Celebrating social entrepreneurs

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October 11, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Charitable beer company Finnegans is hosting a special event Oct. 21 to spotlight the work of social entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities.

The event — Social Suds: A Gallery of Innovations — will showcase several different initiatives underway that are addressing social problems by applying entrepreneurial principles. About 50 social entrepreneurs are expected to attend the event at Finnegans’ office in Elliot Park.

The event comes as Finnegans, which donates 100 percent of its profits to charities fighting poverty, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The company, led by CEO Jacquie Berglund, has donated approximately $162,000 to organizations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin during its 10-year-run.

Despite the challenging economy, Finnegans has had a 31 percent spike in sales in 2010 — its best year yet, Berglund said. The company is also on track to reach its goal of $1 million in revenue this year.

Up until recently, Berglund was the only full-time paid employee at Finnegans. Now she has a vice president of sales and two part-time employees.

An army of volunteers have been the driving force behind Finnegans. Volunteers have logged more than 25,000 hours in the past decade, and Berglund suspects that might be a low estimate.

“It brings life to the idea that it takes a village,” she said. “It has been such a great journey and so many people are committed to his cause. I really do attribute that we’re still here 10 years later to the strength of our volunteer corps.”

As for the most satisfying aspect of her work, Berglund said it’s been witnessing the effect of the company’s charitable contributions on people in need.

“Seeing the impact for sure — the number of people that have been helped by what we have done,” she said. “That makes it all worth it for me.”

Finnegans unique business model shows that you can have “fun, be social and do good,” she said.

Besides having a new person to head up the sales effort, Berglund also credits the company’s increase in revenue to a ramped up public relations effort led by Haberman, a Downtown-based media and marketing company, and a rebranding campaign by Martin Williams launched earlier this year. Now product labels feature a shamrock with a halo over it — a fresh design that makes the beer more eye-catching on the shelf, she said.

Berglund got the idea for Finnegans when she was working at the popular Downtown pub The Local. She launched the beer brand with Local owner Kieran Folliard, who later sold it to her for $1 when she decided she wanted to focus fulltime on Finnegans.

Finnegans started to become profitable in 2003 and Berglund ran the business out of her sister’s basement until 2009 when she moved into the Elliot Park neighborhood.

The company’s office is in the historic Hinkle-Murphy mansion. Berglund has been working on creating a hub for social entrepreneurs in the building — four other socially conscious organizations office in the mansion.

As for the future, Berglund is as enthusiastically optimistic as ever. She wants to position Finnegans as a regional brand and is planning to hire more people soon.

“We want to scale our activities regionally and eventually develop new Finnegans products,” she said. “In the future, we are looking forward to giving away millions of dollars.”

Reach Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com.

(Note: This story has been revised to correct information about the company that did Finnegans' branding.)

Social Suds: A Gallery of Innovations

When: Oct. 21, 5:30–8 p.m.
Where: Finnegans, 619 S. 10th St., Suite 100
What: An event sponsored by Finnegans and Haberman that will feature social entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities working on a variety of causes. Those who attend will get a chance to learn more about local initiatives by touring a collection of art on display. There will be Finnegans Irish Amber and Green Mill pizza for guests, too.

Finnegans by the numbers

barrels of beer sold

bottles of beer sold

places selling Finnegans

given to charities in areas where Finnegans is sold

local charities receiving grants

volunteer hours logged