In December 2019, the ThriveNorth program successfully completed its five-year mandate. Managed by Futurpreneur Canada, the program helped young entrepreneurs in Northern B.C. launch and grow their businesses by connecting them with resources, financing and mentorship.
Hazelton Hops started when a friend asked entrepreneurs, Bill and Laurie, what they were going to do with the 20 acre field on their property. He had suggested that they grow hops for the brewery he was starting in a couple of years and that got Bill and Laurie curious. The pair started researching how to grow hops and the general feasibility of the business idea. When they were satisfied with what they found, they planted half an acre as a trial to understand the process and get a feel for the industry.
Hazelton Hops isn’t quite off the ground yet since hops are a perennial and take 2-3 years for the plant to get to high enough yields to sell commercially. However, their vision is to sell fresh and dried hops to craft brewers and vacuum sealed hops in small packages for home brewers and herbalists. They also hope to balance out their business by looking into other raw ingredients for making beverages such as fruit, herbs, and grains as well as more traditional annual and perennial vegetable crops.
As part of their business, Bill and Laurie also plan to incorporate an educational element. They want to have workshops, music shows and festivals with their retail enterprise and formal opportunities to learn from apprenticeships. From April to November they plan to have two full-time apprentices, so Hazelton Hops will employ four full-time employees during the high season.
Hazelton Hops is actually Laurie’s second business venture. However, this business compared to her past one share common themes of sustainability and pioneering of a new product or service. Having a business in Northern BC however offers a few differences than in more urban parts of the province. Suppliers are further away and this costs them more time and money. However, Laurie and Bill are banking on this difference to be an advantage to them as they position themselves as a local supplier to try and keep food and beverages more local, and create local jobs while doing it.
Laurie and Bill took home the title of Best Chance of Commercialization at the Northwest Innovation Challenge sponsored by ThriveNorth, which was a huge boost for them and their business. “At a time when we were on the steepest part of our learning curve for growing hops and figuring out some start-up costs, this acknowledgement gave us confidence and opened some new doors,” she explained. “Bill’s dad joked that our business was already winning awards and we haven’t even sold anything yet.”
Along with the win at the Northwest Innovation Challenge, the pair has had enormous support from the community, through other local organizations, to local farms, and breweries. Two of the closest local breweries were even their first customers! The breweries traded kegs of beer for their coming out party in September in exchange for fresh hops for the 2017 harvest. At this same coming out party, Laurie and Bill learned so much about what people were looking for. “We found out that people want to have a day on the farm, take farm tours, eat and drink local food and beer, and that we can count on loyal friends to tend bar,” she shared.
We can’t wait to continue to see Hazelton Hops grow in and around their community.