Sam Adams Founder Helps Brew the American Dream

Small business owners represent the backbone of the U.S. economy. According to the Small Business Administration, the 28 million small businesses in America account for more than half of all U.S. Sales.

Sam Adams, a popular craft beer, was born in 1984 in Boston. Since then, the company’s beers have become available in all 50 states and in more than 20 countries. Now, Founder Jim Koch, a sixth-generation brewer, is aiming to help small food and beverage businesses with his Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, aimed at fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“I developed the Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream program to give back to small businesses in food, beverage and hospitality that are where I was 30 years ago,” Koch said. “I started Sam Adams in my kitchen, so I know there’re great products that the world would really love if the entrepreneurs can get them up and running and into the market and solve all their business problems.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Koch faced some early struggles as he tried to grow his beer-making business.

“I realized, when I started, there were two things that I didn’t have that I really wanted,” he said. “One was access to loan money, because nobody would lend me money – every bank turned me down. The second was good nuts and bolts business advice."

He added, “When you start a small business, your card might say CEO – and you are – except you’re not the chief executive officer because there’s nobody to execute. You’re the chief everything officer…”

In 2013, the company added to its program by beginning the Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Competition. It focuses on helping small business owners in the food and beverage industries create a successful sales pitch.

The journey for participants begins by applying to one of four U.S. regional competitions. Contestants are then selected, and will have the opportunity to present a two-minute pitch about their business and product to a panel of judges. After providing their input, the judges choose a winner, who then moves on to the Pitch Room Finals.

This year’s finals in New York City featured contestants from Boston, Chicago, New York and San Diego, pitching products ranging from avocado mayo to craft cider.

Koch, who served as one of six expert judges, offered his own advice to following the competition.

“Do something that you’re really passionate about, because the reality is you’re probably not going to get rich off of it, but if you do it right, you can get happy,” he said. “What would you rather be – rich or happy?”

Celebrity Chef David Burke, also a member of the judges panel, described what he looks for in an entrepreneur’s pitch.

“We’re looking for a product, we’re looking for passion, we’re looking for a sense of business and desire, an open mind and a game plan,” he explained.

Healthy snack-maker Chic-a-Peas, co-founded by Dave Levi and Darren Shlisky, won the Pitch Room Finals. The company will receive a $10,000 business grant and a year’s worth of mentoring and coaching from Samuel Adams employees.

“It feels great, it’s amazing, it’s awesome,” Levi said. “We couldn’t be happier. We had zero expectations coming into this. We just wanted to do a good job for ourselves and winning was secondary.”

Figuring out the business process was one of the early challenges for the co-founders.

“We started from scratch,” Shlisky said. “Different industries… we literally knew nothing about food or making a food product. From boxes, to packaging, to getting it onto a shelf, sales margins… it was all new to us.”

According to Levi, the company’s product can be found in the snack aisle at Whole Foods, FreshDirect and other independent healthy supermarkets in the Tri-State area.

“It’s a newer snack category but it’s really taking on. Consumers are associating themselves with the product because they want something that’s healthy and they want something that’s different.”

The duo’s big appetite for success is just one trait working in their favor.

“Entrepreneurship is hard,” Levi said.” A certain person is meant to be an entrepreneur, I think you have to be extremely passionate about your product and I think you have to stick with it… you just have to stay the course and believe in yourself.”