Published by: Natalie Newman
When it comes to the conversation about entrepreneurial innovation, what better place to start than an entrepreneurially successful venture that literally has “innovation” in it’s name?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Owen, one of the owners of Innovation Brewing in Sylva, North Carolina. Innovation Brewing is very popular in the area and is in the process of growing again. As it stands, the establishment has a sort of industrial feel but manages to give off a very comfortable and relaxing ambiance that customers love. The owners are always creating new beers, and as their current expansion project proves, they are willing to try new things with their business. It’s the brewery to visit in Jackson County for beer lovers; novices and experts alike.
Tell me a little about yourself, your education, and your experience.
I am Nicole Owen owner of Innovation Brewing. I have owned the brewery for 4 years and was in the brewing industry for eight years prior to that. I graduated with a degree in Environmental Science from UNCA.
How did this journey begin for you and Chip (co-owner)?
We were both avid homebrewers when we met each other so it was a hobby we enjoyed doing together. We spent all our weekends brewing beer and had five beers on tap at our house. So we decided it was time to pursue our passion as a career and we started looking for the perfect place to live and operate a business. After about a year of searching we found the perfect place here in Sylva.
What was the biggest challenge you two faced in the very beginning?
Financing. We had very little money and could not get a business loan because we were a start up company. So we had to get creative and build everything ourselves from the tables and chairs to the brew system. We also did all the construction and renovations on the building ourselves because there was no money in the budget for contractors.
What has been a major key to your success? What do you believe is your competitive advantage?
We make an outstanding product that we are very proud of so I think that has been our biggest factor in all of this as well as our competitive edge. We also poured our hearts and souls into this place and I think that comes through in our atmosphere as well as extends into our staff.
What challenges have you faced in this growing and competitive industry?
One big challenge has been protecting our branding and intellectual property which is becoming an increasingly larger issue in this industry all the time.
Did you consider yourself a creative or innovative person before starting this venture?
I did. And Chip is a mechanical engineer and has been creating and innovating since he was probably 3.
How do you come up with new ideas? What is your process?
Beer is our passion so it’s easy to come up with fun new ideas because we are always wanting to try to new things. We don’t have one particular process we take inspiration from all kinds of things including food, spirits and other beers.
I see you all are expanding a bit more. Can you tell me about this?
We are putting a wood fired pizza oven in next door to the brewery partly because pizza is our other passion and partly because it compliments the business perfectly who doesn’t love pizza and beer? We are also putting a second taproom and beer aging facility in the old train depot in Dillsboro because we are completely out of room at our current brewery and need more space for barrels and beer condition.
How do you keep up with current practices and changes in the brewing industry?
We and our brewer are always reading and learning by attending seminars, conferences and reading new books and articles that come out.
What do you see in the future for Innovation?
Lots more great beer! We will be expanding our sour and farmhouse ale program greatly with our new location so that is really exciting for us because that is our favorite style of beer.
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
If you aren’t prepared to work 100-hour work weeks with no end in sight and pour your heart and soul into your business then I wouldn’t recommend it. I think a successful entrepreneur has to really be passionate about their work or else there just isn’t enough motivation to get through the struggles. Prepare yourself for hardship, sleepless nights, never truly having a day off and a never ending to do list. But if it is your passion then know that there is nothing else you would rather be doing and that you are living your life to it’s greatest potential by truly doing what you love every day.