Author: Amanda Cook

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.