Young Kansas entrepreneurs share stories of
lessons learned in building their businesses.
As Published in The Marketplace magazine
By Susan Miller
Yoder, Kan. — Many youths get their first entrepreneurial experience by mowing lawns. However Shane Iwashige, now in his early 30s, has reversed the pattern. After working on several unrelated small businesses — cutting firewood, raising dogs and running a small farm — he started investing in real estate and offering home services to people in the Hutchinson, Kan. area.
In July 2018 he added lawn mowing, edging and landscaping services to the collection of small companies he founded under The Rock Group. Since late summer and autumn rains kept unirrigated lawns green until after the first snowfall in mid-October, Iwashige spent many work hours mowing grass on the 170 properties he manages.
Recently, Iwashige and Mark Horst of King Solar told a Kansas MEDA Network Hub meeting how they seek to better their communities and support their families with their services and products.
Climate also affects Horst’s business. The sunny climate — 224 days a year in Hutchinson — is good for the solar energy business. Unlike a dozen states that offer support for solar energy, including Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona and South Carolina, Kansas state politicians have not brought in incentives to encourage the solar sector, except a property tax exemption for the amount that solar equipment adds to a home’s value.
Nevertheless, a federal tax credit of 30 per cent of the cost to install solar energy in residences and businesses helps all US solar firms.
Like Iwashige, Horst worked in other family and creative occupations before buying King Solar from Nicholas and Rhonda King, uncle and aunt of his wife, Kendra. The Kings had established the business in 1982 and were founding members of Climate Energy Business Council. Horst carries on the Kings’ efforts to provide sustainable energy.
Horst, who has attained the highest certification in the solar industry, designs and oversees all the King Solar projects in residential homes, rental homes and businesses across Kansas.
If he had the opportunity to do one thing differently since starting his business, Horst would hire full-time employees earlier than he did to reduce his own work hours. He put his pottery art work on hold to have more family time with his wife and their two young sons while he directs operations at King Solar.
Education is an important part of Horst’s job. He helps individuals make wise decisions about investments in solar power and tries to educate government leaders on the economic and environmental advantages of solar energy.
The economic payback on a solar system has several variables. The return on investment is best when both the state and federal governments offer tax credits and the regional electric power company buys unneeded electricity generated by homeowners’ solar systems instead of charging fees to homeowners to connect to the utility grid. Payback also changes in relationship to the cost of electrical power. Nevertheless, an investment in solar energy provides a “philosophical benefit” and the cost of solar equipment is going down even as its quality and efficiency improves.
King Solar’s annual growth averages 10 per cent year over year.
Iwashige bought his first rental property and began managing rentals for some of his friends. Later he bought and renovated fixer-uppers for rentals. In 2016 Iwashige got his realtor’s license and became a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Americana.
He added Rock Rentals in 2013 and Rock Renovations in 2016 as micro industries to The Rock Group. In April 2018, he added a cleaning and janitorial service, Refresh by the Rock.
Iwashige chose his business’s name because his Japanese surname means “heavy rock.”
Iwashige named himself “keeper of the culture” for The Rock Group. The corporate culture stresses building community by valuing people more than the bottom line and developing leaders to become everything they can be.
Putting people first and working in partnership were key strategies in running Horst’s solar business as well.
Asked about the challenges he faces, Horst cited difficulties with time management that have led him to try to work more intentionally.
Iwashige confessed that keeping himself on task is a work in progress.
Horst’s leading life mentors are his pastor father, Kurt Horst, and businessman Tim Sweigart, a Kansas electrician who is a MEDA supporter. He also takes business advice from his father-in-law, Ken King.
Iwashige learned from his grandfather, a pastor and farmer who advised him, “It’s important to let them have your way.”
His grandfather was actually talking about cattle, Iwashige said, “but I’ve found that the same principle also applies to people in various roles.”
Finding that the advice they gave to customers didn’t hold up was “most painful,” Iwashige said. Once he underestimated the costs of a property he advised an investor to buy. Horst remembers having to admit to a customer his misjudgment on how fast his solar investment would pay for itself.
Both panelists were asked by moderator Mike Miller how they would advise prospective entrepreneurs. Iwashige urged people to have clarity about their enterprise before starting
“I [started microbusinesses] because I could.”
People considering starting a business should “formalize solutions and systemize processes so you don’t have to solve the same problem over again,” he said.
Horst advised starting a business that will have adequate cash flow. Meeting the continuing and changing needs of established customers helps a business get through financial lows, he said.
“Protect yourself, family, and customers. We want to make everybody happy, but sometimes we can’t.
Horst and Iwashige practice their Christian faith as they run their businesses, teach in church, parent their young sons, make pottery, work in the public eye or behind the scenes.
“We believe we do worthwhile work. God gave us gifts that we’re supposed to live out,” Iwashige concluded. ◆