A Big Brewer Sticks to His Small Roots
Jim Koch may be the happiest entrepreneur in the United States. As co-founder and chairman of America’s largest craft brewery, his grinning face shines out over TV screens across the country.
But it is Koch’s work on behalf of other entrepreneurs that provides the passion that led to the creation of The Boston Beer Company in 1984. “When I started, there were some things I wished I had access to and didn’t,” Koch says. “One was the money to grow without having to give away parts of the company. The second thing was less obvious—access to good nuts and bolts business advice, like how to negotiate a lease, how to set up a payroll, and how to design a label.”
That startup experience led Koch to create the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program to provide micro-financing, coaching, and mentoring to small business owners in the food, beverage, craft brewing, and hospitality industries.
“For us, it keeps us in contact with our entrepreneurial roots,” Koch says. “It’s particularly important to remind the newer hires who don’t remember when we were a startup that no one had ever heard of with one truck driving from bar to bar trying to sell our beer.”
Working with nonprofit micro-lender Accion in the United States and its various partners, the America Dream program has already provided $1.7 million of micro-financing to 200 businesses nationwide, mentored more than 3,000 small business owners, and created or saved nearly 1,300 jobs.
Small business owners can apply for loans, ranging from $500 to $25,000, from The Boston Beer Companyto be used for a variety of business purposes. These include expansion, equipment, and marketing. All loan payments are recycled back into the fund so that they can be repurposed into new loans. The program has a 95% repayment rate, and some small businesses are on their third loans. “We want to find businesses that need a loan and expertise to grow. This is not a charity. It doesn’t do us any good if a business takes a loan and uses the money to fail,” says Koch.
Almost as important as the loans are the coaching and mentoring aspects of the program, Koch says. Experts from Boston Beer, such as designers, sales trainers, account reps, and finance people volunteer to participate in 20-minute speed coaching sessions with small business owners, drilling down on the specific issues they’re dealing with in their businesses.
Koch says, “We have a loan recipient—Carlene O’Garro—who makes vegan cheesecakes and other baked stuff in Boston. She’d gotten her products into a few Whole Foods, but it didn’t work out. I told her to come to our sales training program. So here she is a baker, sitting in with all the beer salespeople. But to me, that’s a great interaction. She’s learning from our salespeople, and we’re going to learn from her.”
Koch calls that the “multiplier effect.” We wanted to create a philanthropic program where what we put into it multiplied itself, and there’s no better multiplier than small business.”