Superior Visions builds business on successWhen Tera Johnson started thinking about starting a business in 2007, the economy was humming along.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
When Tera Johnson started thinking about starting a business in 2007, the economy was humming along.
She developed a plan, started finding investors to help build a $14 million plant to process whey and eventually a product that would provide people with organic and goat whey protein, a healthier alternative to protein products used by body builders.
The economy stumbled as the Reedsburg, Wis., plant was under construction.
Johnson shared her story — and some of the unexpected turns of events — during an early morning session of Superior Visions, “Planning and Serendipity: Getting from where you are to where you want to be.”
Superior Visions was created five years ago to provide women in particular with a way to build business relationships and create an environment for networking and mentoring.
“We found the need for additional places where women business owners and women business managers … could mentor one another or get to know one another on a structured basis,” said Julianne Raymond, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. “We don’t turn men away … we felt there was a need for women speakers as much as possible and topics that would be of interest to women business managers.”
Mentoring has been behind the success of many business starts by men and women have the need to learn from one another and realize it’s OK to learn from one another, Raymond said.
With that goal in mind, Johnson shared a story of rapid success that spun out of building a business during the recession. The founder of teraswhey worked as chief executive officer at White Clover Dairy near Kaukauna, Wis. — one of the top 100 privately held businesses in Wisconsin — when she learned about the curative value of whey — a byproduct of cheese production — and the desire of consumers to buy an organic protein product.
With the nation’s economy crumbling, construction was underway, Johnson said.
“Things really sucked but what are you going to do,” Johnson said. “You keep going.”
But the economy had a profound impact on production when the plant was finished. Johnson said she planned to distribute a bulk product originally and eventually get to developing her own brand.
“I had buyers who said they would buy, and they didn’t buy,” Johnson said. “I had suppliers who didn’t supply. The economy fell apart.”
That reality prompted the serial entrepreneur to develop her brand sooner than anticipated.
Products were developed and the company went through a branding exercise that developed the name of the product — teraswhey — and packaging to convey a healthy, clean product.
“We ended up selling through alternative medical practitioners,” Johnson said.
“If you go to a Whole Foods Co-op anywhere in the nation, you’ll find teraswhey,” Johnson said. “That happened very fast.”
She said while the product was about to go national, Johnson realized they were not ready for it, and she had to begin raising money in the midst of a recession to expand operations.
“The launch went according to plan,” Johnson said. After an initial dip, she said sales skyrocketed — both on the branded and bulk side.
“The recession, it accelerated everything for us,” Johnson said. “We had to grow up so fast ... This was my baby and it was flying away.”
She said for the business to keep growing, it needed funding, so she and her board took it public.
Now Johnson is sharing what she’s learned as a food and finance consultant with the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
“You have to be plan-full in some significant way, but you also have to be ready for serendipity,” Johnson said.