Boston Beer Co. wants to give a lift to underdogs

Jon Chesto

When he started The Boston Beer Co. in 1984, founder Jim Koch famously brewed the first batch of Samuel Adams beer in his kitchen and he sold his beer by traveling from bar to bar.

Now Koch, who still oversees the company as its chairman, is brewing up a way to help other budding entrepreneurs as they experience their own early growing pains.

The South Boston-based brewer has started a $250,000 loan program that would help lower-income entrepreneurs in food and beverage industries in New England. The company plans to unveil the philanthropic program, called “Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream,” at a launch event on June 30 at its Jamaica Plain brewery.

Michelle Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Boston Beer, said Koch originally began conceiving of the program about six months ago.

“He started as a one-man show himself,” Sullivan said. “He was very much the underdog when he got started (and) we’ve done lots of things at Sam Adams over the years to support underdogs.”

Boston Beer has tapped Accion USA, a nonprofit organization in Charlestown, to make the “microloans” to the entrepreneurs who qualify for the program. Sullivan said the exact size of the loan would depend on the needs of the applicant.

Sullivan said the company will also connect entrepreneurs with professional services, such as financial literacy seminars and access to legal advice.

Sullivan said applicants could be considered if they are in the retail side of the food and beverage business – such as a restaurant owner – or on the manufacturing and distribution side – such as an industrial bakery, cheese maker or, for that matter, a craft brewer.

Accion specializes in providing small loans – ranging in size from $500 to $25,000 – to entrepreneurs who may have a hard time securing the credit. But Erika Eurkus, a senior director at Accion USA, said the Boston Beer partnership is an unusual one for the organization, which gets the bulk of its loan funds from commercial banks and major foundations.

“This is a very unique partnership for us ... because it’s targeting a specific group of entrepreneurs,” Eurkus said.

Eurkus also hopes that the partnership with Boston Beer could draw more public attention to Accion. “We, as a small nonprofit, have a hard time marketing and reaching people,” Eurkus said. “We don’t have the marketing budget of a Sam Adams.”

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