Africa’s most universally recognized craft brewing darling has massive plans for the coming year, but he’s desperately short of the money he needs to make all of his dreams come true. Almost entirely owned and operated by women, Rwanda’s Kweza Craft Brewery aims to open a superb destination brewery in July and rapidly ramp up production for distribution throughout the country and beyond. But the pioneering startup is struggling to attract enough investment to buy the necessary equipment, and a crowdfunding campaign only hit 2% of its goal with just two weeks remaining.
Kweza – which holds the unique status of the only independent commercial brewery in Rwanda, arguably the continent’s most edifying example of economic success over the past decade – is a wellness story with enormous potential, though unrealized.
“We have a little over 2,000 subscribers, so I think we’re in a bit of an echo chamber. Other crowdfunding success stories may have used larger existing platforms and celebrity referrals to reach a wider audience. So if any celebrities believe in African brewing and women at the helm of a new national industry in Rwanda,… a push, a wink… ”sends an email to the supernaturally positive managing partner Jessi Flynn, who runs the Indiegogo campaign which has so far generated just $ 4,669. of his goal of $ 200,000.
Kweza has gained the attention of a celebrity project, the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which will serve Kweza’s beer. Thanks to additional commitments from the country’s luxury tourist lodges and partnerships with its gourmet restaurants, Kweza has pre-sold its beer until mid-2022 and is refusing order requests.
This can be seen as a good problem. It is still a serious problem.
As many independent breweries have learned over the decades, it takes money to make beer and more beer to make money. Countless craft breweries, including the modern-era American original, New Albion Brewing, have found themselves ill-equipped to meet demand and unable to generate income within their existing margins to meet the expenses in capital needed to do more. Some breweries take venture capital. Others are selling. New Albion closed five years after opening.
Kweza took advantage of a mechanism inaccessible to the first American craft breweries: online crowdfunding. The time is critical.
Currently brewed on a 50 liter (13 gallon) pilot system, Kweza has just received government approval to sell its beer on a larger scale and build a 6,000 square foot airy natural wood building next to a park. natural overlooking the city of Kigali. . But it needs about $ 300,000 to finance the construction and even more to import the equipment it needs to increase its capacity.
Without it, who knows how long it might take – if ever – to accomplish Kweza’s multifaceted mission of creating generational wealth for Rwandan women, supporting and promoting African biodiversity and economic progress, and creating a model for other black-owned businesses?
Flynn, an American expat of Caucasian descent, celebrates 99.5% international ownership of Kweza women and non-whites and hopes to replicate that percentage for other companies by making presentations and working tirelessly to raise awareness. women and people of color in business creation.
“Many women and people of color are interested in investing, but often haven’t been in environments to find out more,” she writes. “Women founders rarely receive investments, especially investments (in venture capital), despite above-average success rates, and… no. And studies have shown time and time again that we invest in those who are like us, so that perpetuates the cycle. It also perpetuates wealth divisions around the world.
Flynn has been successful in getting the message across through his connections to the global brewing world. The Indiegogo campaign encourages donation with prizes such as my book on the history of female beer, an adventure tour of Rwanda and, most importantly, beers brewed in collaboration between 16 breweries in Africa, North America. and in Europe. They incorporate a hop blend specially created for Kweza by US-based Yakima Chief Hops to enhance the relatively fine mouth feel of beers brewed with the African staple grain, sorghum. YCH is working to make the blend soon available to the commercial brewing public.
While Flynn provides much of the mechanical and marketing know-how to Kweza, she mainly relies on her business partner and assistant brewer Josephine Uwase for her knowledge of African ingredients and tradition. Uwase began brewing to support her family during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. While multinational mega-breweries dominate the beer market in Africa, millions of African women still follow the ancient matrilineal custom of brewing miniscule amounts. mostly sorghum beer in their homes to sell a bite of bread to their neighbors.
Uwase replaces the original founder of Kweza (who had to step down from the business due to a family emergency) as the native Rwandan face of the brewery and will guide Kweza beyond his classic European styles into a new era of what the team calls “Biodiversity Beers.” This developing series will focus on showcasing indigenous ingredients – some to be grown in the brewery – even more than the existing range. It will also help lead Rwandan interns who will come to learn brewing and business in Kweza once the new facility is built with transparency and education at the forefront of its plans.
The team is discussing with tourism organizations and exporters the possibility of presenting their products and philosophy on long-term economic sustainability to a wider audience and are already negotiating with a sports-centric community place to build a second brewery.
This ‘second’ brewery could become the first as July 2022 seems to be both a very short and a very long road, especially as COVID repeatedly seals Rwanda’s borders to freight and maintains potential contributions from the funding world. on a small scale somewhat out of reach. The pandemic provided a silver lining as Kweza purchased a 650 liter (172 gallon / 86 barrel) brewery, fermenters, brite tanks, as well as a mill, filter and bottling line from a South African brewery that sold it at a great price to generate cash you desperately need to stay in business.
But this brewery full of opportunity still sits on an incredibly remote farm, waiting for Kweza to find the money to first construct the building that will house it, then pay for him to take an epic trip to Kigali.
As Flynn explains, “It will go by truck to the port of CapeTown in South Africa, then by sea around South East Africa across the Indian Ocean to Mombasa, Kenya or Dar. Es Salaam in Tanzania, then overland by truck over the Masai Mara / Serengeti, through Uganda and into Rwanda to join us! “
If the Indiegogo campaign fails, Kweza could wait countless times for funding that may or may not come.
But the appetite to support craft beer is much higher today than it was when Sonoma, New Albion, Calif. Struggled unsuccessfully to survive in the early 1980s on a hand-rigged system and a lack of external funding. And subsequent generations of drinkers around the world who have enjoyed craft beer through New Albion’s efforts should certainly appreciate the parallels between America’s first ‘craft’ brewery and Rwanda’s first craft brewery.
As Flynn says, “It brings a massive global industry to a personal level. It gives people a chance to interact with a familiar product – beer – but in a whole new way, with a new experience, and in a way that is localized, but commercial. Rwanda takes great pride in “Made in Rwanda”, and so we are working to produce what we hope will become a source of pride and a national beer, and something that you cannot get elsewhere in the world. “