Cape Commons Beer To Siphon Profits To Water Projects
On October 30, a pair of recent Brown University undergraduates won $50,000 from Boston startup incubator MassChallenge – in an awards ceremony hosted by Aasif Mandvi — for their plan to use the profits from selling craft beer to finance water projects in developing countries. Can their business raise the capital it needs to build a brewery in Brooklyn? Will it sell enough beer to achieve its social mission?
As I learned in a November 5 interview with Victor Bartash and Lily Ricci, co-founders of Cape Commons Brewing, aspires ”to turn beer into a tool for collective action. Several tastings, all-nighters, and business plans later, we are finally geared up to build a social impact craft brewery in Brooklyn called Cape Commons.”
After meeting as undergraduate students at Brown, they realized a shared passion for social enterprise — with a focus on helping people without clean water. They want to make great craft beer — “loved by many” — and use the profits from selling it to pay for projects to supply water – “needed by all.”
According to Bartash — a Brown human biology major – “Nearly 780 million people on our planet lack a clean and secure water source. Then there’s crafting beer: an extremely water-intensive process, not to mention a $100 billion dollar industry. We believe access to clean water is a mission that all of us can rally behind, especially with a beer in hand.”
Ricci, an international development major, saw in her junior year that water was “the first rung on the ladder of international development.” And she plans to do something about it. As Ricci explained, “For every batch of beer we brew, we build one community water project through our on-the-ground partner, Rainwater for Humanity. It’s time we come together at the grassroots and mobilize this unstoppable power of beer for good. One Batch, One Project. Beer for Water.”
Cape Commons is now working to build “a water-efficient brewing system and our first rainwater catchment tank in Kerala, India. Our target is to have beer kegged, canned and in [customers'] hands by Fall 2014.”
While Bartash and Ricci started Cape Commons in the spring of 2012, they did not incorporate until August 2013. And when they did so, they took a unique legal form — a New York state Benefit Corporation.
As Bartash explained, “The Benefit Corporation is a new legal form that holds a company responsible to deliver on its social and environmental responsibility. Every year we will file a benefit report — assessed by a third party — that any customer, investor, or family member can read online. We want to be a torch bearer for the future of socially-responsible business.”
Their four months at MassChallenge “provided a safety net after Brown,” said Barash. “It gave us mentoring, cash prizes, a network, and help with financial statements, legal challenges, and developing a business plan. We accomplished a years’ worth of work in four months.”
Cape Commons will focus on a specific group of beer drinkers with a unique product. According to Ricci, “Our CC Lager is fermented at between 62 and 67 degrees, is light, drinkable, and crafted. We arrived at this style after five to six months of market research — going from 13 possible brews down to four samples that were rated by 100 students. We are targeting young professionals – millennials from 21 to 30 years old.”
Cape Commons wants to build a brewery in Brooklyn. As Bartash explained, “We are raising $1.5 million – through crowdfunding and friends and family who are mission-aligned — to build a brewery with 1,500 barrels of initial production capacity. We plan to distribute on the east coast and to sell it at farmer’s markets and music festivals. And at large events we hope to get corporate sponsors who want to cross-promote corporate social responsibility initiatives.”
And Bartash and Ricci have discussed how to split up the work. As Ricci explained, “Everyone has to wear all hats. Vic and I are doing everything that needs to be done. I will focus on the sustainability side and Vic will be in charge of distribution and financing. We will both do face-to-face marketing at festivals and pitching to retail channels.”
Bartash and Ricci are very pleased with what they have accomplished so far. And I would guess that their Brown professors will be cheering them on to be proud bearers of the torch for the future of socially-responsible business.