Lauren Atkinson, 31, is an entrepreneur and a lover of people.
Originally from New Jersey, Lauren moved down to Nashville to attend college at Belmont University, where she graduated in 2007 with a degree in music business.
Lauren owns a floral design company for weddings and events and is also heavily involved with the Crossfit gym on West End Avenue.
After college, Lauren decided to stay down south.
“I love Nashville. My older brother went to Belmont, and when I came to visit him I just decided this is where I needed to be.”
For her, flowers are more than just a business – it’s a part of how she was raised. In New Jersey, her grandfather owns a flower farm. He came over from Holland when he was younger and started his business on the East Coast. Now, well into his eighties, Lauren said her grandfather is still active in the daily life of his flowers.
Not long after graduating, she started working at a flower shop.
“Before I started my business, I had a full-time job at another flower shop. While I was there, I was working 80 hours a week. I loved it, I just never had any opportunities to help other people which is something that’s big on my heart.”
Lauren left that company to pursue her own entrepreneurial endeavors about four years ago.
“It’s hard to own a business. It’s exhausting, but it’s also the most energizing thing I’ve ever done.”
Lauren said her journey in Nashville has been amazing and said she’s been blessed with her company.
In the beginning, she thought she wanted to keep it small and do it all on her own out of her home, but the more she grew, the more she realized she needed help.
“It became clear that we needed a space because we were doing too many weddings and I couldn’t separate my home from my work, and so we found a space and I had to hire two staff,” she said. “The things I thought I was adamantly against, I had fallen in love with.”
Lauren said one thing that might sound weird is that she loves writing paychecks. To her, having a business that can sustain other people is incredible and exploring different opportunities is incredible as well.
In the future, she’d love to have more full-time staff. She said she just launched a new subscription program that delivers fresh flowers once a month and is now managing a new venue.
“The ideal dream eventually is owning a wedding venue with a gym that specializes in training people with special needs but is open to everyone.”
ROW for a REASON and a COMMUNITY
Around the same time Lauren started her own business, she also started Crossfit.
“I fell in love with it and the community and everything it was all about,” she said. “In that year, I also undertook a challenge of rowing 100,000 meters in one month with a friend of mine. We just sat there, watched movies, and rowed, and I fell in love with that too.”
Lauren would usually run the St. Jude’s ½ Marathon, which she called a great cause, but said she wanted to be able to see first-hand how her donations and charity were given back. So in 2014, she asked the former owners ofOn the End Crossfit on West End if she could row for charity.
Three years ago, Lauren teamed up with Derek Robinson, another big influence in the local Crossfit community, and decided to have the first Row for a Reason charity event, where teams come to compete and row a ½ a marathon to benefit Gigi’s Playhouse in Nashville.
“We picked Gigi’s Playhouse because a member of our Crossfit community’s son has Down syndrome,” he said. “At the time I knew nothing about that world and who they were. Even since I was a little girl, I had a passion for people with Down syndrome deep down in my heart, but I never knew why. I thought I would go back to school for special education one day and now I understand that this is how it’s being fulfilled.”
In the first year of Row for a Reason, the event raised $7,000 with about 60 people volunteered to row.
“Last year we decided to have a few of their participants row on teams with us, and that was a really cool training process. It’s been proven that if you help them with their physical abilities, then it helps with their mental as well.”
Lauren said she’s not well versed but certainly enjoys how much she is learning about people with Down syndrome.
After the first charity event in 2014, Lauren brought Gigi’s Playhouse’s young adults program to On the End Crossfit.
“I asked if we could start bringing them in to train with them and see them more and they said said yes,” she said. “We started working with them every other Wednesday. Now I have them pick goals for what they want to accomplish each semester. Most of the guys said they wanted to do a pull-up and six of them got their first pull-up the following week.”
Lauren said she loves seeing their faces light up when they come in the gym, and they feel involved in classes.
“We have other classes going on at the same time, and while were separated, we’ll go up to the front to work on things, and we’ll do some of the same things as the other classes, so they don’t feel like they’re different.”
Row for a Reason is once a year in April, but may hopefully be having an event in the fall to benefit Gigi’s Playhouse.
“It’s been great to see their needs be met directly from what we’ve done, and to see the community come together for this amazing cause.”
Lauren said she would like to keep growing Row for a Reason each year, including bringing the event to other cities.
NASHVILLE and COMMUNITY
Lauren said significant changes happening around the city are incredible.
“I’ve seen parts of town that people wouldn’t go to now become great parts of the city. I know traffic is something people are talking about, and it’s something I’ve had to get used to,” she said. “It used to take 10 to 15 minutes to get anywhere in town, and now I’m late everywhere.”
She said Nashville is one of the top wedding destinations in the continental U.S., which is great for her and a good hub for business.
“When I think of community the word that comes to mind is togetherness.”
“I love people a lot,” Lauren said. “One of the things I do very well is relationships, so community to me is being there for people and having each other’s backs whatever it comes to.”
She said it could be difficult to make friends after college but being a part of On the End Crossfit has been a great source of community.
Thanks for reading Nashville!