Like many entrepreneurs, Matt Caple and Ben Gipson had the idea. They had a business plan. They even had a few years of prior experience testing out their business model. But as disabled veterans they didn’t have a large savings to dip into to get Warrior Brewing Company off the ground in the bustling craft beer hub of Duluth, Minnesota.
“We went straight from the military to the different jobs that we’re doing now. And to try to pull a source of money to actually create a small business and get going, it was hard to do,” said Gipson, co-owner and head brewer. “Someone mentioned the Entrepreneur Fund to us and so we sat down to have a conversation, and it was like the perfect fit for us. They are pretty much the backbone to how we’re sitting here right now.”
EFund business loan officer Andrew Finco worked with Gipson and Caple to get them the working capital they needed to be fully operational. From February through March of 2021, an SBA microloan, SBA 7(a) Express loan and an EFund small business loan enabled the veterans to purchase equipment, obtain licensing and pay the first few months of start-up costs such as utilities and rent.
“I’m incredibly proud to say that I get to work with them and help grow their business,” said Finco. “They hope to continue growing their brewery and expand in as many ways possible all while staying true to their mission of helping and giving back to veterans and first responders.”
Warrior Brewing Company brewed its first batch of beer in May 2021. They started off with a few small fermentation tanks and were self-distributing locally. But, Gipson said, that plan escalated quickly.
“We got a lot of phone calls from different veteran-owned bars and restaurants throughout the state of Minnesota, and different liquor stores. So, we sat down and decided to expand a little bit,” he said. “We’ve pretty much hit the ground running and we are continuing to expand.”
Today, Warrior Brewing Company has:
- Added distribution partners in early 2022. They now distribute their product throughout MN and northern WI
- Added two, 30 BBL brew tanks with a $50,000 EFund small business loan to keep up with demand from new distributor contracts. Doubling their capacity
- Purchased a chiller and opened a small taproom inside the brewhouse with an additional $50,000 EFund small business loan
- Improved marketing, website optimization, accounting, and human resources aspects of their business through technical support from EFund’s Expert Network
- Put their beer on the map at the national level. Their Barbarian Imperial Stout took home silver at the Great American Beer Festival, the world’s largest commercial beer competition
- Partnered with dozens of veteran and first responder nonprofits as far away as South Dakota
“It’s amazing, because when we first started this business, and we submitted our business plan to the Entrepreneur Fund for original funding, I think we’ve already surpassed our five-year business plan. So, where I want to be in five years, I have no idea. I think we’ve already surpassed our goals and expectations so far,” said Caple. “But you know, at its core, we want to continue to give back to our veteran and first responder community forever.”
“Brewing with a purpose”
The veterans applied their previous brewing and nonprofit experience and incorporated it with that of a Trappist monastery. In Europe, some Trappist monasteries brew beer to sustain the church and raise funds for charitable organizations.
“So we took that idea and instead of self-sustaining a church, we’re self-sustaining the business and raising funds for different veteran organizations,” said Gipson.
Warrior Brewing Company does that by partnering with a different veteran or first responder group each month. The benefiting organization comes to the brewery to participate in the brewing process. Then a portion of the proceeds from that batch will go back to the nonprofit.
In late December, Wings of Valor Lodge, a veteran nonprofit based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was in the brewery to take part in brewing a batch of Valkyrie, a golden honey ale.
“When Wings of Valor and all these nonprofits come into play, we reinstitute the combining fabric, to me, that makes our military work so well, which is the comradery,” said Sean Adams, President of Operations at Wings of Valor Lodge. “We, and it appears Warrior Brewing Company, bring that bonding factor back in for people to really revaluate that ‘Hey, you still have a purpose for tomorrow.’”
“Instead of just brewing beer, it’s brewing with a purpose,” said Gipson. “A big part of why we exist and why we’re going to continue to grow, is the people who want to support us in our mission.”