Building a Business from Nature
Who – the protagonist
Kari Warberg Block, Founder and CEO of Earth-Kind a US-based company. One of 11 female entrepreneurs selected by Ernst & Young to be included in its Winning Women Class of 2012, and recipient of many other awards in recognition of her achievement in running an environmentally and socially responsible business.
Earth-Kind manufactures and sells a totally agriculture-based rodent repellant, called Fresh Cab that provides a non-messy, environmentally friendly solution to a pest problem that plagues farms and homes worldwide.
Living as a farm wife in rural America, Kari needed to find ways to supplement the family income. She began by selling potpourri and organic produce on her farm and at the same time, she invested in the community by employing disabled people and supporting family farms.
In 1995, Kari nearly died after an accident and this gave her new momentum and a determination to achieve something substantial in her life. She was familiar with the problem of rodents and devised a unique and humane way to deal with it – a solution that would eventually make her a millionaire.
Kari started her venture at home in 1993.
Earth-Kind is based in Bismarck, North Dakota, US. By 2013, Kari’s rodent repellant product, Fresh Cab, was being sold through 20,000 retail outlets across America and she had achieved an annual revenue of US$ 5 million.
‘Something that fuels my entrepreneurial passion is the positive light and effect I can have on other women who also have a dream to use their gifts to help humanity in some way through a business.’ – Kari Warberg Block
Kari’s aim is to expand globally and achieve total revenues of US$ 100 million by 2017 – growth of more than 100 per cent a year. How can this be achieved? She believes that thinking big, acting boldly, getting the right advisors, evaluating capital investments, and developing and using powerful networks will help her achieve her goal. She says: ‘We have a good customer base, scalable systems, and strong cash flow from existing products. We are now at a key inflection point.’
An insider’s view: Kari W. Block, CEO, Earth-Kind
Kari explains why she welcomed the opportunity to empower students and how taking part in the case took her back to her entrepreneurial roots.
I wanted to empower students by demonstrating the success they can have in addressing the world's most pressing problems through entrepreneurship. Research shows that we (especially women) benefit from seeing 'what's possible' and will reach higher if we have positive role models. And we need more women protagonists! I know from my own experience that my self-confidence grew, as did my awareness of what was really possible, after I joined the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme. This programme took away any doubt of what I thought was possible as a leader.
The case will provide global exposure for my company. This will help to open new doors of mutual opportunity between universities, local governments, and entrepreneurs with the aim of enabling farm families living in poverty to find new opportunities. I detail this mission in my earthkind blog, Facebook page, and Huffington Post articles.
Taking part in this case reminded me of the power that higher learning institutions have in the economic ecosystem. It’s also reconnected by spirit to the original intent I had when I began earthkind. I needed a way to feed my family and I had an idea that I knew could prevent costly rodent damage for farmers everywhere, without causing harm to the environment. The company’s success has allowed me to re-imagine the impact we can have worldwide. As a result, I’m putting plans in place which will help to create local opportunities for other women and farm families in agricultural regions across the world.
The big picture
It's always rewarding to contribute to the big picture of what needs to be done as a community of business leaders. I believe that we need to be good role models; offer opportunities for growth and learning; and be willing to share what we have learned as leaders. It's very powerful for students to see how entrepreneurs translate their ideas into job creation, and their influence into a currency that creates the very change they envision as a leader.
G V Muralidhara
GV explains how he heard about Kari’s innovative business idea, why he believes the case is so inspiring and what he learnt about case writing in the process.
I had the opportunity to listen to Kari’s story when she made a presentation at the USASBE Conference at Fort Worth, USA, in January 2014. I found her journey exciting and interesting and could sense her passion for what she was doing.
I thought that a case about her entrepreneurial journey would be a great learning tool for students. Kari readily agreed to collaborate with me and was extremely enthusiastic about developing a case based on her experiences.
This case can help students learn how to develop an initial idea into a successful business; discover the qualities required to succeed as an entrepreneur; and understand the stages entrepreneurs go through in their career.
It also sensitizes students to the need to develop businesses that can contribute to sustainability.
Students find the case engaging because they can connect with Kari through her story and will also find it challenging to identify and evaluate the alternative courses open to Kari to grow her business further.
Interesting stories and drama
Writing this case helped me to understand the importance of always being on the lookout for interesting stories that may be suitable for a case.
I also learnt that entrepreneurs are usually forthcoming about sharing their experiences and there are many opportunities for researching and developing cases on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. When writing a case, it is always important to create a sense of drama in the story to make it interesting.
This case also highlights how women entrepreneurs have the unique ability to combine compassion and caring with business acumen to become successful leaders.
G V Muralidhara, Dean of the Case Research Center, IBS Hyderabad, India.
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Building a Business from Nature: Kari W. Block’s Entrepreneurial Journey
Meet Kari Block...