• Jyoti Pande

Beer & Business Club: Independence Brewing’s Shailendra Bist organizes events to attract start-ups

ET Bureau Sep 7, 2014, 04.00AM IST

By Jyoti Pande Lavakare

Along with artisan beers, Shailendra Bist is brewing something even more interesting at his microbrewery and gastropub in Pune: a start-up community that regularly hangs out together. Bist, one of the newest players in the craft-beers space in India and cofounder and CEO of Independence Brewing Co, is not just an entrepreneur himself, but also a bit of a changemaker.

By organizing a periodic event around beer and business, he is trying to catalyse a vibrant social community among existing start-ups in Pune. He calls it the Beer and Business Club. His gastropub organizes a series of social events to attract young founders and start-ups; and by populating this space with first-generational entrepreneurs, he is attempting to create an enduring social community of start-up czars. Besides being interesting and fun, these events serve as an organic stimulus to the Pune entrepreneurial ecosystem, reseeding and growing it faster.

He began this series of social events in April this year, 15 months after opening the doors of his 220-seater gastropub: casual, fun hangout sessions of, for and by young entrepreneurs. The third hangout, a bigger event than the previous two, is scheduled for the last week of September.

Boys and Beer "The initial idea was just to have a strictly informal meet of first-generation entrepreneurs over some beers, conversations and fun events," Bist tells me as we tour his spanking new pub fitted with comfortable seating, tables designed in a mellow wood finish and an atmosphere of casual, youthful elegance. But the overwhelming response showed him that there was a gap that he was quick to recognize and fill. His start-up collates data of all those who participate — and builds on it for each event. "We currently have a database of 50 start-ups," he says. At the last event, they had roughly 30 start-ups, represented by 70-80 participants. How does he attract and build the community? "We offer them a start-up discount, which is much more generous than the discount we offer corporates. Entrepreneurs are free to work from our pub. If they need to make some presentations they can use our stage and audio-video system for free," says Bist, as we walk through his stainless steel and glass microbrewery, looking at bags of imported malted barley, grist, hops and the large steel mash tuns. However, the character of the event and the evening is more social than professional — the networking and the bouncing off of ideas among the start-up czars is a bonus. Bist feels that between Nasscom, TiE and others, there are enough professional forums for entrepreneurs, but very few spaces that allow for an informal catch-up of minds and ideas. Meanwhile, Independence Brewing got its final licence earlier this week. "We've been close to operational breakeven for a while, but haven't been able to generate a profit yet. That was to be expected, because our own beers hadn't started. Until now we were serving craft beers we purchased from others and thus, our costs were high. When we begin with our own beers, sales will go up and costs will come down," Bist adds. Microbreweries — breweries that produce a limited amount of craft beer, typically 1,000 litres per batch — are a fairly new business in India. Only six states — Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana and West Bengal — have allowed for licences to produce these artisan beers. While the microbreweries are allowed to produce and distribute the beer to other establishments, the restaurant breweries, or brewpubs, can brew and sell it to patrons on the premises.

Intimate Knowledge What also makes Bist different from others entrepreneurs in this field is the fact that he is himself a trained brewmaster. He is the head brewer for his start-up, though he has hired an assistant brewer as well as an apprentice.

He has over six years of brewing experience and has won multiple awards at brewing competitions in the US, from where he moved in 2012 to set up his pub/brewery in Pune. For someone with a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, that is an unusual accomplishment. But both Bist and his wife, Ambica, began their love affair with beer while in college, and are both equally passionate about it. So are his co-founders, partners and employees.

"In fact we have an internal charter which prevents us from carrying any mass market industrial beer. Our entire goal is the promotion of craft beer," Bist says. Which is the reason why he pulled off a coup of sorts by getting Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co, southern California's largest craft brewery and among the largest in the entire country, to partner with him.

"Greg brings immense knowledge, experience and expertise to the table. He partnered with us because he is passionate about beers and is totally committed to the idea of spreading good, artisan beers to all parts of the world," says Bist. He has other American angels supporting him as well. "My entire project was funded via equity funding mostly from private investors from the US. All American investors have invested in our parent company Indus Brew LLc [registered in the US] which holds a majority stake in Independence Brewing Co," Bist says.

His mind is currently buzzing with several new ideas, but his longterm goal is simple: to create a craft beer brand and push into the retail market.

The author is an independent columnist and writer.

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