BY TABATHA RENEGAR
If any one person in the Triad epitomizes the proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” it is Amy Lynne Dunlap. Born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Amy got a job with a florist cleaning buckets, sweeping floors, and occasionally working with flowers when she was 16. Throughout every shift, Amy was watching and learning, and realized she had a talent for design! After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a BS in Horticultural Science and then a Master’s in Agricultural Education & Communication from the University of Florida, she was off and running. Amy worked as a designer for the Grand Floridian Hotel in Disney World and many other floral shops, moved to Hawaii and started a family, eventually landing in Winston-Salem, where she parlayed her talent and experience into a busy floral design business. Amy Lynne Originals (ALO) was born in her Ardmore basement!
ALO soon grew out of her “home office” and moved to several charming locations, primarily downtown, before settling perfectly into the colorful ALO Studio in Winston-Salem’s West End, where it thrived until December of 2018. All the while, Amy was watching and learning. Although this time, it wasn’t just about design and flowers!
Well, not exactly.
As a designer and floral visionary, Amy longed for access to more diverse and interesting flowers than what wholesale distributors offered. The problem? Finding them and knowing what was available. Amy soon learned that local flower farmers were struggling to reach and sell their products to designers in the area. Once Amy realized that her challenge in finding unique, local flowers mirrored the struggle that local producers were having, her wheels simply would not stop spinning!
I asked Amy how she knew it was the right time to step away from floral design to pursue her next idea. “The driving force behind the shift from ALO to Stemz simply started with a need for change. I wanted to mix things up and stay inspired in the cut flower industry. After closing ALO, I planned to jump directly into flower farming. It felt like a natural next step given my background in horticulture. While flower farming is still my long-term plan, I simply couldn’t ignore the realization that the cut flower supply chain in NC needed change, too! So, I switched gears again and put all my energy into figuring out how to strengthen the industry.”
In true entrepreneurial form, Amy turned her research into a full-time job which led her to the NC IDEA Micro Grants. “Stemz is a completely different entrepreneurial journey from ALO,” explained Amy. “I knew from the beginning I needed guidance and support to build something impactful and scalable. The NC IDEA grant application itself taught me to really dig deep and answer tough questions about product-market fit, customer discovery, and creating value for my customers. All the research and effort that went into filling out the application was as valuable as the grant itself! And the guidance and education from NC IDEA did not stop after receiving the grant. NC IDEA continues supporting Stemz with advisor meetings and educational opportunities – it is an exceptional organization!”
After a three-month competitive application process that drew 156 applications from across the state, Amy and Stemz were one of only 15 NC IDEA MICRO grant recipients chosen!
How have farmers reacted upon learning that a whole new avenue to additional sales has been created for them? “Cut flower farmers simply love to farm,” said Amy. “They love testing new flower varieties, trying new methods, and simply growing a beautiful product. The ‘selling’ part of the business often takes them away from the farm and from doing what they love. When we approach a farm and introduce our concept of ‘cultivating connectivity,’ there is often excitement at the notion of more time on the farm!”
Stemz is growing every day with active buyers throughout the Triad and Charlotte. Buyers choose from inventory spanning many farms across NC. After firmly establishing their Winston-Salem hub, Stemz plans to expand into key locations in NC and then into the southeast/mid-Atlantic regions.
As Amy noted, “I’ve spent most of my adult life working with flowers. If I see a way to help build up the industry I love and make it stronger, I am all in!”
For more information about how your entrepreneurial spirit could get the boost it needs, visit: ncidea.org. For more about the Stemz story, go to findstemz.com.