutions and behind-the-scenes installation, offering effective and beautiful solutions.

This is why the Smart Home Experience Center is so helpful in showcasing the possibilities. You get to see the technology at work, especially when it is installed professionally by an Intelligent Living Solutions technician.

“I had been thinking about how valuable a place like the Smart Home Experience Center would be to showcase the technology, and one day I came to work out of the zWORKS space and saw a for rent sign in the window,” Dan mentioned. “It was the first time I got excited about a space and could envision the Smart Home Experience Center coming to fruition. After starting our business out of zWORKS, it was serendipitous that we could take over this pace and make it a reality.”

Each room of the 1,500 square-foot Smart Home Experience Center is fully decorated and features the most innovative technologies available for home and business owners, including:

  • An access control system.
  • Fully automated lighting control customized for the time of day, season, and mood of each room.
  • High-tech, audio-visual systems, including hidden speakers.
  • In-shower television system.
  • Safe room and gun safe programmed to open via automation.
  • Wall mounted and kitchen island keypad controls.

The Smart Home Experience Center will open on September 21. Tours are typically by appointment only, so you get undivided attention and see all the possibilities you can incorporate into your new or existing home. Fortunately, zWORKS members and guests get a sneak peek at the zWORKS September Happy Hour on September 28 at 4:30 p.m. If you can’t make September Happy Hour or want a more in-depth tour, you can make an appointment online.

Featured Member – Amanda Cook, Marketing Simplicity

Any entrepreneur will tell you that starting a business isn’t for the faint of heart. They all agree that you must have a certain level of “crazy” to get comfortable going on your own. Or at least that’s how Amanda Cook, founder and CEO of Marketing Simplicity, describes it.

“I didn’t really entertain the idea of owning my business much, but people kept asking me why I don’t own my own company yet,” said Amanda. “I am fairly risk-averse, and it did seem crazy that I could build something. I didn’t even think it was a possibility – until suddenly something clicked, and it became something I just knew I was ready for.”

It all changed after seeing the inner workings of a marketing agency, giving Amanda a perspective from the side she hadn’t seen before. Most recently, she served as a fractional CMO and marketing director for a growing marketing agency. When Amanda was in previous roles, she had hired agencies like the one she worked for to manage large-scale projects, events, and product launches. Working for an agency gave her a whole new perspective and an understanding of both sides of the coin.

“I understood what a client wanted because I was one at one time, but I also understood how an agency operates and makes money, so marrying those two views turned into Marketing Simplicity,” Amanda said. “At the core, though, was simplicity. I didn’t want to over-complicate anything. Everyone wants less complexity and simple solutions. Whether doing business with each other or creating marketing strategies that work.”

Amanda grew up in Richmond, Indiana, and went to Ball State University. She thought she wanted to be an attorney, so she got a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. After spending time with lawyers, she quickly realized it was not a good fit for her personality. She went on to get a Master’s in Marketing and Public Relations.

After graduation, she started her marketing career in property management, development, and new construction in Seattle, Washington. After four years, she returned to Indiana. She spent the next decade learning the ins and outs of association management as the Director of Marketing for several non-profit trade associations. During that time, she also obtained her Certified Association Executive (CAE) certification, an esteemed credential in the association industry. She credits her experience in association management as giving her a strong foundation for strategy development. 

“Associations live and die by their strategic plans, so going through so many planning experiences and seeing what works and what doesn’t helped shape my experience in strategic planning. I also had a lot of really great mentors that pushed for autonomy and growth during that time,” notes Amanda. “Creating the strategic plan for an organization and then design marketing around the overall goals is how growth and scale happens.”

Following that, Amanda spent some time managing the marketing portfolios for a commercial real estate firm, including well-known properties, like Salesforce Tower and the development of Midtown Carmel. To gain a global perspective, Amanda moved on to a growing manufacturer with North American headquarters in Indiana as the North American Marketing and Brand Director. This experience gave her a global perspective. And finally, most recently, at a marketing agency.

“I think I have a valuable background because I’ve tactically handled so much marketing but also the strategy and global experience,” says Amanda. “I finally feel like I have enough of a holistic perspective about business and marketing that starting my own marketing firm seems to make sense now.”

Amanda has collaborated with zWorks for three years now and often works out of the Pine Street location. Getting to know zWORKS startups and graduates has highlighted the struggles many startups face – not only in marketing but from a business lens. This has helped her on her own journey.

“Startups and small businesses in growth mode have unique challenges. They need to grow fast, but they don’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles or the money to do it,” Amanda notes. “That’s where I think simplicity really resonates. I like to start simple with a crawl, walk, run approach. I like to meet companies where they are and help them reach the next level with simple, easy activities that can drive results.”

