Jacquie Berglund Q&A

October 28, 2019
Finnegans CEO Jacquie Berglund set out to save the world through international aid and ended up doing it with beer.

“If you want to start a business you have to understand that you’re going to work your tail off. You can’t have balance if you’re going to be an entrepreneur. You need to eat, drink and sleep your work. And the truth is there are a lot of super lonely days.”

You studied political science at Augsburg, got a master’s in international relations at the American Graduate School in Paris, and spent five years working on G-7 and Baltic Rim issues. What interested you in public policy early on?

I was a gal who didn’t know what she wanted to do coming out of college. When I was finishing my master’s degree, I had a professor who was an economist at OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), which was created to implement the Marshall Plan after World War II. It had become a market-economy club of countries that share best practices around building successful economies. OECD started a new entrepreneurial branch and I ended up moving over to that group, and we coordinated aid flows to the NIS Republic and the Baltic countries.

That seems like an unusual career path for an eventual beer entrepreneur.

Isn’t it hilarious? The funny part of the story is that I had this amazing job at OECD — my whole dream had been to work for an international organization — but I realized I wasn’t cut out for it.

What convinced you to make a change?

The thing that prompted me to move back to America is I needed back surgery. I had a degenerative disc disorder and I needed surgery and I wanted to do that in Minnesota. That’s when my friend Kieran Folliard was opening The Local. I had never worked in a bar or restaurant in my life. I had never worked in hospitality. He said I could work for him and get health insurance and help him open this pub. I ended just having a blast. I had met Kieran at my first job when I was in intern in college, we became good friends, he came over to Paris to visit, we kept in touch over the years. Working with him and seeing his entrepreneurial spirit and learning so much about launching a business was so energizing and I realized I love this. But I still wanted to make a difference in my career and have some kind of social impact. I had what I called an inner itchy. My gut was saying something just is not right. I had it when I first went to Paris. Now it was with this role. That’s when I started thinking about beer and donating the profits. I told Kieran about it and said if we really want to make a difference we have to have it in every pub in Minnesota. I wanted to go do this idea. I gave Kieran $1 for the rights to the Finnegan’s brand and in September 2000 I started a beer company.

Who inspired you to donate 100 percent of your profits to charity?

For sure Paul Newman and Newman’s Own. One day I was at a conference in Washington, D.C, for Share Our Strength, an anti-hunger group, who did a lot with restaurants and feeding the hungry with local restaurants and movements, Billy Shore was the founder of the group and he gave a speech where he said it had a for-profit company called Community Venture Partners, it was a for-profit company that consulted with non-profits, which helped support its non-profit ventures like Share Our Strength, and I thought that was the smartest thing I’d ever heard of. It was like my hair was on fire. That’s when I came back and told Kieran we got to do this beer thing. We got to give the profits back. Here’s how we can do it. The light bulb went off.

How did you develop the idea of the Finnovation Lab, where you cultivate a community of like-minded social entrepreneurs?

I worked out of my sister’s basement from 2000 to 2009 as the sole employee of Finnegan’s. My sister worked for Catholic Charities and it had an opportunity center in Elliot Park and she suggested the area as a place for me to find office space. I found the Hinkle-Murphy mansion on the corner of Park and 10th Street in Minneapolis. It had been part of a big block development and was mostly vacant. I called and said if I could get a deal I’ll fill it with social businesses and non-profits and social entrepreneurs and at least you’ll make something on it. We created this really cool environment. We had all these start-ups in there and on Fridays we did events called Social Suds, where we network for anyone in social entrepreneurialism. I was how powerful it could be to create a community around like-minded people. As I grew the business I applied to become a Bush Fellow in 2014. I pitched this idea about the Finnovation Lab where there’d be cross-pollination and programming. My idea was to provide support that would have helped me 14 years prior when I started my venture, with programming and mentoring. I got the fellowship and when I was building the brewery I decided to put the lab on the fourth floor.

Your slogan is “Turning Beer Into Food,” which references your commitment to donating profits to food-aid agencies. When did that become your focus?

We started focusing on food insecurity in 2011. I’ve always been focused on basic needs because we’re the wealthiest country in the world and the fact that so many of our citizens can’t fill their basic needs is criminal. When I was younger, my family was working poor and I have a lot of compassion around those issues. For the first 10 years we gave our grants to support a number of awesome causes, from homelessness to all kinds of basic-needs supports. At the 10-year mark I realized that our process had become complicated and people didn’t know where the money went and it was hard to state the impact. I came across this brochure for The Food Group and they have this Harvest For the Hungry Program, in which they purchase organic produce from around the state of Minnesota from local growers and they pay a dollar per pound and then that produce is donated to local food shelves. I read this pamphlet and thought this was a great program. The farmers win, the people get organic, healthy food, everyone is winning in the supply chain. So I called them and said I want to meet with the executive director and set up a meeting and said, “I’m Jacquie. I own a beer company. And I want you to be my partner.” And then all of a sudden we were able to say, “We are turning beer into food.” That became our mission. And we were able to say things like, “In 2011, we were able to donate 50,000 pounds of produce in the state of Minnesota.” The lightbulb went off. The beer distributors. The retailers. My whole family. They were like, we now get where the money goes. That’s where I learned the value of metrics and tight messaging. From that point on food became our mission. We formed partnerships in each state. I built out the map. What’s cool about our model is that we form these local partnerships. For the beer we sell up in Duluth supports a farmer in Duluth supports a food shelf in Duluth, we break it down by market so it’s truly local giving.

It seems like cause-related marketing is having a moment right now. Any advice to those who want to combine their profits with social good?

We see a lot of people jump into cause-related models for the marketing leverage but there’s a risk to that. Consumers are savvy enough to figure out if it’s genuine or just lip service. If you want to get into the social game and do something for the greater good, it has to come from your heart. It has to be real and authentic, for the CEO, for the marketing people, for everyone in the organization. It has to come from the inside. If it doesn’t I wouldn’t waste your time on it. It’s not going to be effective for you. But on the positive side I do think this is the future of business. We’re seeing these trends, particularly with millennials and future generations, who are demanding meaning in their lives. They want to work for organizations that make a difference and they want to do something with their purchases that is helping the planet. I think down the road there is not going to be a difference between business and social business. Every business is going to be doing something for the greater good.

What should people know about starting a business before jumping in?

If you want to start a business you have to understand that you’re going to work your tail off. People like to say that balance is so important. But you can’t have balance if you’re going to be an entrepreneur. People like us aren’t balanced. If balance is important to you you’re probably not going to pull it off. You need to eat, drink and sleep these things. There are a lot of super lonely days. I think one of the things that people underestimate about being an entrepreneur is that. You’re the one going to bed at night turning over everything in your head. You’re the one who knows the financial ramifications of your decisions. You’re the one who has to raise the money. You’re the one who when things fall apart get the first phone call. If you have a staff and a team you’re not sharing that. You check that at the door when you walk in in the morning and you make the day work. And that’s hard. The mental game is really challenging.

Would you do it all over again?

In a heartbeat. I’m just hard-wired this way. I’ve wanted to change the world and make it a better place since I was a kid.