Protekta Inc., is a company in the village of Lucknow with an unassuming frontage.
To the right of the former Nine Waves store, is a small sign leading to a steel door. It opens into a looming warehouse of Danish products sold by Protekta Inc., a private feed additive and animal health company that believes prevention through proper nutrition, feed ingredients and the environment is the most effective way to raise animals.
What the casual passerby does not see is that Protekta, owned by Morten Jakobsen, was ranked number 257 on the 30th annual Growth 500, the definitive ranking of Canada’s fastest-growing companies. Protekta made the 2018 Growth 500 list with a five-year revenue growth of 259 per cent.
What makes the accolade really unique is that Protekta is one of only six companies from the agriculture sector on the 2018 list.
The success is largely connected to Morten’s business acumen, his wife Helene’s ability to implement Morten’s vision and skill with numbers (she is also owner of Nine Waves fashion store) and their son Lasse’s passion for technology and marketing. Success was also due to the quality of their Danish-imported products including X-Zelit, a dry-cow feed ingredient for preventing subclinical and clinical hypocalcemia (milk fever) in dairy cattle. This product kickstarted Protekta’s expansion into the U.S market and is the top-seller among a host of products that serve the dairy, poultry and hog industry.
It’s pigs that started it all for Morten who grew up in Denmark, son of a successful entrepreneur who elevated swine genetics in Denmark by raising and importing Canadian pigs for his Danish farms.
“My dad was very progressive and he established a breeding herd in Lucknow to improve Danish genetics,” says Morten from his office over looking Lucknow’s main street.
Morten’s father never lived in Canada but Morten came to Lucknow for a year to work on the swine farm and gain experience. In that year, he immersed himself in village life, making many friends who are still part of his social circle today.
Returning to Denmark, Morten finished his schooling and one year of work experience to earn his “green card”, Denmark’s system of agriculture license. Working with his father, Morten spent 15 years selling and building turnkey hog operations under the Protekta company name.
The business included a construction company, which Morten took over for over a decade while his brother focussed on farming.
Morten and Helene married, had three children (Lasse, Laura and Peter) and in 1995, the Jakobsen brothers naturally divided with Morten and family deciding to take over the Canadian component of the business.
“I was curious about the opportunity here”, remembers Morten. “It was a bigger country with more elbow room. At the time, it was less regulated and being beside the United States opened more opportunities.”
With an established farm to go to, the move was a no-brainer.
What Morten took with him from Denmark was an entrepreneurial spirit of his father, an inherent sociability and a desire to focus on sales.
He created his own separate company, using the Protekta name, with the intent to import pig equipment and technology from Denmark to sell in Canada.
“It was kind of a continuation of what I was doing in Denmark”, says Morten.
When Danish businesses heard about the move, he was contacted to be the Canadian representative for their companies. So he came with a place, ideas, and 10 companies to represent. It was up to him to establish multiple sales opportunities and make a success of it.
Which he did. At first Protekta focussed on equipment but soon sales of a product called Stalosan – a biosecurity product that can be spread in pens while animals are still present – flourished. The product controls bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, moisture, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
Creators of Stalosan sold to a larger company (Vilofoss) with a wider variety of specialty feed products which Morten was then responsible for selling as well.
Among them was X-Zelit which has become the bread and butter of Protekta.
As sales of Protekta products became more popular in disease prevention, Morten decided to get out of the pig equipment side (which required servicing and therefore, equipment mechanics) of the business and devote his time to North American sales of products to livestock farmers.
Personally, Morten enjoyed selling feed additives more. A businessman rather than a nutritionist, Morten nevertheless finds it very rewarding when his products contribute to a farmer’s success. Plus, from a business perspective, there is more potential for repeat sales
Making the Growth 500 list with a revenue growth of 259 per cent in the $2 to $5 million sales category indicates he made the right decision.
Based on their business mandate that “prevention is better than treatment”, Morten explains that much of the additive technology was forced on the farmers of Denmark when they were told to get rid of antibiotics in the mid-1990s. Canada and the United States are moving in that direction as well and can capitalize on research done by their European counterparts.
“The Danish farmers had to figure out how to produce healthy pigs and still be leading livestock producers,”
explains Morten. Denmark is the fourth largest exporter of pork in the world.
Helene is a vital part of the business with her own administration skills. She is currently closing the Nine Waves store in Lucknow to devote more time to Protekta.
Their son, Lasse, has joined in the family business bringing a younger generation’s understanding of millennials, technological confidence, marketing and his own sales aspirations. The other two Jakobsen children are younger and still deciding on their future career paths.
Sales of Protekta products are made by going to animal health conferences, attending farm shows and connecting with nutritionists who are looking for solutions to on-farm issues.
What really boosts Protekta’s credibility is conformation from a Cornell University study that confirmed X-Zelit is effective in preventing milk fever.
“I paid for the study and it was expensive but it was the best investment I could have made,” said Morten. He took a risk knowing he had no control over the outcome of the study. When results came in favour of X-Zelit, he had confirmation his products work to share with clients.
X-Zelit is the shining star for dairy clients of Protekta. The product Stalosan remains Morten’s top seller in the hog industry. In poultry, PECKStone is the up and coming product. It is a round stone used as an enrichment tool in chicken barns. It keeps the chicken’s beaks trimmed (for the time when farmers cannot cut beaks) and encourages chicken’s natural behaviour of searching for food and consumption, encouraging mobility. Other products can be seen on the company website.
Morten’s future goals for Protekta include growing the company across North America and creating a work environment that will attract ambitious sales staff. He is keeping in mind that he also needs to make room for the next generation.
Morten loves his role as a business owner but also as a salesman.
“When you visit a farmer, and listen to his problem and believe you have a product that can help him. Well then you make that sale and you drive out the laneway with such a feeling,” explains Morten. “Then you do a follow-up with the farmers and you hear that it is working, you get that feeling again.”
“The money is nice, for sure it is,” says Morten. So is the business being recognized by Growth 500. However, it’s having a solution to a problem that Morten finds really satisfying.
Though he admits he is keen to make the Growth 500 list again next year!
Growth 500 (formerly known as PROFIT 500) has been compiling its list of Canada’s top 500 business for 30 years. It ranks businesses by five-year revenue growth. The Growth 500 is produced by Canadian Business with winners being profiled in a special Growth 500 print issue packaged with the October issue of Maclean’s magazine. ◊