A Toast to the Future

The female entrepreneurs behind Republic Restoratives, a distillery in Washington, D.C., are hopeful that equity crowdfunding will help them expand their venture.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

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Credit: Republic Restoratives Facebook page.

Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner are the cofounders of Republic Restoratives, a craft bourbon and vodka distillery in Washington, D.C., that’s been delighting locals since May of this year — and soon, they hope, will take an expanded product list well beyond the capital region.

To get their business off the ground initially, the pair ran a crowdfunding campaign in May of 2015 on Indiegogo — and raised an eye-popping $45,000 more than the $75,000 they set out to generate. The success of their campaign inspired Indiegogo to make them one of four businesses featured in the launch of site’s new equity crowdfunding effort.

“It’s really exciting,” Carusone says of the equity program. “It’s fair and right that the average person can invest. Now, for a $100 minimum, you can invest in your local distillery.”

Indeed, investing in businesses used to be reserved for people earning upwards of $200,000 in annual salaries or with net worths of at least $1 million. But a recent policy change means that, as of May 2016, most anybody with the means to do so can fund ventures that inspire them. The change was codified in Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2012.

Earlier this month, Indiegogo got in on the equity action in partnership with the government-approved equity crowdfunding site Microventures. And for female entrepreneurs like Carusone and Gardner, that makes this new source of capital even more accessible — and achieving their goals for the future that much more possible.

How a Distillery Was Made

Carusone and Gardner grew up together in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and would often dream up business ideas to pass the time. But then they went to college on opposite coasts and pursued separate careers — Carusone in politics, and Rachel, in sustainable development.

They always stayed in touch, though, and continued to brainstorm potential future ventures. In 2005, they became enamored with the notion of opening a craft distillery after they read about the success of a distillery based in their home state. Inspired, they began watching the industry closely.

“We realized that the farm-to-table movement was colliding with the interests people were having in spirits, wine and beer — that what was on their plates was as interesting and important to them as what’s in their glasses,” Carusone says.

Even so, they continued along in their separate professions, idly discussing this idea for years — until one terrible day in 2011. At the time, Carusone was serving as chief of staff to then-Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona. On Jan. 8 of that year, Giffords and 18 others were shot by gunman Jared Lee Loughner during a meeting with constituents at a Tucson supermarket.

The traumatic incident caused Carusone to reevaluate her career. “When she was shot, my whole life changed in a big way,” she says. “It was the right time to get serious about the idea” of opening the distillery.

The duo began conducting research, attending conferences and conferring with experts. They ended up in Washington because, in addition to Carusone’s desire to move back east, the city’s local liquor laws made opening a distillery easier to navigate. After securing a space in late 2013, they spent two years refurbishing it, and then opened its doors on Mother’s Day of 2016.

During construction, Carusone and Gardner hosted their blockbuster Indiegogo campaign, implementing best practices they learned through research into effective crowdfunding efforts. That homework paid off — big time. They raised $41,000 in the first day, and garnered $119,000 in all — well over their goal amount of $75,000.

Those funds became “the foundation for everything for us.” And that fundraising success became “a selling point for equity investors, as well as traditional lenders like banks,” who saw their crowdfunding success as a sign of popularity in the surrounding community. “Prior to that, when we started conversations, they weren’t going anywhere.”

So, when Indiegogo reached out to Carusone and Gardner to ask if they would be interested in pursuing equity funding, they jumped at the chance. Carusone says it wasn’t as easy as setting up the traditional campaign — it requires an upfront investment to get through the required financial review, and “there’s more onus on the business, and on Indiegogo, to provide a potential funder with as much information as possible.”

But she says the money raised through equity investors will help them realize their goals of expanding their product line and growing beyond the Washington, D.C., area.

Investors Elevating Women to New Heights

Republic Restoratives has been a hit with local bar-goers — it was even named Best Distillery in a reader poll conducted by The Washington Post last month. “But it does take capital to continue growing,” Carusone says.

For its part, Indiegogo is excited to play a role in the growth and development of women’s businesses. “We’re very proud of the fact that over the years Indiegogo has become an important option for women entrepreneurs seeking to raise funds,” a spokesperson told The Story Exchange.

“It’s unfortunate that women-owned ventures have had a more difficult time raising institutional investments, so we’re hopeful that equity crowdfunding provides a new way for them to succeed.”

And Carusone is excited, too — both about the benefits she sees for her business, and the potential for everyday Americans to take more proactive roles in the economy as small investors in startups. “It’s the right thing, and I’m glad the law caught up.”

Posted: November 30, 2016

Candice Helfand-RogersA Toast to the Future