UVM alum builds craft beer site

The crowdfunding phenomenon-using the Internet to pitch projects and ideas that total strangers can support by investing in-is capturing an audience worldwide.

But now, thanks to a University of Vermont graduate, that trend has merged with another: craft beer. 

Class of ’99 alum Travis Benoit launched Crowdbrewed.com, a website that pairs craft brew enthusiasts with craft beer entrepreneurs to fund brewery projects, only last month. 

Crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter.com and Indie Go Go already existed, but Benoit and co-founder/ Chief Beer Officer and beer expert Mark Slattery (perhaps better known as “The Denver Beer Guy”) noticed a void for crowd funding more specific projects.

“We work for the craft brewer. It’s all about building that relationship,” Benoit said. 

The duo said they hope to provide a full-service commitment for craft breweries through the site, which will offer everything from marketing their product to the best technology platforms and running financial campaigns that include crowd funding and equity funding, in which accredited investors can give money in exchange for partial ownership of the company.

While 2012 may have been The Year for Craft Beer-the nascent industry doubled its retail value to more than $10 billion from its previous $5.7 billion in 2007, according to the Brewer’s Association-Benoit said his love for the craft stemmed from his days as a UVM undergraduate. 

“When you get to college, people usually indulge in tons and tons of crappy beers,” he said, crediting a more relaxed upbringing for his ability to appreciate quality liquor at a young age. 

He said he was impressed by the beer selection in Burlington even in the nineties (“I have Pearl Street Bev to thank for that,” he said). 

“I had the opportunity to go to barn parties in the Vermont backcountry and tasted some of the best brew you’ll ever drink, from nano breweries that would never become large enough to share the skills they had,” he said. 

Benoit said he also remembers spending time with a few buddies who brewed their own beer. 

Their product would eventually be bought and marketed as Magic Hat, now based in South Burlington.

Originally a finance major, Benoit’s experiences working at Goldman Sachs and Bear Sterns in New York City and in finance industries abroad convinced him that crowd funding and equity funding could become the future of financing start-ups.

Julia Herz, the Craft Beer program director for the Brewer’s Association based in Denver, told USA TODAY that crowdfunding as a financing tool works especially well in the craft beer industry that is typically dominated by local, small-scale brewers.

“There’s a synergy in small brewers going to friend and family networks to invest,” Herz said. “Crowd funding is that same idea on a larger scale.”

With the site just launched, and partnerships growing-Benoit said he hopes the site will eventually crowd fund five campaigns and equity fund two a month-business is good for the startup. 

But the art of craft brewing is what Benoit said has drawn him in, perhaps in a way that only Vermonters would understand. 

“There are no two craft beers that are alike,” Benoit said. “Each craft brewery has their own art.”