She recommends nailing down your business goals and identifying where you want to take your business next before contracting for any marketing services. Many marketing leaders can help with strategy, but Amanda mentions a real challenge facing companies today is the lack of strategic planning and dialogue. Plus, it’s important that the marketing serves the larger business needs. She recommends a marketing strategy consultant to help outline your needs. Then find a partner to take the next step.

The people Amanda has met through zWORKS have added tremendous value to her personally and professionally. Now that she is a startup and small business owner, the network at zWORKS has been a launching pad for her success. Access to people who were once in her position has been helpful so that she doesn’t make similar mistakes.

“I have marketing and strategic planning expertise, but I don’t have a business background or know all I should about starting a business. I can unequivocally say that the relationships I have built through zWORKS helped launch my business,” says Amanda. “I have gained several new clients through referrals, know who to turn to for financial guidance, rely on other small business owners to bounce ideas off of when I come to a dead end, and seek guidance from others that I consider mentors.”

When Amanda isn’t focused on building her business or helping clients, she spends most evenings as a taxi service to her two sons and watching them play sports. She has a passion for travel, and she can be found planning her next trip before the trip she is on is over.

Amanda is accepting new clients for both strategy and execution. Please contact her or refer her to colleagues if you want to learn more about her marketing consulting services and strategy development.

Fun facts:

  • My favorite trip this past year was to Mexico to see Dave Matthews Band play three nights in Riviera Maya.
  • My favorite US beach is Clearwater Beach. I started going there in grade school with my parents and have visited every year since.
  • I’ve been a tourist to 45 of the 50 states and will hit the remaining 5 in the next few years.

Featured Member – Tissue Source

The discovery that human tissues and organs share many similarities with pig tissues and organs has led to medical advances that have benefited many and even saved lives.  Because of these similarities, pig tissue is often used in medical devices to treat various injuries or conditions in human beings. The need for pig tissue, also known as porcine tissue, continues to play an important role in medicare and innovation.

Sherry (Ziboro) Mitchell, an Indiana native, started her career in student lending and software development before moving to a medical device company in Lafayette that uses urinary bladders of pigs. This is where Sherry learned about the importance of pig tissue. While she may not have a biology background, she took an interest in learning about where and how companies obtained what they needed. She quickly realized there was an opportunity to be a sourcing company for pig tissue so in 2007, Sherry founded Tissue Source.

“I was most inspired to start Tissue Source because our products heal people. These products give people a quality of life that they otherwise wouldn’t experience. Sometimes our products are life-saving,” Sherry says. “We’re using an abundant resource that, after it’s used for food, is often discarded, but the parts we use are not used in the food chain, so we are extending the value of that animal.”

Sherry started Tissue Source with one goal in mind: high quality, specialized, pig tissue sourcing. They are a boutique sourcing firm that focuses on providing high quality pig tissue for specialized uses. From nose to tail, different parts of the pig are used for different purposes. Tissue Source works with companies that need precision extraction of a particular pig tissue — this could be anything from a small organ being used for children or a specific kind of tissue used for research and development. 

Today, Tissue Source has grown to include over 250 customers. 

“We pride ourselves on understanding our customer’s end use of the pig tissue. Then we source it with the highest quality we can find,” says Sherry. “It was important to me to make sure we are raising the bar because of the delicate nature of how our products are used and providing the best outcomes.”

To support their continued growth, Sherry added Zach Morris to the team in 2020. Zach brings over 10 years of operations and production management expertise. He is responsible for the planning, scheduling, production and shipping of the Tissue Source product. 

In addition this past year, Tissue Source brought on Dr. Laura Lemmons, a licensed veterinarian, to direct the Tissue Source Quality Management System. Laura helps ensure applicable FDA regulations and ISO standards are maintained and continuous quality improvement initiatives are met.

Now that Tissue Source has more employees, they need a place to meet with customers, complete the many audits they must go through, and present a level of professionalism. They chose zWORKS because it is near their homes and use it every week for face-to-face meetings. It has become very important post-COVID.

“It was really important to me as we added staff that we have some face-to-face time. We established a collaboration day every week so that we can get together, discuss customer needs, meet with whomever, and strategize about our business,” Sherry says. “We love the location and the perks of being in the village and being close to everything is really nice.” 

Planning for the future, Tissue Source is looking for ways to improve logistics for production, shipping, and coordination. Now that some restrictions on traveling and events have been lifted, Tissue Source is  looking forward to conferences and tradeshows returning in an attempt to help grow important referrals and spread the word within the medical and research community. 

