Aaron Berg (Agriculture and Environmental Plant Sciences) started his entrepreneurial journey by making booze in his bedroom. But it never occurred to him that his passion for craft distilling could turn into a business until a run in with the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
“My roommate was involved with the CIE and suggested that I pitch my idea for a craft distillery to the Innovation Quest competition,” Aaron says. “I didn’t win, but I did get some great feedback and, more importantly, validation of my business model.”
Aaron decided to pursue the idea and was accepted into the Summer Accelerator program in 2015.
“The Summer Accelerator was an incredible experience. I met a number of mentors who helped me build a brand and tell the story I wanted to communicate to customers. That story is what differentiates us today. We’re much more than just a good product in a cool bottle.”
Along the way, Aaron connected with two mentors in particular who had a profound impact on his business.
“Sue Callender (Animal Science, ’89) was my main mentor during the Summer Accelerator program. She was always very direct with me and wasn’t afraid to give me the constructive feedback I needed to hear. She helped me figure out my brand and my supply chain but, more importantly, she always held me accountable. The other mentor who had a huge impact on me was Russ Nash (Business Administration, ’82). Russ has always been there for me when I needed advice. He’s been an incredible resource from day-one, and I could always tell how much he cared about me and Cal Poly.”
After completing the Summer Accelerator Aaron joined the CIE’s Incubator Program and continued to build his business alongside 20 other Cal Poly companies.
“The Incubator Program gave me the office space, mentors and network to build my business,” Aaron explains. “We were all going through the same challenges and growing pains, so we could help each other out. And having access to the Cal Poly network was incredible. No matter what I needed, there was always someone willing to help.”
Today, Calwise Spirits can be found in 200+ restaurants throughout California and is being sold in Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, BevMo and many other grocery stores and national chains. But these days, you can usually find Aaron at his tasting room and distillery.
“On June 9 of this year I opened my own facility in Paso Robles. Not only does it allow us to make our own product, but to connect directly with our customer. We see the tasting room and distillery as a critical part of our brand and are thrilled to have set up shop so close to our roots at Cal Poly!”
Aaron is the youngest distillery owner in the U.S., a distinction he earned through his hard work and passion in collaboration with the CIE.