Through hard work and passion, Lorri White, co-founder of Keika Ventures, has gone from a curious small-town girl to a global entrepreneur, seeking to help people around the world facilitate their environmental testing projects.
“We help them get their sampling projects done in a quicker and more streamlined fashion,” White said.
Hailing from the southeast corner of Indiana, White lived in Osgood, Indiana, with one stoplight, a town population of 1,000, and a high school graduating class of 50 students. White’s family’s national claim to fame was the Oscar nominee “Hoosiers” film, which was loosely based on the story of the Milan High School team that won the 1954 state championship. White’s uncle played on the 1954 team.
“It was a great way to grow up. We knew what our boundaries were, and if you were home before it was dark, pretty much, we could just go do whatever,” she said.
During her time at home, she helped on the family farms and at her grandparents’ gravel and limestone hauling business where she realized she wanted to have her own business someday. She also fostered a love for science, which led her to Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, where she majored in chemistry, and got the small classroom and big football school setting.
Before starting Keika Ventures, White sought to pursue a Ph.D., which brought her to the University of North Carolina. After a year of chemistry-related research, White realized that research was not her passion. Instead of pursuing a career in open-ended research, White decided that project-driven deadlines were more in line with her interests.
“But I had no plan,” White reflected. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just figured it out along the way by trying things and seeing what I like to do and then continue on that line.”
So, White started working at a lab that focused on environment testing of air, water, and soil for dioxin. There she met Allyson Porter, who ended up helping White co-found Keika Ventures.
After some time, the lab they were working at was struggling and didn’t seem like a viable option for the future. Forced to plan their next move, the pair began to brainstorm and began Environmental Connections, the first iteration of Keika Ventures.
“It was in the early days before the internet was really big, that we’d be an aggregator of like environmental services, connecting people who wanted various things from various companies in local services and sort of bundling that all together and coordinating it for them,” White said.
In less than 3 years, the company managed to get $20 million in venture capital. After bringing in venture funding, the company, during the “dot com boom” saw a name change, boom in clientele, and growth of employees. But with the boom came the bust, and the company began to lose footing with what White calls the “legacy clients.”
These clients were people who wanted to continue their business the traditional way through emails, phone orders, and purchase orders; something the investors, insistent on using portals and websites, tried to diminish.
White and Porter realized they knew the trick of the trade, having built environmental connections for years and had clients who were eager to continue business with them. Keika Ventures was officially born.
After starting Environmental Connections, White and Porter met Woody Taylor who soon became part owner of the company. White and Porter, rich in business skills but unfamiliar with website building, were looking to create a website but couldn’t afford to contract a website builder. Luckily, the pair and Taylor bartered a deal in which Taylor, familiar with website building, would build a website in exchange for a part ownership of Environmental Connections.
“When we started with Environmental Connections with the three of us, we’re doing what we do now just on a bigger scale now, because we are selling products and analytical and online training,” she said.
Since then, White has expanded her small-town horizons to aid clients from Thailand, Kenya, and Israel to Columbia, Chile, and Ecuador.
“I feel like [working with Keika] has expanded my global awareness. In a greater sense, connecting with the world, especially through COVID. You know… with all the problems in the world, you realize that people are more alike than they are different, no matter what religion, or what color or what sexuality or whatever they are. There are more commonalities if you get to know people,” she said.
White feels that people need that awareness and connection to different people in different places to best help them in projects crucial to their industries. Without this sense of global teamwork, neither end can obtain what they need.
To White, Keika Ventures, and her work, functions as a fundamental tool to many clients and countries who may not have the easiest means to run tests locally. Keika Ventures provides the infrastructure and connections to get these crucial jobs done efficiently and reliably.
“Today, somebody emailed me from Mexico about mushrooms growing out of a wall and [wanted] to test them,” she said. “We get these interesting things to try and solve. So, it’s never boring, it’s not the same thing all the time. You’re challenged. You’re using your mind to try and think ‘oh, how can we do this? What can be done to help them solve this problem?’”
On top of odd and interesting challenges, White values flexibility and creativity, striving to incorporate both aspects into the Keika Ventures workspace.
“There’s a lot of room to do what you want to do. If there’s something that you really want to do or have an idea that you think is going to help the business or grow a certain product line… you can do it,” she shared.
Many children say they want to be doctors or firemen when they grow up, setting upon their lives with an end-goal career in mind. A handful, like White, are unsure but manage to take one step at a time to find where they can shed their light best. Hard work, perseverance, and curiosity can take people through incredible places they did not expect.
“I would like to think that when I leave this world, that I’ve left it a better place.”