Entrepreneur Q&A: Transforming Business Through a Person-Centered Approach – Discovery Horse, Fort Ripley, MN

Samantha Erkkila, Digital Media Specialist

May 23, 2024

Matt Schwab and Sara Sherman-Schwab are the owners of Discovery Horse in Fort Ripley, Minnesota. (Entrepreneur Fund)

When Zac Swarthout, a business developer at the Entrepreneur Fund, first met Sara Sherman-Schwab and Matt Schwab, they were performing the tasks of 10 people. While it’s common for small business owners to take on multiple roles, Sara and Matt knew they were ready for growth, but they needed guidance on how to approach financing and make strategic business decisions.

The owners of Discovery Horse, a behavioral health and mental wellness business located on a farm in Fort Ripley, MN, had received a rural capacity grant from the state of Minnesota EFund initially partnered with Discovery Horse to provide a working capital loan, which was crucial for equipment purchases and paved the way for Matt and Sara to effectively utilize the state’s grant.

Looking to add more full-time positions, Sara and Matt then participated in EFund’s Quality Jobs program in 2022. The grant program enabled them to define new positions with family supporting wages, work with a Human Resources professional, and start developing employee benefit packages.

Sara Sherman-Schwab, co-owner of Discovery Horse, catches up with her Entrepreneur Fund advisor Zac Swarthout at her farm in Fort Ripley, MN. (Entrepreneur Fund)

Today, Discovery Horse employs five full-time staff and three part-time employees, which includes virtual parent coaches. We recently caught up with Sara to see how their business has transformed over the last year. Here’s what she had to say.  

EFund: Can you tell us about the transformative journey your business has undergone in the past year?

Sara: Absolutely! It's been a whirlwind. Last July, we embarked on a one-week Human Resources immersion that shook things up completely, leading to a comprehensive restructuring. This immersive experience, facilitated by Annie Monyok from Monyok Leadership and her team, brought together traditional HR practices with our non-traditional mindset, ultimately fostering a more relational approach in our workplace. The goal was to create a person-centered environment while still driving business growth, and I'm proud to say, we succeeded.

As a result, she wrote a blog that generated significant interest from business leaders seeking insight into how they too could run a more person-centered workplace. Those requests came from manufacturing, emergency assistance and legal. As a result, Annie and I are collaborating to generate a program that does just that. We will offer that to business leaders and executive directors in the future. 

EFund: What prompted the need for such a dramatic change?

Sara: We realized that to truly thrive, we needed to value our staff as much as our business operations. This shift in perspective led to a complete staff turnover and a fundamental change in our business model. We understood that paying fair wages was essential to securing the expertise we required, and in turn, fostering a culture of commitment and value among our team.

EFund: How did you implement this change practically?

Sara: We prioritized paying above industry-standard wages, ensuring that our team felt appreciated and valued. For instance, our designated coordinator, who transitioned from a special education background, received a substantial 30%. Similarly, our social worker's salary increased by over 52%. These decisions were supported by being creative with revenue streams and embracing calculated risks in our business endeavors.

EFund: How did you navigate the financial aspects of this transformation?

Sara: Working closely with financial experts, like Supporting Strategies, and my business consultant, Pam Finch with Red Ribbon Consulting, was crucial. Despite the challenges of projecting income and expenses in our non-traditional model, their guidance streamlined our financial processes and instilled confidence in our decision-making.

EFund: How has this transformation impacted your team and business overall?

Sara: The results have been remarkable. Our team feels genuinely invested in the business, leading to increased productivity and a positive work environment. Clients and staff alike are drawn to our person-centered approach, fostering a sense of community and purpose. Despite facing challenges like sick animals and staffing shortages, our team's dedication has been unwavering, showcasing the power of a supportive workplace culture.

EFund: What role did the Entrepreneur Fund play in your journey?

Sara: We just simply would not be here if it weren’t for EFund. Through loans, expert referrals, and Zac’s guidance, consultation, and commitment, we've been able to navigate challenges and seize opportunities for growth. We have had the clients knocking at our door all along the way. What we didn’t have was the capacity to meet that need while also building and maintaining the business model we were committed to operating with. It’s been incredibly difficult and scary to move forward in the way that we have, but Matt and I could not have done it alone.

EFund: What's next for Discovery Horse?

Sara: We're focused on expanding our revenue streams and solidifying our benefits packages to support our team's growth and well-being. With the foundation we've built, we're poised for significant expansion and continued success in the years to come.

Entrepreneur Fund advisors Zac Swarthout and Sandy Voigt discuss business opportunities with Discovery Horse owners Matt Schwab and Sara Sherman-Schwab at their farm in Fort Ripley, MN. (Entrepreneur Fund)

Ready to achieve sustainable growth?

Sara and Matt's journey with Discovery Horse demonstrates that valuing staff and fostering a supportive workplace culture can lead to remarkable success and growth. If you're inspired by their story and ready to elevate your own business, don't hesitate to reach out to the Entrepreneur Fund. Whether you're looking to expand your team, redefine your business model, or navigate financial challenges, the Entrepreneur Fund is here to help you succeed.

Let's transform the way we do business, together. Contact us today or get started here to take the first step in your journey towards reaching your business goals.

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