Featured Member – King Lou Pets

Ask any dog owner, and they’ll agree with the sentiment that a healthy dog is a happy dog. And a healthy, happy dog makes its human very happy, too.  

This is the fundamental idea behind the founding of King Lou.

A few months after losing his beloved dog Lou to Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a form of canine heart disease, Clayton Farris was surprised to see an FDA communication linking common ingredients in several well-known pet food brands to rising occurrences of DCM in dogs. 

“I was shocked to find out the condition that afflicted Lou was linked to the ingredients in some of the most popular dog food brands on the market,” Farris comments. “The sad reality is that most of these companies are more focused on volume and profit instead of creating products that are healthy for pets.”

Farris, an Indiana University Kelley School of Business grad, has a background in health and nutrition.  After working as a personal trainer through college, Farris built his career scaling brick & mortar sales for high-growth, startup CPG brands in the health and dietary supplements space. After an unexpected job change at the height of the pandemic in 2020, he decided it was the ideal time to take the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship. 

Hence, King Lou Pets was founded, named after his beloved, rescued, Labradoodle.

The Hoosier native and father of two young sons soon discovered something that many of us realize: it’s difficult to work from home, let alone launch a business, especially with young children at home.   

After relocating to Zionsville, Farris discovered zWORKS, which offered him an ideal opportunity to work in a coworking space among other entrepreneurs and focus on growing his company.  

“Having the ability to be surrounded by business people who are experiencing many of the same challenges was a motivating factor for me to pursue a place with zWORKS,” Farris commented.

He joined zWORKS in January 2021 and soon after brought a partner on board. zWORKS allowed him the chance to set regular office hours and dedicate the time necessary to kickstart his vision into a growing business.  King Lou Pets officially launched in August 2021.

What sets King Lou apart from other brands in the space are the core values:

  • Real, clean pet nutrition: all of the ingredients are top quality whole food, human-grade, without preservatives or filler ingredients
  • Sustainability: as a 100% USA company, all of the ingredients are sustainably-sourced from family farms in the USA, and the packaging is made from post-consumer recycled material
  • A healthy dog is a happy dog: King Lou products are designed to help dog’s live longer, healthier, happier lives

Aside from living the core values for King Lou Pets, Farris is proud of starting his business in the community where he lives, too.

“It’s exciting to launch a CPG brand in the area,” says Farris. “There’s a great deal of hometown pride in Zionsville, so I’m excited to launch a local brand with the potential to scale to a national level.”

zWORKS also provides an opportunity for Farris to have a flexible schedule so he can focus on other important things when he is home, like his children and the dogs. Clayton and his family can often be found enjoying time in the great outdoors.  

zWORKS Graduate Spotlight – AERIFY.io

There are few things we love to see more than watching the zWORKS’ mission play out right before our eyes. That couldn’t be more true as we witness the growth and success that our friends at AERIFY.io have achieved. What was a small idea with humble beginnings at zWORKS turned into a growing business.

Aaron Toops

Co-founder Aaron Toops worked in IT managed services and saw first hand the frustrations customers experienced with their IT services. As with most great ideas, Aaron and AERIFY.io’s other co-founder, Rob Michels hatched an idea over a few drinks. Between Aaron’s background in IT and Rob’s background in operations, business development, and marketing, they founded AERIFY.io. The company was founded with the idea that technology should be simple, safe, and fast. Computers should just work, and when they don’t, an expert should be available to fix it quickly and efficiently.

But how do you turn an idea into a startup? You join zWORKS. Aaron and Rob credit zWORKS with providing a foundation to turn their idea into a reality.

“Having an actual place to go to work on our business was what made it real from day one,” says Aaron. “We couldn’t possibly take on the risk and long-term commitment of renting a space, but rather zWORKS allowed us to invest our resources in things that really mattered when getting started.”

Rob Michels

As AERIFY.io grew over the next few years, the COVID-19 pandemic really shed light on the need for cloud-based technology in order for companies to maintain business continuity. That certainly helped propel AERIFY.io even further to more growth, but being involved in a co-working community had its fair share of benefits.

“Our business growth is heavily dependent on referrals and networking,” says Rob. “So we stay connected and talk to people at all of the co-working spaces.”

Aaron adds that it is more than just help with generating leads. There’s so much to learn from getting involved at a co-working space like they have at zWORKS. With such a wide variety of members and partners working together at zWORKS, they were able to tap into expertise they didn’t have on their own.

“Everyone we have come across is happy to help. You just have to be brave enough to ask,” comments Aaron. “We knew starting out there were things we didn’t know. The hardest part is that we didn’t know what we didn’t know!”

