When starting up his natural food market and café in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, City Feed and Supply president and co-founder David Warner had trouble securing capital.
“While we were able to access some bank funding, it was not sufficient to our needs,” Warner said.
Another Boston businessman — Sam Adams creator Jim Koch — was all too familiar with Warner’s plight. As a struggling entrepreneur in the 1980s, Koch, who co-founded The Boston Beer Co., also had a hard time getting a small business loan.
“Almost 30 years ago when I was trying to open my own brewery, I couldn’t find a bank that would lend me money,” Koch said. “I have never forgotten how hard it is to get started.”
To help entrepreneurs realize their dream, Koch established the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, which in partnership with microlender Accion, combines expert business coaching and advice with access to loans ranging from $500 to $25,000.
“I wanted to help low- and moderate-income small businesses in the food, beverage, craft brewing and hospitality industries grow, create jobs and have a chance to follow their passion the way I did,” Koch said.
Since launching the program in 2008, The Boston Beer Co. has lent nearly $2.5 million in capital to more than 270 small food and beverage businesses, enabling them to create or retain more than 1,800 local jobs.
Having been loaned more than $20,000, City Feed and Supply’s Warner is among the program’s beneficiaries.
“When we were in the process of opening our second store in 2008, [Brewing the American Dream] provided the gap funding we needed in order to bring the project to completion,” Warner said. “More recently, it’s provided funding for us to make necessary upgrades to our infrastructure and continue to grow our business.”
City Feed and Supply has been so successful that it was recognized last year by the Specialty Food Association as one of its Outstanding Retailers of 2012.
“The Sam Adams funding has been essential to our success,” Warner said.
Another component of the program is its signature speed coaching events, during which Sam Adams’ experts from sales, distribution, finance, e-commerce, ingredient sourcing and marketing meet one-on-one and in small groups with business owners. The events are free and attendees can participate in up to six 20-minute sessions.
“For example, a small business owner with a social media question might meet with a digital marketing specialist who can provide specific ideas and tools to help engage customers digitally,” Koch explained.
In the last five years, 3,000 small business owners have been coached nationwide. Warner said he’s benefited immensely from Sam Adams’ mentoring events.
“I have found them to be invaluable,” he said. “In addition to the coaching, I was able to access some pro bono services from one of the coaching participants.”
All loan payments are recycled back into the Brewing the American Dream program that has a 98.1% repayment rate. Samuel Adams is on track to donate $1 million to the initiative this year.
Some of the donations are tied to purchases of Sam Adams beer. For every pint of Samuel Adams Boston Brick Red beer sold, an additional donation is made to the program.
The brewer also publicizes the program and the beneficiaries of its loans on packaging and coasters.
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