Kristen Denzer – Founder & CEO, Tierra Encantada

Kristen Denzer is the founder and CEO of Tierra Encantada. Kristen has a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Psychology, a Master’s in Advocacy and Leadership, and has completed doctoral work (ABD) in Educational Policy and Administration. Kristen started her first entrepreneurial endeavor in 2008 – an event rental company. She grew that company from 20 events to 500 events annually in just six years. While operating the successful event rental company, she started a second business in 2010 with a childhood friend called The Woof Room – a dog daycare and boarding facility. She managed to grow both to serve thousands of clients each year. She continued to operate all three businesses until 2016 when she sold her event rental company and dog daycare facility to focus solely on Tierra Encantada. Today, Tierra Encantada has four corporate locations in Minnesota (five in 2020), multiple franchised locations in the works, and over 100 full-time employees. Kristen is actively involved in the community and serves on the Board of Directors of Women Venture and the School Board of her children’s school. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the world. Her exploits have included gorilla trekking in Rwanda, hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, and playing with seals in the Galapagos.

Tell us about the early days of Tierra Encantada.

In 2013, while struggling to find childcare that reflected my values, the idea for Tierra Encantada first came to life. I had already started several businesses that I was operating at that time. When you start and grow successful businesses as a 23/24/25-year-old, you start to feel a bit invincible by age 29. Like you can do anything. That was how I felt starting Tierra Encantada, and wow I was I wrong. I figured how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you, childcare is A LOT different than other types of businesses. It’s highly regulated and capital intensive. I made many, many mistakes with my first location and I learned a lot.

Tierra Encantada was the first business that I started that needed outside capital and got my first Small Business Administration loan. I grossly-underestimated how much money I needed for pretty much everything – particularly working capital. When we opened that first day in July of 2013, we had more full-time employees than we had children enrolled! It was my first brush with failure, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had two other successful businesses in addition to Tierra Encantada, I may not be where I am today. Those first six months I poured money into the business. I exhausted all the working capital I had asked for within the first two months and put every penny I had into Tierra.

Fortunately, after much trial and error, I figured out what worked – and what didn’t – and about a year after we first opened our doors, we finally hit break even. And of course, like any serial entrepreneur, I immediately started thinking about what’s next. That was five years ago, and in that time, we have experienced exponential growth, which is what landed us on the Inc. 5000 (774% growth in three years) this year. I went on to purchase a building and opened Tierra Encantada – Bryant (2016), which went on a waiting list within a few months of opening. In 2018, I purchased my largest building yet – a church – and redeveloped it into Tierra Encantada – Windom, which filled all 200+ spaces before we even opened our doors.

This year has been an exciting year for Tierra Encantada. I opened location #4 (Tierra Encantada – Seward), and launched franchising in late Spring 2019. Within months of launching franchising, we already awarded a multi-unit deal to open locations in Charlotte and Houston and have multiple other deals in the works. We also have our corporation location #5 currently under construction (Tierra Encantada – Hiawatha), our first new construction location. I’m very excited for the future, and I feel incredibly thankful to have a truly amazing team that helped make this possible.

Tierra Encantada is the leader in Spanish immersion early education. Tierra Encantada provides care for children ages six weeks through six years of age. Our fresh-cooked, organic meals are designed to expand children’s young palates and we are proud to use cloth diapers in our program to do our part to help reduce waste.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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