Samuel Adams helped one Harlem entrepreneur create a booming business -- and how they’re propelling others to do the same
If entrepreneurship was equal parts financially and emotionally rewarding at all times, most of us could safely say that we’d be pursuing our own business in some capacity.
The hardest part about starting a business isn’t even about having the capital (though that certainly doesn’t hurt), and it isn’t about having access to factual information about your industry (a quick Google search will give you the bare bones of what you need.)
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The biggest challenge in developing a business as an entrepreneur is being able to find and absorb top-level advice through mentors and others in the industry.
Anyone can tell you where to find a contractor, distributor, loan service — that’s easy. But what nearly all entrepreneurs are missing when they first embark on their respective business journeys is the necessary knowledge that only comes with experience.
Sam Adams’ 'Brewing the American Dream' program seems to be the bridge in that gap of accessibility.
Jennifer Glanville, Samuel Adams brewer and business coach within the program, broke down the motivation behind 'Brewing the American Dream':
“The ‘Brewing the American Dream’ program was created 10 years ago by Jim Koch — brewer and founder of Samuel Adams. When Jim Koch started Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams almost 35 years ago, he (with three degrees from Harvard) still had trouble accessing resources.
First, loans — it was very hard to get loans for food and beverage entrepreneurs at that time, they were deemed as risky. And second, real life nuts and bolts business advice — there weren’t really many people who had started a brewery at that time.
So, he created this program 10 years ago to give back to people and to encourage food and beverage entrepreneurs.”
The concept of simply giving back is a massively humble understatement — many entrepreneurs that go through 'Brewing the American Dream' will find that their lives completely change as a result of the mentorship and connections they’ve built through the program.
Just ask Jessica Spaulding, founder of Harlem Chocolate Factory, who stumbled upon the program when she had nothing left and when the idea of having her own business was simply, well, just an idea:
“I had no options — I had lost my job … the whole business just ended one day without me really knowing that that was going to happen … and I have two kids and I was realigning what I had to do (child care costs in New York City are about $1,000 per week per child, and that’s not even the fancy places) so I was just like ‘What do i do? I need child care and I need assistance.’ And the only way to get assistance is to apply through Welfare, and I went to apply (thought I was like the poster child for it) and they rejected my application.
I’ve always worked with chocolate since I was a little girl and when I was in college I tried to start a business, but it failed miserably very quickly, only because I just gave everything I made away instead of selling it, because I thought that’s what you had to do when you have a business, you have to sample … so I was kind of scared for that to happen again. So I joined a business plan competition and through that I was connected with Accion and they were like ‘Okay, you’re a prime candidate for the Brewing the American Dream program and I had this idea … to sell chocolate that conveys the stories of Harlem, and I was like ‘Am I crazy?’"
Accion certainly didn’t think so, and neither did Samuel Adams, Spaulding recalls:
“These were the first people outside of my family that were like ‘No, that’s a great idea! Let’s weed it out’ and so they connected me with the 'Brewing the American Dream' program and from there, I received a mentor that was one of the sales managers and he really walked me through all these different elements of entrepreneurship that I really didn’t know, like the idea of selling to a store. In my head, I always thought that doing that was something that big companies did … in your mind you just think there’s all these different things that you have to go through … it might not be successful every single time, but when you’re talking locally and making local products, that’s something that you can do. From there, they just helped me with building my business plan and it kind of enlightened me to think that all these skills I had all these years [have] been entrepreneurship … I wound up, that year, winning the New York Public Library’s business plan competition for $15,000 to start my business…it was just the most amazing moment! And then from there Sam Adams ordered 250 boxes [of my chocolates] to put in their media baskets and it has been nonstop since then. We just opened out first shop in Harlem…its been absolutely crazy!”
We chatted more with Jennifer and Jessica about the program, their own personal experiences with entrepreneurship and why it’s important to put top-notch industry knowledge in the hands of those who are just beginning their business journeys:
AOL: The ‘Brewing the American Dream’ program involves three areas that anyone can have access to — speed coaching, loans and Ad Hoc mentoring. What do these programs entail?
Jennifer Glanville: “We do speed coaching events … we do a dozen or so of those around the country.
Speed coaching events are free and anyone can sign up. You sign up ahead of time and you also can see the coaches that are available.
The speed coaching is 20 minute sessions with coaches in all different kind of disciplines in all different kinds of industries … some people in their businesses are brand new (they have a business plan … some people just have an idea in their head) and then some folks have a business that’s been started and they really want to expand it and take it to the next level. so when they come to the events, they have the ability to sign up with coaches — it could be graphic design, it could be legal, HR, it could be brewing — so they can really focus in on the exact information that they need to get.
