Twin Creeks Brewing Company owners shared their success story at the Feb. 13 Gauntlet business classes. Shown left to right are owners Barry Robertson, Jason Bishop, and Andy Bishop with Annette Patterson, president of The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and founder of the Gauntlet, and Kelly Robertson Turner, Director of Marketing and Resource Development for TAF.
Photo by Debbie Adams

Twin Creeks Brewing Company always tops the lists of success stories for the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition.

Annette Patterson, president of The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and founder of the Gauntlet, frequently uses their success story to bolster entrepreneurs who sign up for the business sessions.

Owners Andy and Jason Bishop and Barry Robertson were invited to open the 2018 Gauntlet sessions on February 13 with their story of how their business developed from its modest beginnings as a hobby in a garage to become essentially the heart of downtown Vinton and the catalyst for new growth in the area. Patterson credited them with “single-handedly transforming downtown Vinton.”

The owners offered words of advice to this year’s Gauntlet entrepreneurs as winners of the 2016 Gauntlet competition.

The Bishops are Botetourt natives who graduated from Lord Botetourt High School, and they both still live in the county.

Andy Bishop explained that he and his brother Jason started off brewing craft beers about 10 years ago with early attempts “poured out to water the yard.” Over time, and with great determination, their product improved, especially after making the switch to all-grain beers.

Bishop was a sales engineer for Plastics One at the time where he worked with Robertson, also a sales engineer. (Jason Bishop works for the Bank of Botetourt, currently as Vice President.)

Bishop and Robertson often traveled for business and took the opportunity to enjoy and research craft beers across the country, talking with hundreds of brewery owners and head brewers to find out what works and what challenges they faced in starting up their businesses.

The three pooled their resources to build a small brewery in Robertson’s garage. They heard about the Gauntlet competition, signed up with some trepidation, won the competition, and the rest is history.

Bishop told the entrepreneurs that what they thought was their business plan, they discovered during the Gauntlet classes, was just some ideas written on a piece of paper. Going through the program gave them focus, goals, and ultimately business acumen.

Twin Creeks opened in 2016, just a year and three months ago, and quickly exceeded their three-year business plan within just 12 months. They credit their success to the Gauntlet program, resources and support from the Town of Vinton, cooperation from their landlord, and TAF.

As their business has continued to expand, they have signed up to participate in the Gauntlet program again this year with hopes of making their business a thriving “generational business,” remaining in their families for years to come.

Big changes are on the horizon for Twin Creeks in the coming weeks. They are now able to satisfy taproom demand and distribution, with their first beer shipped out for distribution this week. Patterson said Twin Creeks is the first business to sign up for a second round of the Gauntlet.

Jason Bishop advised the entrepreneurs to “know your industry,” and shared that the craft beer brewing industry is typically more collaborative than cutthroat, with peers sharing resources and advice. Robertson added “know your industry regulations and licensing requirements.” Also make sure you are prepared for life with no income in the first few months. Twin Creeks signed the lease on their building on Pollard Street in April 2016 but with licensing requirements (and renovations) were not able to open until October, resulting in “not a dime coming in” for all those months. They survived by using personal start-up capital, and no and low interest loans, along with some private financing.

The three were asked to identify the biggest challenges they faced in starting up their business. Andy Bishop said it was “learning to do on an industrial scale what started off as brewing in a garage,” underestimating the start-up costs, but also underestimating their abilities and potential for success. Jason Bishop shared that they had misjudged their target customers, thinking millennials would be the biggest consumers of craft beers. They quickly discovered that love for beer transcends generations.

For a time, all three kept their day jobs. In recent months, Andy Bishop was able to begin working full time at Twin Creeks, handling day to day responsibilities and marketing. They employ several full and part-time employees, as well.

They advised those in the Gauntlet program to get their families involved in their businesses, which will consume vast amounts of time, especially in the early stages.

Patterson next introduced Brent Hershey, owner of Brent Hershey Insurance and Financial Services in Daleville, a State Farm agent, who made a presentation to the group on one of the fundamentals of starting up and growing a successful business–Market Analysis.

Hershey advised the entrepreneurs to thoroughly research their fields to make sure there is a market for their business and whether they have a high probability for success. Who are their potential customers and what can they supply customers that their competitors aren’t already providing or doing?

He advised them to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the success of their business proposal. To market themselves successfully, he advised them to develop unique branding that sets them apart and makes them memorable.

The Advancement Foundation is a non-profit organization which leverages community resources to provide support, connection, and solid business planning for entrepreneurs—to “ignite small business growth.” The Gauntlet evolved from TAF.

Patterson says the Gauntlet is Virginia’s largest business training program and competition, now in its fourth year.

In addition to recruiting entrepreneurs to take part in the program, the Gauntlet has enlisted 200 mentors to coach entrepreneurs of new and existing businesses in Roanoke County, Botetourt County, and– now for the first time—in the Alleghany Highlands.

This year about 100 entrepreneurs, representing 75 different businesses, have signed up to participate in ten weeks of business training at the Vinton War Memorial and at Dabney Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge.

The business classes culminate in the Gauntlet Competition. At the Gauntlet Awards Ceremony scheduled for May 17, $250,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to those who complete the program, submit and present their business plans to be judged by a panel, and reap the benefits of their hard work. An additional $125,000 will be available to participants in the form of low interest loans.

Participants in the Gauntlet program commit to attend 10 classes; they work with at least two mentors in developing their business plan; and the staff connects them with a wide variety of resources applicable to their individual needs.

Participants in the Gauntlet are asked to prepare and share brief “Elevator Pitches” to help sell their businesses to anyone they might encounter.

During the February 13 class, Carrie Poff presented her pitch on Brown Hound Tree Service which doesn’t just cut trees—they salvage trees, repurposing them for woodworkers to use in projects. Logan Bittle shared the details of his Kempt Cleaners business, which schedules housecleaning online–“Clean Your House with the Click of a Mouse.” Colleen Burns from Your Life Matters told the class about her anti-bullying program which employs self-defense through martial arts.