Home enthusiasts, companies and clubs can now make the freshest draft beer on the planet thanks to Nanobrewing Ltd.
Drinking beer is possibly the most popular male pastime in the world. Global annual beer sales exceed US$330 billion and the market is highly competitive. But a group of Kiwi guys have just upped the ante with a revolutionary brewing system. Master brewer Ian Williams, food technologist Anders Warn and engineer Sam Wood have joined forces to create The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery—a product that they believe is the first all-in-one brewing appliance available.
With a successful career and impressive resume, Williams wasn’t looking for innovation; it found him in 2004. While lamenting the poor quality of his own homebrew one Christmas, Williams’ uncle remarked that whoever could solve the problems with homebrewing would become a millionaire.
The seed had been planted and over the next six and half years, Williams invested his time, money and passion into the project. He convinced his friend Anders Warn to come on board and together they set up Nanobrewing Ltd in 2006. With the help of Sam Wood from ATI Engineering, Danish angel investor Michael Hansen and the design skills of Murray Pilcher and Shane Inder, they set about developing The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery.
Homebrewed beer is invariably overcarbonated, cloudy, smells of yeast and tastes bitter. The homebrewing process is fraught: the carbonation, fermentation and clarification processes take too long, there’s no way to remove sediment, microbial contamination is common, as is oxidation of the beer.
“Thirty-two percent of Kiwi guys have tried and abandoned homebrewing,” says Williams. “We’re the number one country in the world for ex-homebrewers.” Now after years of research, planning, R&D, prototype development, patent applications and financial worries, the WilliamsWarn team believe they’ve found the homebrewing holy grail.
“We finally got there: 90 minutes work and then cold, clear, perfectly carbonated, commercial-quality draft beer made in seven days,” he says.
Williams has poured all his money into the project, and Hansen and Wood are also major investors. But a lack of funds is a major stumbling block for many entrepreneurs, so the company applied for and was awarded R&D project funding through the Ministry of Science and Innovation’s (MSI) TechNZ programme.
Having secured previous TechNZ funding for his business ATI Engineering, Sam Wood approached MSI regional business partner Jenny Brown at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. She invited Sean Sharman from MSI to meet with them and view Nanobrewing Ltd’s new product. Brown and Sharman liked what they saw.
“It was obvious from the start that Nanobrewing had a great business opportunity and that we could support them with their R&D,” says Brown. “They’d clearly done their research. I was drowning in information!”
Brown liked the blend of beer-industry, engineering, design and commercialisation skills offered by the Nanobrewing shareholders. “These guys knew what they were doing,” she says.
For Williams especially, being awarded $200,000 of TechNZ funding in mid-2010 has had a significant impact on the venture. The money has been used to develop and test prototype units, and carry out research into beer ingredients and the brewing industry.
“More than anything, it’s been important psychologically. Bringing this project together has been incredibly stressful. Although we’ve had investment from two outside sources, when MSI came along it was a big endorsement—another level of belief in what we were doing from an outside party. To me, that support was worth ten times more than the actual money. It’s taken the pressure off all the investors.”
While the guys have big dreams for their product, Williams admits it’s been a steep learning curve.
“I found the innovation process very difficult, particularly having spent all my money on it at the start. But the Henry Fords, Ralph Laurens and Bill Gates who start big companies aren’t any different to anyone else. It’s about having an idea and going with it—you don’t need an MBA to do it. The whole process takes four times longer and involves four times the expense that you’d imagine, so you need to be ready for that. But we knew we’d get there eventually. You just have to believe in yourself and never, ever give up.”
$200,000—funding from MSI for development of The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery
6.5 years—timeframe from concept to launch
$10 million-plus—expected annual export revenues for Nanobrewing Ltd by 2013
32 percent—disgruntled New Zealand males who’ve tried homebrewing then abandoned the hobby
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).