The AERIFY.io team took advantage of leveraging all of the shared experiences of other startups and using them as a sounding board when they needed some perspective on how to approach a business challenge. Another advantage that they say was important to their success was the programming and events that zWORKS facilitated for members. These resources brought people together and kept the conversation going among fellow entrepreneurs.

“You get out what you put into it when you join a co-working space,” says Rob. “Take advantage of the programing, lean into the idea that you have to get in there to get the most out of it, but also be an open book and help others.”

AERIFY.io has recently graduated from co-working and moved to their very own office space, right around the corner from zWORKS in Zionsville. But that doesn’t mean they are abandoning their zWORKS membership. They plan to stay involved.

“We’re maintaining our membership, but we feel strongly about giving back to the community that gave so much to us,” says Rob. “We’re planning to still attend events and get to know our fellow entrepreneurs. There is still a lot left to learn.”

AERIFY.io is looking forward to continued growth. Future plans include expansion and being able to replicate what they have started in Zionsville. They are always on the lookout for good talent, especially in the tech space. Keep an eye out for their next move!

Featured Member – Izzy Branam

Izzy Branam, zWORKS Featured MemberJoin us for a walk down memory lane for a minute and think about the days of summer right before beginning your senior year of high school. If you were like many incoming high school seniors, you were soaking up the final days of summer and hanging out with friends. If you were a band kid, you were probably preparing for Indiana State Fair Band Day. Shout out to those band kids – Indiana summers can be unforgiving! You might have had a summer job that gave you a little spending money. But if you’re one local teen and fellow zWORKer — you’ve got other things on your mind.

When Zionsville Community High School incoming senior, Izzy Branam, isn’t at one of his two internships this summer, he is working with his co-founders on their latest startup. We say latest because this isn’t his first foray into business. Izzy has done this before. In the sixth grade, he realized there was an opportunity to start a record label for aspiring DJs. There was an abundance of talent on the DJ scene, but many artists were overlooked by record executives because of their age. Izzy started Xygen Records and managed it throughout middle school. At the height, he’d signed over 150 artists.

By age 14, the business bug had bit. Not one to sit on his laurels, Izzy found another business opportunity. He realized he could make more money than his part-time job at Chick-fil-A by reselling a wholesale lot of sunglasses so he quit to focus on that. This quickly peaked his interest in eCommerce and digital marketing.

Izzy and his co-founders, Krishna Thiru and Emma Hamilton, created the startup Fia Recruit to make hiring more objective, efficient, and effective. Instead of playing a game of pin the tail on the donkey, which is oftentimes the traditional way of filling positions, Fia uses artificial intelligence and data-driven technology to help streamline this business critical process.

Their startup is grounded in the idea that finding the right fit for a company’s culture is a huge part of hiring as well as reducing the time and effort it takes to sift through the dozens, sometimes hundreds of applicants. In addition, there are inherently unconscious biases at play during the hiring process. There are other applicant platforms out there, but Fia takes it a step further by identifying applicants that meet both the job requirements and fit the company’s culture.

Fia identifies lacking perspectives and personalities in a company’s existing team and suggests applicants from the applicant pool that rounds out the team. Then the platform analyzes how the candidates’ personality and social styles align with the company’s unique culture and team. And finally, Fia analyzes the applicants’ education and work experiences to automatically sort out those that lack the necessary job qualifications. This method creates a more qualified, well-rounded applicant pool but also improves the talent acquisition experience by saving valuable time in the applicant review process.

The local teens have won several awards for their innovation. Izzy credits zWORKS as a place he can get the help he needs to be successful.

“It is such a great environment to put me in the right headspace to work on our startup,” Izzy says. “Sometimes we meet at zWORKS and just talk through things together and whiteboard ideas.”

It’s also a great place to leverage the collective community. Finding other people to give guidance as they launch their product has been advantageous. They don’t feel overlooked because of their age or the fact that they actually have very little experience themselves in talent acquisition.

“zWORKS is such a great place to talk to other people who have already been in our shoes,” Izzy comments. “Everyone has been so welcoming and other zWORKers are happy to answer questions. They take us seriously. They know we are committed to making our business work and they offer their connections and broader network to help us achieve our goals.”

Fia has concluded alpha testing and is now in the beta testing phase. They have several well-known Indy-based firms beta testing the platform and they are actively seeking more companies to sign on to the beta test. If any company is interested in becoming a beta tester, you can sign up on the Fia website.

Fun facts about Izzy:

  • Even though he is busy and works hard, he loves to hang out with his friends like a normal teen.
  • He loves watersports and tries to get on the water whenever possible.
  • He’s looking at colleges and weighing his options for the future, but he knows it will involve his love for entrepreneurship.