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Breaking into the Microbrew Business

Wednesday, March 1 2017 12:00am

The Center for Entrepreneurship welcomes Ohio-based microbrewery owners to discuss their successes and obstacles in business development

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The microbrew industry is constantly growing. The Center for Entrepreneurship saw an opportunity to bring together microbrewery owners to share their entrepreneurial journeys with aspiring students.

The Center of Entrepreneurship, a partnership between the College of Business and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, welcomed more than 150 students to their microbrew panel on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to hear from four craft distilleries based in Ohio. Members of the panel included Kelly Sauber and Deanna Schwartz from West End Ciderhouse, Jason and Michelle Warren from Multiple Brewing Company, Bobby Slattery from Fifty West Brewing Company, and Jimmy Stockwell from Little Fish Brewing Company. With an impressive student turnout, the panelists each shared their unique entrepreneurial experiences. 

The event began with Paul Mass, associate director of the center, giving the audience a brief background on the microbrewery industry in Ohio, particularly citing data reflecting its enormous and recent growth in the state.  After introductions, the panelists each provided the group with background on their experiences, and a summary of their business and business model. Finally, Mass moderated the Q&A discussion with the audience.

“The students were eager to learn more and asked great questions about the difficulties in starting and growing a microbrewery in Ohio, how to sustain a successful brewery in a competitive industry, and the choices an entrepreneur has to make between personal lifestyle and business growth,” said Mass.

Some of the microbreweries maintain a strong focus on sustainability and growing the socioeconomic environment close to Athens. Jimmy Stockwell, co-owner of Little Fish, talked about their dedication to buying herbs, spices, and fruits from the nearby area to infuse their beer with the rich local flavors. 

Each of the panelists also shared the struggles they faced starting their brewery, things they would do differently, and the factors that made entrepreneurship the right career choice for them. Jimmy Stockwell mentioned that the biggest obstacle Little Fish faced when starting its brewery was raising capital during a time when there wasn’t a large investor pool to pull from. Stockwell also stressed the importance of timing when trying to start a new business. 

“The students who attended this event are likely to have a real interest in starting their own business one day. This type of discussion provides valuable insights into the challenges and decisions they could face in their careers, regardless of the industry they choose to enter,” said Mass.

Engaging conversations developed around the owners’ thought processes behind naming their breweries. Jason and Michelle Warren, owners of Multiple Brewing Company, have a background in mathematics so they saw “multiple” as a name that would be unique to their brewery. Jimmy Stockwell and Sean White of Little Fish Brewing Company were never focused on growth, so they decided they would be a “little fish” in a constantly expanding pond of breweries.  

All of the owners stressed the importance of following your dreams and developing the ideas you come up with. Most of the panelists didn’t grow up with a dream of opening a brewery, but discovered their desire as they grew as people. They found what they were passionate about and pursued a window of opportunity. Panelists encouraged students to take advantage of the opportunities they have as students, especially through the Center for Entrepreneurship which welcomes students from all colleges at Ohio University.

This event was an incredible opportunity for the students and residents to gain insight into a rapidly growing industry that has made its mark in Athens. 

“We have a lot of people in Ohio and our local microbreweries are doing their best to give them a wide assortment of great beers,” said Mass.