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Brewing staff offers free advice to small businesses

Date: 3/9/2011

March 9, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams beer, readily admitted that 27 years ago when it came to running a business, he had a lot to learn.

That's why Koch started Brewing the American Dream Speed Coaching just over two years ago to help other small businesses in the food and beverage industry. The program came to Western Massachusetts for the first time last week drawing 68 participants from around the region to the Scibelli Enterprise Center at the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park.

Koch's program has partnered with ACCION USA, a program that offers microloans, tools and resources to small business. Since the program's start, it has helped create or retain more than 500 jobs and has assisted more than 50 businesses.

Over a two-hour period the small business owners met with eight Boston Beer Company staff members, each offering advice in specific areas including logo design, Web development, packaging and sales and distribution. The participants met with each expert for about 20 minutes and then moved on to the next one.

Michael Bernier, who owns DIY Brewing in Ludlow a company that sells home beer and winemaking supplies, was specifically looking for publicity and marketing assistance. He said this was the second Brewing the American Dream Speed Coaching event he has attended and would attend another. He was impressed the company brings its staff members out to meet small businesspeople such as himself.

Koch, speaking to Reminder Publications by telephone, remembered when he started brewing beer in his kitchen that, despite his success with his product, couldn't get the money he needed to grow from banks.

"I was too small," he recalled.

Koch also recalled he didn't know how to run or start a business. He said that small businesspeople need to be experts — or receive expert advice — on such topics as leases for property, human resources, payroll, sales and public relations.

"There are missing pieces common to small businesses," he said.

The motivation to start the program came out of his own experience and out of a community service event. Koch recalled how his employees helped paint a community center in South Boston. While the effort was a worthy one, Koch began to think about a different kind of service the company could provide.

"We are a business. How do we do something for the community, for the state that leverages the talents we have?," he said.

He said developing the program took a year and it was launched in 2008. He said the company has limited the program to the food and drink industries because "that's what we know."

"There's a lot of value you can add in 20 minutes of advice," Koch said.

When asked if the current economy is a worse environment for starting or growing a small business in the food and beverage fields, Koch said, "When times are good, it's hard. When times are bad, it's hard."

"There are still opportunities," he asserted. "The businesses we're helping are pretty basic. People are still going to eat and still going to drink."

He recalled that when he started brewing beer in the mid-1980s, the country was coming out of a recession.

"This is as good a time as any," he added.

Although Boston Beer Company is now the largest American-owned brewer — both Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are owned by foreign companies — the company accounts for less than 1 percent of American beer sales.

"We're a small business among giants," Koch said.

To help small businesses in this way keeps Koch close to his entrepreneurial roots, he explained.

"I find it very inspiring, very energizing," he said.

For more information on the program go to

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