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How Sam Adams is Brewing the American Dream, One Startup at a Time

Jim Koch struggled to launch his beer empire, but he’s helping other entrepreneurs launch faster (and smarter).

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BY Jeremy Goldman - 15 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Ever drink a beer, and realize you're supporting entrepreneurship at the same time? That might be true for some of you reading this article.

Brewing the American Dream is a philanthropic program coming out of the Boston Beer Company, and came out of Jim Koch's experience with starting Samuel Adams. "It certainly gave me a real world exposure to all the difficulties that a very small business faces," Koch explained to me about his entrepreneurial journey. "The deck is certainly not stacked in your favor."

In Koch's case, he was going up against global brewing giants, so he needed all the help he could get, and couldn't afford to do many dumb things (or any at all). Koch hails from a family of brewers, and is the sixth oldest son in a row to be a brewer, so he knew a lot about making great beer. "I had a lot of passion about creating a revolution in American beer, which at that time was an insane dream, but I had it, nevertheless." Koch realized how small his margin for error was.

As every entrepreneur will tell you, as you're starting out, you do have some real strengths you know you can rely on. Koch, for example, felt that he had a great recipe for Sam Adams, a passion for beer, and good business background. Nevertheless, it was an uphill battle. "When I started I was missing some things that would have been really good to have," Koch told me. One of those things was a loan, because when he was approaching banks back in 1984, every bank turned him down.

Because of that lack of access to capital, it forces an entrepreneur like Koch to wear a number of hats at once. "When you start your own company, you're the CEO in another sense...the Chief Everything Officer," he says. That's because you're doing everything yourself. He first brewed Samuel Adams Boston Lager out of his kitchen, and was able to gain distribution by taking his product from bar to bar.

Another missing element was solid business advice. In Koch's case, there were a lot of things he had to do that he had never done before, such as, how do you...

  • ...name your brand?
  • ...design the packaging?
  • ...negotiate a real estate lease?
  • ...set up an accounting system?
  • ...organize a sales call?

Koch had never done any of those things previously, and as he built his brewing empire, he realized this was probably true for lots of small businesses starting out.

Supporting the entrepreneurial journey

Over thirty years later, Koch hasn't forgotten how hard it is for neophyte entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. And thus, the Brewing the American Dream Program was born. It was meant to help truly small businesses with little in the way of resources, but with big dreams. These businesses are often family-funded and are run by two, maybe three people. But, these small businesses are the growth driver of the US economy. In fact, according to Small Business Administration statistics, 67% of new jobs have come from small firms since the 2008 recession.

Realizing that, Koch launched Brewing the American Dream in 2008 in partnership with the nation's largest non-profit microlender, Accion. The program focuses on assisting low-to-moderate income businesses focused on industries like food, beverage, hospitality, and of course, craft brewing, and provides founders with the essentials they need to create a sustainable small business. The is organized around two core elements: speech coaching and loans.

Perhaps surprisingly, he had a belief that businesses that embrace their social mission and social responsibilities will actually perform better over time. He even wrote an article about that very topic in the late '70s, in the Harvard Environmental Law Review.. "I wanted a chance to do something that would make a meaningful difference, not just a feel good," Koch says.

From restaurants to beverage suppliers to food carts, Brewing the American Dream has had a measurable impact. Some of the key statistics behind the program:

  • Coaching and mentoring has been provided to over 7,000 small business owners
  • Over 1,300 loans (totaling $16.7 million) of micro-financing have been made available to small businesses nationwide
  • More than 5,200 jobs have been created or protected by the program (BTAD loans help create 3-4 jobs per loan)
  • Loans are repaid at an incredible 97%

All of these numbers have led to recognition by some pretty notable sources, including the Clinton Global Initiative as well as the White House Summit on the Future of Corporate Service. Koch's program - not to mention his success - is showing that it is indeed possible to do well by doing good. When it comes down to it, shouldn't that be the American Dream?