The Rocky Mount Mills Brewery Incubator is a three-year program designed to teach entrepreneurs to brew, learn and proof their concepts while at the same time, helping them to develop a business plan, recruit investment and eventually grow beyond the incubator space.
“Our goal is to grow the incubator program to denote a certification of quality and a badge of honor our brewers will take with them throughout their careers,” said Sebastian Wolfrum, executive brewmaster at Rocky Mount Mills. “We hope that certain edge gives them a leg up in establishing a sterling brand reputation and in seeking financing.”
This idea intrigued us, so we reached out to the founders for a bit more information on how the incubator will operate.
The program design and setup
Based in a refurbished 6,000-square-foot shipping warehouse on the historic Rocky Mount Mills campus in North Carolina, the Brewery Incubator offers participants their own 10-bbl brew system with fermentors in each space to produce up to 1,000 bbl per year and a keg cooler to serve beer out of each space with eight taps. All incubator tenants have access to a keg washer, a five-head canning line, dry and cold storage and a public beer garden to sell and serve their product. All Incubator tenants have access to the Nash Community College Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation program, and the classes are held on Nash’s primary campus as well as in their brewery lab at the Mills.
The program is designed to last three years broken out into these goal buckets:
Year one: Solidify concept and get their feet wet in not only producing beer but preparing a business.
Year two: Grow the business to include distribution channels and develop and hone a fulfillment strategy.
Year three: Strengthen the business plan for both short- and long-term financing that will take the brewer to their next phases along a projected timeline.
Who qualifies for the incubator?
The Rocky Mount Mills Brewery Incubator is designed for startups with a sound concept and business plan in place as well as existing, seasoned brewers looking for a second location to increase production volume. Incubator candidates are judged on both their brewing and business experience as well as the financing that will be in place by the time they open the doors.
The group accepts applicants based on three qualities above all else:
- The candidate’s experience in craft brewing, production and sales.
- The candidate’s business plan.
- The candidate’s launch plan including geography for proposed base and distribution as well as brand vision.
The Brewery Incubator is guided by three overall principles/strategies
■ The incubator has a pay-as-you-go fee structure that alleviates the burden and high upfront costs a traditional brewery faces when starting. Equipment needed for a company’s specific operations is provided in their own space alongside pieces of equipment (canning, kegging, a beer garden etc.) that are shared among all incubator companies.
■ The Rocky Mount Mills team is there for incubator tenants from day one. The administrative staff is available to assist in filing all of the necessary state paperwork to begin brewing (and selling product). Expert brewers are on site every day to work with brewers on equipment usage and all facets of the brewing process. The partnership with the Brewing and Distillation Program offered by Nash Community College allows incubator tenants to take courses on brewing as well as business development.
■ The success of a collaborative environment. “We also see great value in these young companies working closely together to sample, test and critique each other’s product and collaborate on the other aspects of running a business,” Wolfrum said. “We’ve learned a lot from our sister organization, the American Underground in Durham, a startup ecosystem based in Durham, N.C., of more than 300 high growth companies. We subscribe to the concept that the more collaboration and collision of ideas companies can have, the better off their businesses and the program as a whole will fare.
How is this program funded?
The Brewery Incubator is a program of Rocky Mount Mills, a unique live, work, play destination located in one of America’s oldest cotton mills on the banks of the Tar River. RMM has funded the redevelopment of the incubator building in a century old shipping warehouse, the upfront equipment costs and the professional costs associated with supporting the program.
Tenants will pay a base lease of $2,000 per month for their brewery suite plus a a per bbl produced starting at $75/bbl. “Our lease terms also have a scaled per barrel production cost fee that goes down as production goes up,” Wolfrum said. “Similarly, Rocky Mount Mills programs the Beer Garden and events on site year round, so a good bit of the lease the tenants are responsible for will be offset by sales — a unique offering for young brewers who typically wouldn’t have access to on site sales right way.”
In addition to the program, tenants are also invited to rent a mill village home and walk to work every day.
Meet the inaugural class
The inaugural class includes groups with varying backgrounds and approaches to brewing. The brewers include Planetary Elixirs, HopFly Brewing Co., BBD Brewing Co. and Bull Durham Beer Co. (more on each below). These four breweries join the popular Koi Pond Brewing and Tarboro Brewing Co. West already located on the Mills 150-acre campus.
“Our inaugural class of brewers comes from all walks of life and bring with them different approaches, methods and philosophies towards brewing,” Wolfrum said. “We see the spirit that built Rocky Mount Mills 200 years ago, and that continues to make our community one of hard work and triumph in each of them. We’re looking forward to seeing and, more importantly, tasting what they have to offer.”
Planetary Elixirs — bottling soon. Founded by Scott Meyer, a brewing and winemaking veteran with a deep background in the culinary world; Scott seeks to introduce exotic beverages from different parts of the world to the American palate. His non-alcoholic line of Botanical Infusions will feature drinks like Jamaica Roselle based on the Christmas Sorrel drink from Jamaica and Thai Tie, inspired by a panoply of iconic Thai flavors including lime, ginger, basil and lemongrass. He will sell in 375-milliliter and 1-liter bottles from the Mill campus and other points throughout North Carolina.
HopFly Brewing Co. — opening 11/18. A Triangle native, Cameron Schulz spent six years working in corporate merchandising in Columbus, Ohio, before returning to his home state to found HopFly Brewing Co. A serendipitous advertisement for the Brewery Incubator came at just the right time, leading Cameron to choose Rocky Mount as the hometown for his new business. HopFly’s mission is to create “beer for every adventure,” with Cameron focused on brewing full-flavored yet sessionable styles that can be enjoyed both in his tasting room and on your next outdoor adventure.
BDD Brewing Co. — opening soon. A hilarious late night of one too many for a close family member resulted in a family slogan of “Bucken Da Dicey” and the name of Chazz Oesch and cousin, Matt, homebrewing operation. The 26- and 27-year-olds are hungry to make their name in the brewing scene in North Carolina.
Bull Durham Beer Co. — 0pen now. The first brewery in a minor league stadium takes its namesake from the team it supports and likely the only minor league baseball team a majority of Americans can name. When production at the Durham Bulls Stadium at American Tobacco Campus couldn’t keep up with demand, Bull Durham Beer Co. expanded to the Brewery Incubator to continue its success.