When Brian “Spike” Buckowski and John Cochran graduated from college, they had more experience in drinking beer than in running a brewery. Still, their disparate paths of corporate video communications and risk management insurance led them to work at the same place: Atlanta Brewing Company. Although they were working in different parts of the company, they had a dream of one day building their own brewery.
In 1998, after eight months of hammering out a business plan, Cochran and Buckowski began seeking funding for their dream brewery – Terrapin Beer Co. Although the craft beer movement really kicked off on the west coast in the early ‘90s, microbreweries in Georgia and the southeast were pretty much non-existent at that time.
After finally deciding to use an Atlanta contract brewer to get their product out into the market, Cochran and Buckowski debuted their Rye Pale Ale at the Athens Beer Festival. Six months later, that same beer won best pale ale in the country in 2002 at the Great American Beer Festival. In 2004, Terrapin’s second beer, the Golden Ale, won a silver medal in the World Beer Cup, which led to the company’s unofficial motto of “Two Years, Two Beers, Two Medals.”
With all of the beer company’s success, the two business partners had built the brand to a point where they could attract investors. In 2006, they were finally able to open their brewery in Athens. As the business grew, Buckowski and Cochran favored investing in the brand’s rapid growth but experienced philosophical differences with their investment group. It was around this time that Rob Ginn, a strategic business manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), made a cold call on the company and dropped off a business card.
Ginn, who describes his job as “CEO mentoring,” assisted Buckowski and Cochran with filling the company’s empty board seat and locating appropriate legal counsel. He also helped them with reviewing and finally closing on an investment contract that allowed the two founders to buy out the original investment group while retaining the equity they had developed in the company. EI2 offers strategic business analysis services for small manufacturers and entrepreneurs, including assistance reviewing business plans and financing options for expansion and growth, planning for succession and family-owned business, structured monthly coaching and process benchmarking and resource connections.
“Spike and John are great clients to work with because they are passionate about their company, and they’ve worked hard to get it where it is. My role in helping these guys was to support the management team while looking for investment alternatives, then help them act quickly when we finally had the deal,” Ginn recalled. “If we had not made the end-of-the-year deadline, then this company probably wouldn’t have been here by September.”
Terrapin Beer Co. remains an independent brewery today after receiving a loan from Miller-owned Tenth and Blake Beer Co. When Terrapin started nine years ago, it produced 165 barrels of beer in its first year; last year, it made 18,000 barrels, equal to $5 million in sales.
Terrapin produces four beers year-round and a number of seasonal selections. The nine-year-old company, which employs 30 people, currently has a $3.2 million capital expansion plan in the works. Ginn will continue to assist as needed with Terrapin’s plans for a new brew house mill and other brewing capacity additions to meet the growing demand for the company’s craft beers.
“The next step for Terrapin is an expansion – I don’t mean geographic markets – we’re going to need a bigger brew house, more tanks, more kegs, more employees. Just growing the company and making more beer for the southeast. Our goal is to be the best brewer in the southeast,” noted Cochran. “People in this country are really getting turned on to better things – better food, better coffee, better cheese – and beer is just another part of that. The sky is the limit as to what this industry is going to do.”
About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright