A lesson in crowdfunding: GlenWyvis Distillery – High Growth Scotland with Kim McAllister

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The wind turbine made the snowflakes swirl and everyone hurried into the bonded warehouse.

John McKenzie, founder and managing director of GlenWyvis distillery, stepped up onto a box and addressed the crowd of 100 or so investors and supporters.

“It was nearly five years ago when I first came up with the idea of a distillery on this site,” he told us.

“In 1784 Robbie Burns lamented “the Ferintosh so sadly lost” and now, on St Andrews day in 2017, we’ve all come together to say Glenwyvis is here, let the success of today pave the way for the future of successes of tomorrow.”

The warehouse doors rolled open, the bagpipes skirled to life and everyone gasped at the white dusted vista across the fields and down to Dingwall.

We all walked down the path to the brand new distillery and clapped as investor Helen Broughton, whose name was picked from a whisky bottle tube, cut the ribbon over the spirit safe.

I’ve only been working with the team since August and felt the emotion of the occasion – it must have been extremely satisfying for the guys who’ve been there since the beginning.

I’ve interviewed many visionary business people, but John stands out for his indefatigable attitude. His vision has led to the creation of the first 100% community-owned distillery in the world. It is also 100% powered by renewable energy and there aren’t many distilleries who can make that claim.

In his list of thanks were the volunteer board “for the meetings which have gone into the dark hours – and that’s in the summer when the days are long!”

You cannot imagine the work that has gone into this project – the construction, the paperwork, the sales and marketing, the travel, the crowdfunding and every other task that has to be completed as an ambitious business begins.

If you’ve ever worked in a small team or in a start up, you’ll know that everyone has to muck in and learn on the job. I found myself playing car-park attendant in the snow this morning, helping a couple get the lady into her wheelchair while making sure the photographers’ cars weren’t blocking each other’s exits.

Craig, normally in charge of sales, was moving whisky barrels in between playing the bagpipes and pouring wee drams. Josh and Michael, the office manager and tourism strategy marketing officer, were supervising the transport from Ross County football ground up to the distillery on buses.

Duncan, the Distillery Manager, had fired up the biomass boiler early doors, to make sure the water would boil and the steam would come through the stills in time for the tours. The warmth inside was very welcome indeed.

I was chatting to him and the lucky investor who was chosen to cut the ribbon. I suggested she write an account of the day to keep in the family.

“Oh I absolutely will,” she exclaimed, “it’s such a special moment to be part of this legacy.”

Duncan agreed. “It’s a dream come true to be the first Distillery Manager, people will hopefully be drinking this spirit for generations to come.”

I started watching Outlander last night. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a series set exactly where I was standing, telling the story of an English nurse from 1945 who is transported back to 1743 and lives in a castle working as a healer until she can get back to her own time.

Perhaps it was watching that programme that made me particularly susceptible to feeling that history was being made here.

The nearly £5 billion whisky industry is such a huge part of Scottish culture – three simple ingredients distilled as they have been for hundreds of years.

The idea behind GlenWyvis is that it is owned by the community and acts to regenerate the region, attracting visitors and providing employment, while ploughing profits back into local enterprises.

They have raised over £3million through crowd funding in just two years. Now they can focus on distilling, with the aim to open to the public in spring 2018.

If you’ve ever thought of starting a social enterprise or using crowdfunding to get your idea off the ground, I’d suggest GlenWyvis is your perfect case study – and soon you’ll be able to visit it to see for yourself.

Kim McAllister is a Journalist & Communications Consultant and director of Impact Online

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