Claire Smith

Instead of being ashamed that you don’t know everything about business already, own it and use it as an excuse to learn everything you can from everyone you meet.


Claire Smith grew up in rural Michigan on a large family farm. After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience, her dad asked her to start a risky business with him on the farm growing teff, an ancient grain from Ethiopia.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Tenera Grains was actually born from necessity. My family has been farming since 1834 and traditionally, we’ve grown corn, wheat and soybeans. In 2015, corn prices started to plummet and my dad knew that if he wanted to save the land that seven generations of Smiths had accumulated, he would have to do something different. So he decided to start growing teff, an ancient grain from Ethiopia, on our farm in southern Michigan. That was the very beginning of Tenera Grains but it grew a lot more after I threw teff grain into granola and people started asking for Teffola.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me starts around 6:00am. I get to the coffee shop by 7 and I usually work there for around 5 hours being super focused on computer work. After that I’m doing errands, meetings and baking granola. What’s been really helpful for me to make my days more productive is writing down what my top 3 goals for the day are in my planner. I’ve never been super organized but Tenera will definitely get me there!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think what inhibits a lot of us when it comes to putting ideas into action is a fear of not being knowledgeable about what it is you want to do. I try to recognize that I have that fear and then push past it and just email or call the person who has more information for me. It just takes a small step to start.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I don’t know if Spenga is technically a trend yet but it definitely will be! Such an amazing workout. This isn’t business related aside from the fact that exercise is great for clearing your head and helping you refocus.
In terms of business, I’m really excited to see what else people can do with teff. It’s such a unique and challenging ingredient to work with but there are a lot of talented people out there.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I have a habit of not planning things out. While that might sound like a bad thing, it’s been really helpful in actually getting things accomplished like calling potential buyers without thinking through every last detail of every last scenario.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Instead of being ashamed that you don’t know everything about business already, own it and use it as an excuse to learn everything you can from everyone you meet.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Returning citizens (people who have been convicted) have just as much potential to do good as you and I.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Pick up the phone and call people instead of staring at an empty inbox.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Embracing that the story of Tenera Grains is my story and it needs to be as authentic as me. Whether it’s a little old lady at the farmers market or a buyer for a grocery chain, the story is the same. When you believe in the story and make it personal, telling people becomes very easy and authentic which sells much better than anything else.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I tried to sell teff flour on Amazon for just over a year in total. Very little traction and much more of a hassle than it was worth. I overcame it relatively quickly because I saw the potential in another revenue source (our teff granola)

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Teaching farmers how to grow and harvest teff. It’s pretty challenging to do but the way the market is going, more people are going to be growing teff are there are only so many people who have that knowledge

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Changing the oil in my car and giving it some TLC – I’m in my car a lot making deliveries and meeting store managers and if I’m panicking about the check engine light being on, I’m not going to be at my best. So getting that done and off my mind has been invaluable

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Adobe Elements – instead of asking friends or hiring out editing my photos which takes way too long, I edit them myself. I got a tutorial from a photographer friend. It helps me get new photos up on the site, on social media or wherever much faster.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Such a good read to remind yourself of what being a kid is like. Wild imaginations, fearlessly showing emotions and being honest are all things that the adult world still needs.

What is your favorite quote?

When everyone tells you your idea is crazy, that’s when you know you’re onto something – Robert Egger
Along the same lines as the famous Steve Jobs quote, the world doesn’t change if we all do what’s always been done. Our family farm might not exist in 50 years if we continue to do the same thing. We’re the first people east of the Mississippi growing teff for humans; people told us we were crazy, but we took the risk.

Key learnings:

  • Action is better than inaction. Call that person. Email that non profit. Visit that store. Ask the question.
  • Think crazy. Think big. Because you have something to offer the world that no one else has. It’s your job to share it.
  • The Little Prince will help remind you of crazy childhood dreams and wild imaginations. That kind of creative thinking can solve a lot of problems