Spicing up America’s Craft Brewing Scene

Five tips for disrupting a market: Serial Entrepreneurship 101

By Ilana Gensler, MA’19

When Van Sharma, SSH’11, MS’13 and his brother Sumit—a BU alum—moved from London to Portland, Maine in the ’90s they stood out as the only Indian kids in school; today, the co-founders of ethnic beer brand, Rupee stand out as the few people of color within the craft brewing world. For some, craft beer is simply a beverage of choice. But for this entrepreneurial duo, it’s about game changing the food and beverage arena in a bold, diverse, and innovative way.

Upon enrolling at Northeastern, Sharma aspired to be a diplomat. Four Dialogue of Civilizations later, he was enthralled by the world of international relations. “The idea was never to own a business,” says Sharma, “but I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs five generations deep, and it’s a gene that comes out naturally.” While visiting Portland during the pandemic after living in London for nearly a decade, Sharma realized that Indian and Asian beer companies were experiencing a massive supply chain issue of shipping products to the states. “For a lot of Indian beer companies, it was a loss make and logistical nightmare to get products to this side of the world” says Sharma, “and we were fascinated by wanting to solve this problem – something we also experienced as kids in our family’s Indian restaurants.”

these are real-life exchanges between Sharma and his network about what it takes to win in business today, and how to know if entrepreneurship is right for you.

What are three pieces of advice you would suggest for launching your idea into reality?
1) Your idea is only as special or unique as how hard you are willing to sell it, promote it, and market it. You must work hard, and no one is going to do the heavy lifting for you.
2) Are you financially secure enough? If you need financial safety never quit your full-time job to pursue your idea or side hustle until you can cover your daily living expenses, and then some.
3) Talk to everybody! Network aggressively and create meaningful relationships across the world. Also learn to not care what people are going to say about you or your idea; people are always going to have an opinion on anything you do.

What’s the best guidance you can share for someone wanting to take the plunge into the start-up world? 
Mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter! It’s not glamorous. It’s not what it looks like on social media. You’ll work more than you did in a corporate gig, and there’s this overarching feeling of always being switched on as everything is truly 100% your problem and responsibility when starting out. Trust the process but also be realistic. You must be mentally tough to make it in this world. 

What skills did you need to develop to be an entrepreneur?
A lot of people have asked me before what they need to major in at a university to hit the ground running in the startup space. My advice is that you don’t need to study business to make it big in business. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I know in my network across London and New York didn’t come from traditional business school backgrounds where they spent time studying supply chain management or entrepreneurship. Instead, they always kept diversified interests majoring in areas like political science—like myself—and focused on building and acquiring new skills within sales, marketing, or finance in the real world.

April 28, 2022

We’re using beer as a way of remaining proud of our heritage and unique cultural identity.

– Van sharma, ssh’11, MS’13

Is there anything you would advise against for a first-time entrepreneur?
Are you really ready for this? Are you ready to feel super high and equally extremely low? If you’re able to thrive in ambiguous environments and operate at 150% when things don’t work out, you should take a stab at it. Also, don’t sweat the small stuff or you will go crazy!

What do you want to see more of in your industry?
Less regulation and increased diversity. My little brother and I didn’t realize how male, pale, and stale the brewing industry is. Every day we are among the only two visible ethnic minorities when engaging with brewers, breweries, distribution companies, and state officials. We entered one of the least diverse industries in North America and have faced some challenges being foreign on a couple of occasions. Rupee is not only a beer, but rather a global platform for taking our restauranter background we grew up in our entire lives into the next 50 years in a different way. We’re using beer to tell a story about the modern-day Indian Rupee, and also showcase a new and creative way of remaining proud of our heritage and unique cultural identity.