One of the first things you’ll see when you enter tekMountain’s main entrance is the tekMtn Brewery. It’s a small craft brewery that serves several functions, like providing a place for tekMountain staff, members and associates to socialize and network; for special events like startup socials; for weekly happy hours (Wednesdays at tekMountain) where businesspeople mix with entrepreneurs; for “brew summits” where tech entrepreneurs brew more than just beer, they brew ideas. As anyone who observes the tech-startup space knows, craft beer and craft breweries are never far away.
A local online daily even noted, “Craft beer and the tech industry seem like a natural pairing.”
When we think of tech startups, incubators, or makerspaces, the image they may conjure is very much like the “mythical startup life” described by Forbes magazine: “Free sushi, beanbags, Friday beers, open office landscapes, and sleeping pods.”
Craft brewing is such a natural fit for tech startups because it fosters communication, which fosters growth. And it goes beyond that.
The Waffle House Index revisited
You’ve probably heard of the Waffle House Index. It’s an informal metric used by FEMA to measure the impact of a disaster and the likely scale of recovery assistance needed. We’re going to climb out on a limb here by suggesting that craft brewing and tech startups describe, roughly, a kind of “beer-tech index” for the tech-startup landscape.
Check out practically any list of top startup cities like this one or this one, and you’ll see a great deal of overlap. So in a totally unscientific assessment aimed at comparing apples to apples, we used Beer Advocate magazine to compare America’s top tech cities with its top craft-brewing cities. (Numbers are approximate.)
See what we did there? We included Wilmington, NC, among the top tech hubs. Read on to learn why.
The nation’s largest tech hubs — Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York — boast the greatest concentrations of craft breweries. So let’s not overlook the David among the Goliaths: Wilmington, NC.
The NC Craft Brewers Guild claims that “North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the American South, with more than 205 breweries and brewpubs.” The Triangle alone boasts some 44 member breweries. And if you haven’t witnessed the fermented immensity of Brewgaloo, Raleigh’s festival of local brews, brace yourself.
With 14 operating breweries, more than a handful of bottleshops, and considering its relatively small size, Wilmington is awash with craft beer. Smartassests.com ranked Wilmington a tie with the Mile High City and innovation hub, Denver, at the seventh best cities for beer drinkers in the U.S.
Not only are people taking notice, some see yet another correlation: Craft brewing has embraced lean startup.
“Brewing companies,” the Priceonomics blog noted, “like the craft beers they make, are transforming rapidly as brewers turn to scrappy and innovative tactics.” Beer tech is now a thing. Just take a gander at the Crafter Space in Milwaukee. Listen to entrepreneurs like Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head, the largest craft brewery in the mid-Atlantic states, and a proud former English major, who has said, in genuine lean-startup style, “There’s no better example of a work of fiction than a business plan.”
By the way, if you have a good explanation for why Minneapolis ranks so high in the number of breweries, please leave a comment below. But note that when the organizer of the Lean Startup Twin Cities Meetup posted the question, “Is there anything I can do as your organizer to make sure you get what you need out of this group?” the answer came, “Include beer.”
So when you step into tekMountain at CastleBranch, with its beanbags, open office landscapes, Ping-Pong tables, and sleeping pods, realize that the brewery is representative of a culture, an expression of business strategy. Let’s talk soon about the particular strategy that will work for you, whether you’re a founder, entrepreneur, investor, or future brewmaster.