Janie Hanson, CEO of Hanson Lahre
Entrepreneurship is to business as a spark is to a flame. It requires a combination of vision, skill, and boldness — plus a healthy dose of serendipity. To the rest of us mere mortals, the successful entrepreneur can appear almost magical, conjuring the perfect product out of thin air at just the right moment in time.
Which leads me to Janie Hanson. Hanson is what used to be described as a real “go-getter.” She’s worn many hats in her life — farm girl, musician, softball player, artist, business leader, financial wiz, and most recently, serial entrepreneur.
Hanson’s dreams have taken her far from the cornfields of Frost and out into the global marketplace, only to eventually bring her back full circle to Minnesota soil. Her career started with stops at Fortune 500 companies like Deere & Company and General Electric, where she built her leadership chops and filled her business toolkit with indispensable experience. Since she returned, Hanson has made a series of bold, entrepreneurial moves, weaving together the creative and the pragmatic to supply innovative solutions for farmers everywhere.
Hanson’s first entrepreneurial endeavor was Connect the Grey, a platform for creating, developing, and investing in early-stage creative ventures, which she founded in 2014. That led to the formation of Hanson Lahre Inc. in 2019, which Hanson leads as CEO. Hanson Lahre is a technology development company dedicated to producing software, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology solutions. Its first product, Croptomize, is an Apple iOS software application that launched in 2019. A second software product, The Farm CFO, is scheduled to be released in May 2021.
You can also find Hanson working behind the scenes at area nonprofits. She serves on the boards of the Minnesota Makers and Artists Guild and the Rural Renaissance Project. She is also a volunteer on GreenSeam’s branding and promotions committee.
When she’s not in the office or the boardroom, Hanson pours her energy into her artistic side (she’s a photographer and a sculptor) and manages her share of her fifth-generation family farming operation.
Wondering how she does it all? So am I!
What is your background?
I grew up on my family’s corn and soybean farm in southern Minnesota. As a kid, I always had a wide range of interests and activities: I was the pitcher for my softball team, played the drums and piano, and thrived in math and science classes, as well as in art.
When it came time to head to college, where I planned to play Division I softball, I chose studio art as my major, with a concentration in ceramics. I ultimately earned my bachelor’s degree in environmental science, with minors in studio art and economics from Gustavus, then went on to graduate school. I earned my MBA in finance from the Columbia Business School.
My professional career started in renewable energy development and finance before shifting into technology development in the ag sector with Croptomize.
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
My whole life. Growing up on the farm, entrepreneurship was a natural fit … though my first attempt at a lemonade stand was unsuccessful. The gravel road location might’ve had something to do with the lack of customers.
I really “cut my teeth” on managing a portfolio of projects while I was working at John Deere, leading wind farm developments across the U.S. The Renewables division was like working at a startup, but with the stability of the Deere & Co enterprise to back us up. Each project that eventually got built was its own company, so learning to balance a number of initiatives in the development pipeline was a critical skill that I continue to leverage today.
I took my first steps away from the corporate world in 2013 when I became a partner in a New York City art gallery (energy finance at GE by day, gallery events on weekends).
Tell us a little about why you started your business.
When I moved back to Minnesota from New York, I was looking for a reliable source of intel on the grain markets like what I had access to when working in the energy markets. I struggled to find this. Luckily, I met Deanna Lahre, my Croptomize co-founder, at a conference in Chicago. We started working together, coupling her 40 years of experience in the markets as a “triple threat” — trader, mathematician, and coder — with the best data and analytics to build a product that delivers clear, actionable insights for farm financial decisions.
What need does Croptomize fill?
Croptomize delivers market data, pricing probabilities, and tools to visualize opportunities in the markets to enhance farm revenues. These help farmers cut through the hype when it comes to selling their grain, providing access to the data and decision-making tools used by the major players in the commodity markets.
When did Croptomize launch?
We launched the free version of the Croptomize app in the Apple app store in October 2019 featuring local grain prices, the “BS Checker” — probabilities of different price levels, and market news updates. The subscription version, which includes hedging model results, was released in May 2020. However, we decided to make the 2020 service free for farmers given the economic uncertainty and disruptions from the pandemic.
We will be kicking off 2021 crop-year subscriptions starting in May. It will include a new The Farm CFO dashboard tab and a “Pros Only” package that provides a higher level of service, educational content, and market decision-making tools for farm financial management.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style as being a catalyst for innovation. I enjoy seeing potential and creating opportunities for others to utilize their talents and strengths.
Are there others in our community that are your leadership role models? Why?
Growing up in a family business, my earliest role models were my parents. They both took active leadership roles in the business and community, whether coaching youth sports, volunteering at church, or serving on the school board. They demonstrated that being part of a healthy community was just as important for success as having a healthy balance sheet.
How do you hone your leadership skills?
By constantly learning and evolving, seeking out different perspectives, and being around other creative leaders. But mostly through lots of practice and patience … though patience is a constant challenge for me!
What has contributed to your growth and success?
I’m not afraid to step out of my comfort zones and try new things. Understanding finance and how to utilize that language to get innovative projects off the ground was also important.
What are the joys of running your own business?
I love being able to take something from idea to reality and working with an incredible group of creatives.
Please share your top tips for other entrepreneurs.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself or take on a bold new role. One of my early mentors gave me the advice to always choose roles where I could learn the most. That focus on continuous learning and improvement is crucial in entrepreneurship, too. The world is constantly changing, so you’ve gotta stay on your toes and trust your ability to adapt.
What do you do outside of work to stay balanced?
I enjoy making art, playing music, and enjoying good food and conversation with family and friends.
Do you have any routines that you do each day?
I usually start my day catching up on news with a cup of coffee in front of the fireplace or on the porch, depending on the season, before the workday begins. I’m also mindful about making time for some form of exercise, whether a walk or run, yoga, or any outdoor activity.
What are you passionate about?
Some of the things I am passionate about are art, education, creating opportunities, and helping others.
What’s next in your business journey?
Next up in my business journey is the launch of The Farm CFO, which moves beyond the grain marketing intel of Croptomize to helping farm families plan, protect, and build their assets across generations. We’ve also got something big brewing in Blue Earth with the Rural Renaissance Project, connecting art, tech, and agriculture. This effort is bringing together a great group of local entrepreneurs and creatives, such as Connect the Grey, MankatoLIFE, SelfMadeGlory, Triple Falls Productions, and others. Stay tuned!
120 South Main Street, Suite C
Blue Earth, MN 56013
Phone: (612) 355-1599
Photo by Jon Smith