We also partnered up with Accion, which is our micro-lending partner. Accion works with these small business entrepreneurs to help them secure a loan, and making sure that they are getting the right amount of money for the things they want to do (they can get coaching around that too) — it’s hard to know exactly how much money you need to start up … we’ve been able to loan out over $22.4M in the past 10 years.
We also have Ad Hoc mentoring. So, for people who want to reach out to members of Sam Adams … they have access to anyone in the organization to ask questions to, which I think is amazing.
AOL: There are also two more competitive areas of ‘Brewing the American Dream’ — The brewery ‘Exeperiencship’ and ‘The Pitch Room’. Tell us about those processes?
JG: We have a program called ‘The Pitch Room’ which is part of some of the speed coaching events — basically it’s like a nicer ‘Shark Tank’ if you will! People can come in and they pitch their business (they have two minutes) and then they’ll be awarded a grant, and they also get a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring with Samuel Adams.
And then we have a brewery ‘Experienceship’ winner, which is also an application, and that’s specifically made for entrepreneurs in the brewing industry … you get a grant, you get a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring and we brew a beer with you, so we’ve had a lot of fun with that.”
AOL: Do people that go through any part of the program tend to stay in touch even after their official coaching time period is finished?
JG: There’s people I talk to from eight years ago that are still growing their business, and I love it … there was a gentleman in Washington, D.C. who, for almost all 10 years, has been coming and he just hired his first head brewer … he first came and he was like ‘Hey, I’m an engineer and I want to open a brewery’ and now almost 10 years later his dream is coming true. There’s amazing stories like that, I think that the passion that Jim Koch has for being an entrepreneur has never changed — it doesn’t matter growth, or sales or how many employees you have, that same passion is there and that’s something that we always want to bring to these folks that work so hard to create their small business.
AOL: Do you have any skills that you feel you’ve developed as a brewer that would be beneficial to entrepreneurs, regardless of their industry?
JG: “Don’t be risk adverse — you have to be able to take chances. You want to take calculated risks but sometimes go with your gut, go with the passion. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll learn something from that and you’ll learn why it didn’t work out.
Another thing is get outside opinions on things. It’s great to have friends and family but even moreso, get out to customers … get direct feedback. Friends and family are either going to be too honest (where you might be offended) or not honest enough … make sure you’re getting advice.”
AOL: What’s one challenge that comes alongside being an entrepreneur that most people wouldn’t anticipate?
Jessica Spaulding: “Being successful! I thought that maybe my mom and other people in my family would buy things but not that other people would call me, not that I would get calls from Whole Foods, not that I would get calls from them … even now in the shop, on a daily basis, when I walk out of the kitchen and the case is completely empty when I know I just made 600 of each and every thing that we have … that has been the harder thing to swallow — people like what we’re doing and it takes an adjustment because that’s something I’m realizing is an Achilles heel for me — me not anticipating how successful this could be … because I’m still producing at this little level.”
AOL: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind for entrepreneurs that are just embarking on their business journeys?
JG: “I meet entrepreneurs who, after talking to them for 19 minutes, in the last couple minutes, I get actually why they started the business. And to me, that’s a really important part of the story. Everybody who’s starting a business has a pretty interesting story about ‘why’ … not only is that important to the person who’s going to be buying your product, but more importantly, that’s what keeps you going and the drive going. Because it’s hard to be an entrepreneur — you’re working a lot of hours, you’re constantly trying to elevate and improve your business.”
AOL: What’s been your favorite part of being a in the 'Brewing the American Dream' program?
JS: “Jim Koch built [Samuel Adams] from his kitchen, a lot like me, and he’s able to just warn me about little things here and there … the access that all [the Samuel Adams team] brings is access to knowledge, and which is what i need more than anything at this phase. Because capital can help you and it can hurt you .. you can give everybody $5,000 but without any kind of direction, it’s just going to get spent.
The machinery is all industry specific, you can call anybody and find out that information. But who do I call to say ‘Hey how do I set up distribution for this?’ or ‘Do I go with a distributor?’ or ‘Am I too small for a distributor?’ Those are things that really help me because, in going through this [process], you have so many people calling you saying ‘I can offer you this’ or ‘I can offer you that.’
AOL: What drive-home advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are on the fence about taking that leap into the business world?
JG: “Take advantage of opportunities … like the speed coaching events here. There are folks that come in who just have an idea in their head, and you can sit with a coach that has some other people there and it might spark some ideas but the most [important] thing that it will spark you to take the leap. It’s hard to take the leap as an entrepreneur, you’re leaving the safety zone … there’s so many amazing opportunities to network with small business entrepreneurs … farmers markets, even doing something on the weekend that’s small … if you want to do it, you have to give it a try. Life is too short.”
For more information on the 'Brewing the American Dream' program, visit here.