Over the last few years, equity crowdfunding and craft beer have been closely intertwined. Many brewery owners have turned to their fans as a means of funding new projects and expansions.
Some have enjoyed success, others less so, while a few have chosen not to move beyond the expressions of interest phase. Now, in a particularly challenging year for the beer industry – one in which crowdfunding campaigns have been conspicuous by their absence – one brewery founder has returned to the industry hoping to help more businesses end up joining those for whom crowdfunding has proven a winning option.
Mark Hubbard launched Blizzard Brewing in the Victorian ski field town of Dinner Plain in 2015, later selling the business in 2020* and retiring to the Mornington Peninsula. It wasn't long, however, before he found he missed working with beer.
“I didn’t have a link to the industry any longer,” he says. “I loved being on the coast and playing golf, but I really wanted to do something with the industry again.”
This led to Mark connecting with the team at OnMarket: an investment and capital-raising business. Before launching Blizzard, he'd spent decades at UXC Limited: a IT services business where he was financial director.
“I reached out and said, ‘Here’s my skillset. I raised a lot of money to build Australia's largest listed IT company and I’ve also owned a brewery.'
“So, they said, ‘Fantastic, come on board.’”
As someone who has both founded and sold a brewery, he feels he understands a lot of the challenges faced by the industry.
“I do come from their world and there’s an empathy and understanding there," Mark says. "I can help take the mystery out of it and speak in their language while looking through their eyes."
Of his role with OnMarket, he adds: “We do seed funding, all the way up to IPOs. So, equity crowdfunding is just one of the tools that we have, but it’s the one that is really well suited to the craft beer industry.”
Well suited, he believes, due to the size of many independent breweries, their need for capital to grow, and the community that brings people to craft beer.
“You're part of a club, much more than if you’re investing in a mousetrap company,” he says. “It’s very different when it’s something that gives you pleasure to partake in.
“[For breweries], it’s about getting people who already support you to put some money in – not enough that it will make or break them, but enough to deliver on a strategy you're implementing.”
Mark also believes it's a route that allows business owners to make some of the less tangible reasons for their entry into the industry – a passion for craft beer, their personal story and ethos – part of their pitch for financial support.
“Look at yourself," he says. "Why did you start out and invest? There’s a lot of emotional reasons you did it and there are people who want to go on that same journey with you.
“Every investor has their own criteria. You don’t have to cater to what you think they’re looking for; you just need to tell your story.”
Although we're nearing the halfway point of 2023, it has been a quiet year on the crowd-sourced funding front for craft breweries: there have been none to date, compared with 15 breweries that embark on campaigns last year. Mark says the current economic outlook is likely the main reason for this, but still thinks there are opportunities, not least as the process of opening up for new investment allows a business to highlight its business goals – the Future Magic team made a similar point when they launched following a crowdfunding campaign.
“That's really clarifying and really liberating for a founder,” Mark says. “You have to have certain discipline in the business and this promotes that discipline.”
Outside the drinks space, he points to a number of successful campaigns in 2023 as well as one they're currently working on with the new owners of the Dargo Hotel. It's based in a tiny town in regional Victoria and – much like many regional breweries – has layers to its community.
“[For the hotel], it isn't just the people that live an hour nearby. It’s a community of people that get their four-wheel drives and go out in the bush as often as they can who come from all over Victoria or even New South Wales.”
Mark adds: “I think you can still have a very successful crowdfunding campaign in this market.
“You don’t have to be a national player and have your beer in every Dan Murphy's in the country. You might want to be the brewpub in the village; you can make a good margin and satisfactory living doing that, but you still need capital to do it.”
*The new owners ultimately kept Blizzard closed due to ongoing challenges related to COVID.
You can read some more of Mark's thoughts about crowdfunding and craft beer here.