External Relations - Kate Latos
Written by: Cleo Williams
As seen in the December 2017 issue
For Kate Latos, being the founder of an eco-friendly business wasn’t always the dream, but a random trip to Calgary and the truth about plastic waste left her feeling like something needed to be done. After winning $10,000 and a one year mentorship at the University of Alberta’s first Business Alumni Association Innovation Challenge in 2016, Kate has continued to grow Ecofence and Decking, working towards keeping plastic out of landfills.
This month, Lazy Faire had the opportunity to chat with Kate about what it really takes to become a green entrepreneur.
Your business, Ecofence and Decking, uses recycled materials to keep plastic out of landfills. Has “being green” always been one of your passions? What sparked this interest in saving the environment?
No, being green wasn’t always a passion. My husband owned an oilfield company and the oil fields slowed down in 2015. So, he went back to school for renewable resources and part of the program was a recycling class. He actually wanted to do solar panels. I was editing a paper for him, and it was about plastic in the ocean and how it never decomposes and fish and birds eat it – then if you eat the fish we’re consuming plastic as well. I was rather bothered by that finding from his paper, and we started talking about what could we make that would have a long life span. Most plastic is a one-time use product. So, most plastic that you buy and consume ends up in the landfill within one year of purchase. It’s important to note that less than 9% of all plastic that’s ever been created has been recycled. Therefore, I wanted a product that had longer than a one-year lifespan. We were driving to Calgary and I saw a whole bunch of vinyl fences and thought, “Why are we making new plastic for vinyl?” And that is how we got started.
You entered the Business Alumni Association Innovation Challenge as a last-minute decision, and ended up walking away in first place. What was that experience like? To have your idea validated by experienced business leaders?
That was a really big thing because I told a couple people about my idea before we entered the contest and they told me it was stupid. Nobody believed in it. Everyone said, “Well why a fence? You put a fence in once and you never replace it.” But people do replace their fences. If you’re driving from Edmonton to Calgary you’ll see tons of communities that need new fences. There’s a big market, but no one believed in me except for myself. It was really exciting to have other people say “Hey you know what, your idea is great and it is worth spending the money on,” because it is scary to take a lot of your own capital and invest in new ideas. The innovation contest gave me the courage to follow my idea through.
In your opinion, what has been the most valuable asset your ASoB education has given to your career?
One thing that was really valuable was the relationships and the network that I’ve developed. In my MBA I got lots of good contacts; lots of support from people who are in different industries and have different backgrounds. They’d come from commerce, they came from engineering, they came from accounting. They’re a really good source for me to be able to go and talk to throughout the process. But overall, I think everything in the program was helpful. In order to win the contest, I had to do a whole business plan that I put together by myself. So, I had to use all my training from school to put that together.
What advice would you give to current U of A students who want to start a business?
One of the best things about the innovation contest was putting together that business plan. I think that if you don’t go through the whole activity of putting together a business plan, like trying to get some capital and some investors, then you’re going to miss some markets and miss realizing how expensive it actually is to start a business. It’s about going through the whole process and creating a full business plan. Not just a little page one, but doing 100 pages and doing your finances. Whatever number you come up with with regard to finances, you should probably double it because it’s a lot more expensive than you think. There’s a lot more hidden costs and there’s processes that you’ll never know you need to do. So, you need to have a lot more capital on hand than you’re expecting. Another big thing, I found with sharing my business plan with different people, was I got different feedbacks and I learned about markets that I never even knew existed that would be good opportunities for ourselves.