TerraCon Technologies offers advice for other startups

Startup: TerraCon Technologies offers advice for other startups


Ruth Baum Bigus, special to The Kansas City Star
Posted on Mon, Dec. 24, 2007 10:15 PM

TerraCon’s soil conditioning device is displayed by Gregg Whittaker, one of the majority owners.
TerraCon’s soil conditioning device is displayed by Gregg Whittaker, one of the majority owners.

Business: TerraCon Technologies, 1416 Woodbury Lane, Liberty; 816-792-0747; www.terracontech.com

Majority owners: Stephen Carr (founder), Tony Hartlage and Gregg Whittaker.

About the business: TerraCon
is a research and development company. The three technologies owned and
developed by TerraCon are the TerraStar Soil Conditioning Device, the
TerraSystem and the TerraCycle. The company is in discussions for
distribution of the TerraStar device, which is manufactured by a
company in Ohio. The other products are in the prototype stage and
expected to be introduced for the 2008 growing season.

Owners’ roles: Carr,
Hartlage and Whittaker — along with Darrell Norton and Thomas Page, who
have equity stakes — are the managing members with strategic oversight
responsibilities. Carr and Whittaker are responsible for the day-to-day
operations. Whittaker also is the managing member of The Whittaker
Group LLC and an associate professor of business at William Jewell
College in Liberty.

How long did it take you to start your business?

“Stephen
Carr has been involved in the development and research of the TerraStar
and other agricultural technologies for more than 10 years,” Whittaker
said. “In 2005, Stephen engaged my firm, The Whittaker Group, to work
with him to further develop and commercialize the technologies.”

What things worked in starting the business?

“The
technologies and the science involved worked from inception. The
relationships we have developed with our manufacturing and research
partners have worked wonderfully. Being in constant communication with
everyone involved is essential.”

How did you select your firm and product names?

“AgStar
was the first name we used. But we are seeking to build a quality
brand, so we decided that we needed to be more strategic about our
company and technology names. TerraCon comes from Terra (which is Latin
for soil) and Con (which is short for conditioning). Therefore TerraCon
Technologies aptly describes us as a soil conditioning technologies
development company.”

Do you have advice for others who hope to start their own business?

“The
single most important factor in the success of a start-up company is
the management team. Find qualified people with whom you can develop a
strong working relationship. Build a team of trustworthy but largely
unreasonable people. It takes unreasonable people to refuse to accept
defeat in the face of daunting obstacles. And such obstacles occur with
regularity in the start-up process.”

Did you ever reach a low point in the process, and how did you overcome it?

“In
the area of financing, we went in saying we needed a certain amount of
financing, and we had difficulty getting it. We had to bootstrap our
company; our team either took reduced salaries or didn’t take any
salary at all, but we all decided to go forward. Our core team stuck
together and never faltered. Starting a business is like driving a bus
— you need to get the right people on and the wrong people off.”

Anything else you would like to share?

“If
you have a dream, realize that no one will be as committed to it as
you. So don’t grow discouraged if others don’t share your dream. Lead
by example, remain focused and don’t give up.”

 

Ruth Baum Bigus, special to The Star

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