Missing the Innovation Train

September 3, 2009

Innovation – doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter – is a wonderful thing – unless you happen to be the one who missed the train when it pulled out from the station.

KOERBERThat’s what happened to a once great family business, Koerber’s Beer.

Hey – you may be thinking – that name sounds familiar.  Yes, Koerber’s was once our family business run by my grandfather William G. (Bill) Koerber and his brothers.

Koerber’s Beer and the other brands, including Friar’s Ale and later a new innovation, Malt Liquor led the brand portfolio.

Grandpa’s brother, Clarence “Click” Koerber, invented malt liquor and began production at the Grand Valley Brewing Company in Ionia, Michigan some time around 1937. Great  Uncle Click named his magic brew Clix Malt Liquor.

The family business managed to survive through two World Wars, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.  Instead, it was an innovation in the brew master’s art that led to it’s demise.

That change was the imagepractice of increasing the preservative content in beer and ale.  By adding additional preservatives, competing breweries were able to ship their beers for greater distances, store the product for longer periods of time, and increase shelf life for distributors and retailers taking advantage of major economies of scale.

There was only one problem, it affected the taste of the beer.  Koerber’s brand was associated with Age, Strength, and Purity.  Grandpa, as brew master was sure that no one would buy let alone want to drink the lesser product.   And Grandpa was wrong!

By 1949, the last bottle of Koerber’s beer was crated and shipped from the plant in  Toledo, Ohio.  The factory was closed.  What today we would call a series of micro breweries, Koerber’s, and it’s sister company Grand Valley Brewing could not compete with the mega brewers who had emerged.

By the time I came along, in 1960, the only Koerber’s beer that was still in production came from the mini brewery that was hidden behind the secret wall in the Dutch Room off the boat well in Grandpa’s home at Grayhaven on the Detroit River. But that’s a story for another day.

So when you hear the whistle blow and see the innovation train pull into the  station, be sure to have your ticket ready so you can board.  You don’t want to be left behind!

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Show me the money…

March 3, 2009

Over the last few weeks I have been on what some say is an impossible quest.  Raising capital in today’s economy.  The journey is not a new one and the road has many twists and turns.  It’s taken me from the coffee shops of Phoenix, to the islands north of Vancouver and the mountains of Winnipeg.  From Singapore to Europe and back to Arizona again.

The two projects could not be more different. 

One – a biotech company is pre-revenue with a vision of detecting dread diseases, including cancers, before the disease can spread and harm the ones we love.  SBIR funding and early stage capital has taken them far in the lab, but now to commercialize takes funding from the equity markets or strategic partners if we are to make vision  reality.

The second – a manufacturing company – has product, inventory, a proven system, an experienced sales and management team, AND, best of all, customers. 

In multiple conversations, across multiple continents, in the quest for money, the secret is to find the RIGHT partner and show them the value.  Only then will they ‘show me the money.’

I have not reached the end of the quest yet, but I am learning along the way.  Here are a few of the lessons I have learned:

1.  Be creative – funding streams can come in all forms from traditional lending and equity, to more creative funding streams like loan guarantees and debt conversions.

2.  Be passionate – if you can’t get excited about what your opportunity- how can you get an investor excited?

3.  Be flexible – they have what you need.  You can’t call all the shots.  Know what points you can flex on and those you can’t without jeopardizing the success of the business plan.

4.  Do your homework – not just on the company you are working to build but on the needs of a potential investor.  What do you need and when.  What do they need and when.  Look for strong matches.

5.  Reach out to your network and listen.  You’d be surprised who knows who or who’s done what in the past.  Your network can connect you to the perfect partner if you take the time to listen.

So wish me luck along the journey and stay tuned…