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Samuel Adams mentors craft beer entrepreneurs

The founders of Funkytown Brewery appear with Jim Koch, the founder of Samuel Adams.

Rich Bloomfield, left, Jim Koch, Greg Williams and Zack Day. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Adams

Fifteen years ago, Samuel Adams launched philanthropic initiative Brewing the American Dream to mentor small-business owners in the food and beverage space.

Driving the news: Samuel Adams recently awarded Chicago's Funkytown Brewery with the 12th Brewing & Business Experienceship.

Details: The program, founded in 2008, has been providing entrepreneurs with access to capital, coaching and new market opportunities along the way.

  • Funkytown Brewery was founded by lifelong friends Rich Bloomfield, Zack Day and Greg Williams.
  • The winner of the Brewing & Business Experienceship joins Samuel Adams in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival and in Boston to craft a collaborative beer.

Flashback: The idea for the program harks back to the beginnings of Samuel Adams, the flagship brew of Boston Beer Co., when there was no supporting infrastructure for budding brewers, says Jim Koch, the company's co-founder.

  • No venture capital firms supported small brewers, and no magazines like Entrepreneur and Fast Company drew attention to them, he recalls.
  • Being a small brewer was a curiosity, Koch tells Axios.
  • "That was like being a giraffe in the Hamptons. That was weird and people would question your sanity," he says.

Yes, but: The once-nascent industry has since become crowded, with some 10,000 craft brewers competing for market share, Koch says.

  • As brewers aim to differentiate themselves, there are increasingly eccentric brews on tap, which means education is still a challenge.
  • Obtaining distribution and making the economics work remain two of the biggest hurdles.

By the numbers: According to the philanthropy's website, it has coached about 14,000 entrepreneurs, helped provide $97 million in loans to small businesses (which have a 96% repayment rate) and helped create about 9,000 jobs.

Zoom out: "I always believed that companies have a social responsibility," Koch says.

  • It's a tenet that goes back to his university days, when in 1978 he wrote an article for the Harvard Environmental Law Review citing evidence that companies with a social mission tend to do better financially.
  • "It’s not a trade-off. A good manager can find things that are part of a social mission and benefit the company," Koch says.

The big picture: Supporting craft brewers may be key in beer maintaining and growing its market share as liquor or spirits slowly catches up, Koch says.

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