Aaron Bergh went from creating homemade liquor in his early college days to being the youngest distillery owner in the United States.
“I just kept pursuing distilling as a hobby,” said Bergh, the owner of Calwise Spirit Co. “Then I recognized that there was an opportunity to grow this into a business.”
To get his bearings of the startup world, Bergh began getting involved with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), first by pitching his business idea at Innovation Quest and subsequently landing himself a spot in both the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs.
“Having the resources, the people and the valuable mentorship from the CIE really… taught me how to make my idea an actual business,” he explained. “It was the stepping stone from being a college student to getting connected into the business community and the business network that there is on the Central Coast.”
While in the HotHouse, Bergh only sold his spirits through the business-to-business model. Now, a year after graduating from the incubator program, Calwise has its own distillery location in Paso Robles that also functions as a brick-and-mortar liquor tasting room and the Central Coast’s first cocktail bar.
The company’s products are also available across California in stores like Whole Foods, Albertson’s, Vons and BevMo!, but Bergh hopes to launch his spirits nationwide in the near future. Nonetheless, Bergh notes that Calwise’s roots will always be in the San Luis Obispo area.
“I fell in love with SLO when I came here to go to school at Cal Poly,” Bergh explained. “Apart from it being beautiful, the people here are absolutely great.”
As Calwise continues to grow, starting a spirit and cocktail club and expanding into new types of spirits, Bergh doesn’t plan to move the company’s base from where it was born and fostered.
“The Central Coast has a large number of innovative business thinkers here and especially in my industry, the alcohol industry… it’s just this melting pot of different minds and different schools of thought,” said Bergh. “It’s not like we’re all competitors even, it’s like we’re a family all helping each other out, which really goes back to the culture of the Central Coast.”
Bergh attributes the ability to start and keep his business in this place he calls home to the CIE’s support that continues even post-incubator program.
To learn how you can start a business in the innovative San Luis Obispo community, check out our HotHouse Incubator program at https://cie.calpoly.edu/launch/hothouse-incubator/.
To see more about Calwise Spirit Co. and its products, head to http://www.calwisespirits.com/.