MIT Sloan panel discusses challenges, joys of craft brew startups

November 20, 2012

craft beer

Craft brewers, including MIT Sloan alumni, discuss entrepreneurship on campus

Low market share, high startup costs, and ever-growing competition: It’s hard to imagine much excitement about an industry that challenging.

But this is craft brewing, an industry whose value is growing at 15 percent a year and whose 9.1 percent market share of beer sales seems sure to rise. Starting a brewery is hard work, and the dream of thousands of hobbyists and connoisseurs, but a Nov. 8 MIT Sloan panel of successful brewers, some alumni, showed it can be done.

As one audience member pointed out, drinking some of the best beer in the world is an affordable endeavor (as opposed to, say, drinking the world’s best wine), meaning there is unrealized value in the beer industry. And there, said panel member Drew Brosseau, SM ’87, founder of Mayflower Brewing Company, in Plymouth, Mass., is where craft breweries can make money.

“Budweiser has 50 percent market share in the U.S.,” Brosseau said. “They could buy the entire craft brewing industry, including Sam Adams. That would give them 10 percent growth, but that would only last a year.”

“I still desire beer from old, clunky breweries,” said Dann Paquette, who co-founded Pretty Things Beer and Ale Company with his wife Martha Holley-Paquette in Somerville, Mass. “Beers made in antique breweries, made for pallets that do not exist anymore.”

Paquette isn’t alone in his tastes, and as the craft brewery market grows the industry’s tastes and attitudes are changing as well. Holley-Paquette once felt very much alone as a woman running a beer company.

“I definitely get emails and letters that are addressed to ‘gentlemen,’” she said. “When I met Dann, it was at a beer festival. I remember it was a sea of bearded men. It has changed a lot since then. Now it is up to 60/40. The trend is changing. The owner of (Colorado-based) New Belgium is a woman.”

The panel, which also included The Bronx Brewery co-founder Chris Gallant, MBA ’06, was sponsored by the MIT Sloan Alumni Club of Boston, the MIT Sloan Office of External Relations, and co-promoted by the MIT Sloan Joie de Vivre Club. It was moderated by PrivateTap.com founder Chris Saxman. Attendees quizzed the panelists on marketing, growth, distribution, and packaging, and then all retired, naturally, for a beer.

“As we all know, an ethic of entrepreneurship and innovation is in the DNA of MIT Sloan, and this extends to the beer industry,” said Shane Dunn, assistant director of student engagement in the Office of External Relations. “Chris Gallant had the idea to bring an event of this nature to MIT Sloan so we made it happen. The goal was to bring both MIT Sloan students and alumni together to learn about the industry and drink some great beer—a win-win for our community.”

See a short video interview with the visiting brewers.