Why a brewery could be the best investment you ever make

Ever wanted to own a brewery or distillery? Perhaps a stake in your own bar?

There's never been so many opportunities to make this a reality, thanks to the arrival in Australia of equity crowdfunding.

New legislation enables companies to raise up to $5 million a year by making public offers of their shares on licensed crowdfunding portals.

Lightning round

WA distiller West Winds Gin was quickest out of the gate, raising $932,000 in a 78-day campaign that finished in July 2018.

Gold Coast brewery Black Hops raised $400,000 from in just six days in January this year, while Sydney's Endeavour Brewing secured $558,000 in a campaign that finished last week.

"We're going to turbo charge our expansion with more marketing and sales personnel and we're also going to move further into hospitality," Endeavour co-founder Ben Kooyman says.

"Our venue in The Rocks, Endeavour Tap Rooms, has been ultra successful. So we're going to look at more sites for Endeavour brew bars."

Expectations exceeded

But Kooyman says the crowdfunding benefits went far beyond the capital raised, with their offer website viewed almost 100,000 times during the campaign.

"We got a lot of brand awareness out of it and we've now got over 600 shareholders around the country who are super engaged, and more than half of them are outside New South Wales," he says.

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Next up are hospitality businesses Speakeasy Group and Melbourne's Dainton Brewing, which both had offers go live on the Birchal platform recently.

With six venues in Sydney (Eau de Vie, Mjolner and Nick & Nora's) and Melbourne (Eau de Vie, Mjolner and Boilermaker House), Speakeasy had revenue exceeding $14 million last financial year.

Smart money

Co-owner Sven Almenning says the idea of bringing patrons on board as investors has always appealed to him and business partner, Greg Sanderson.

"The plan is for our investors to be able to vote and influence what we do with the business going forward in terms of new venue opportunities and things like that," he says.

"We'd like to be able to crowdsource the advice, if you like. We believe we know what people want, but of course our guests have opinions on where we should be heading."

The group aims to raise up to $3 million from retail and wholesale investors with the offer including investment rewards for as little as $500, up to the maximum allowable investment of $10,000 for an individual.

"Obviously when you invest $10,000 into a business of our size it doesn't get you a huge chunk of equity percentage-wise, so we're hoping to be able to offer some really nice in-venue perks in addition to the monetary returns," Almenning says.

Message in a bottle

Meanwhile, Dainton Brewing is finalising the details of an offer that will fund a new bottling line, and its entry into the production of sour and barrel-aged beers, potentially with a dedicated production facility.

"We'd like to buy a few new toys, but the other reason for doing it is having the ability to create some excitement around the brand and build some brand ambassadors," says founder Dan Dainton.

He says the brewery will be giving first round investors access to some exclusive beers, "so it really is worth getting in on the ground level".

"To me that's exciting, we want to reward these people for coming on board. Our company is in a very strong position and I think we have a lot to offer," says Dainton.

Small business sense

Birchal co-founder Matt Vitale says the initial interest in equity crowdfunding has been "astounding".

"The funding options that were previously available are not well suited to small and medium businesses," he says.

"Many company founders resort to funding their businesses through personal savings or very expensive debt such as personal loans or credit cards."

Vitale says that by "blurring the lines" between customers and investors, businesses can effectively incorporate the promotion of their capital raise into sales and marketing activities.

"When executed successfully, you get the funding you need, and a tribe of fiercely passionate ambassadors who love your product and will try to make everyone they know love it too," he says.

Invest wisely

Like any investment, equity crowdfunding comes with a caveat. There's been no shortage of investment offers overseas that have yet to deliver monetary returns for shareholders.

All Australian businesses that pursue equity crowdfunding are legally required to include a bluntly-worded risk warning in their offer document.

"Investment in these types of ventures is speculative and carries high risks. You may lose your entire investment, and you should be in a position to bear this risk without undue hardship," it reads.

But there have also been success stories, most famously that of Scotland's Brewdog, whose first round investors got an astounding 2800 per cent return when private equity took a stake in the company in 2017.

"We have been contacted several times about selling to larger businesses and that's potentially one of our exit strategies for investors in four or five years' time," says Speakeasy's Almenning.

"But that's not we're gunning for, we want to create individually profitable businesses that are fun and exciting and provide good experiences.

"Hospitality's risky, but I hope it's a good investment for everyone."

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