Deborah Brenner walked away from $1.5 million in investor funding for her wine cooperative, Women of the Vine.
“The problem that I found, as I started meeting with institutional investors, is that it all gets focused on the exit strategy,” Brenner says. “I want to create jobs, not just sell out to the highest bidder in the shortest amount of time.”
That’s why Brenner is excited about H.R. 2930, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, signed by President Barack Obama this month.
H.R. 2930 is a twist on crowdfunding, where businesses rely on hundreds or thousands of people to invest small amounts of money to help fund a particular project, usually in return for the product once it’s available. Popular crowdfunding websites are Kickstarter and indiegogo. Under H.R. 2930, a startup will have the option of giving investors shares of equity in the company in return for their investments. Companies can’t raise more than $1 million through this vehicle ($2 million if the issuer provides potential investors with audited financial statements), and investments are limited to $10,000 or 10 percent of an investor’s annual income – whichever is smaller.
“This new bill is going to change the landscape for entrepreneurs in America,” Brenner predicts. “When people buy stock, they’re buying stock to see it succeed. That would give me a word-of-mouth advantage. If I could raise the money with 5,000 people each investing $100, they would be brand ambassadors for Women of the Vine.”
Brenner, who serves on U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s New York Agriculture Working Group, spoke to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship on behalf of the bill before Obama signed it. She explained that she needs half a million dollars to grow her business so she can hire three more full-time and two part-time employees.
Women of the Vine markets and sells wines made by small-scale, artisanal vintners – all women – whose products might otherwise never find their way to customers across the country. Brenner now represents seven winemakers and grape growers. Last year, her vintners produced 60,000 bottles, sold in retail stores in 21 states and via her website, WomenoftheVine.com.
Brenner walked away from a six-figure corporate marketing salary to work from her home in Rockland County, N.Y. She was doing freelance marketing and public relations work when she met a group of women vintners during a trip to Napa Valley in 2005. They inspired her to write the book Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine. A year later, Brenner invested $135,000 to launch her first-of-its-kind winery, featuring hand-crafted, limited-production wines from women winemakers around the world.
Brenner believes she has found her calling. “I love the fact that everything I do every day is tied to the land. I’ve never felt more in tune with the seasons and the weather. In corporate America, I didn’t even see the leaves change color in the fall.”
Her advice for entrepreneurs:
- Perseverance and resiliency. “Those are the two biggest words in my vocabulary these days,” she says. You’re going to hit roadblocks, and it’s going to be tough. Keep persevering. Many entrepreneurs who fail give up too early.”
- Don’t be afraid to fail. “I have failures on a regular basis,” Brenner says. “You many lose some money; you may make some poor choices. You may go down a certain direction and need to refocus,” Brenner views her errors as learning experiences. “We all make mistakes. There’s no manual,” she says.
- Be patient. “I’m building a brand in a highly competitive space. To get out there and get known and make inroads takes time,” Brenner says. “I think the problem with entrepreneurs is that we are often driven by fear – fear of failure and running out of money. I’m in it for the long haul. I have to pace myself.”
- Brenner also emphasizes caution. Entrepreneurs tend to burn the candle at both ends, she says, “thinking you’ll get that one more client, that one more sale, that one more opportunity. Some things need to play themselves out. A lot of people give up too early because they don’t anticipate how hard it can be.” Because of that, Brenner suggests running a lean operation.