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A new model to become master brewer and key investor in your own beer

Between 2011 and 2015, the market share for craft beer doubled. This can be attributed to a variety of factors — from people having more disposable income to the growing popularity of the IPA (India Pale Ale). As craft beer continues to grow, people have the opportunity every day to not only enjoy its sweet taste but to profit from it as well.

I grew up in England, where beer drinking was taken seriously. Many pubs didn't feature televisions, allowing patrons to focus on enjoying both the taste of their beer and the company of those around them. Recreating the English pub experience was extremely important to me, so I captured elements of it when starting my brewpub in Boston. But simply creating an atmosphere like the one I was accustomed to, with great beer and great food, wasn't enough to stand out in the crowded U.S. landscape.

I needed a unique twist to set myself apart from the competition, attract customers and, most importantly, grow. So I let the customers become their own brewers.

"I needed a unique twist to set myself apart from the competition, attract customers and, most importantly, grow. So I let the customers become their own brewers." -Lee Cooper, Hopsters founder

The premise is simple: We have 10 small kettles, and guests get to spend up to two hours brewing their own batch — usually as much as three cases' worth. Guests can then come back two weeks later to bottle the beer and add their custom labels. In three short years we have brewed more than 7,500 batches of beer at $200 a brew session, with a net profit of 20 percent — all at our small one-unit location.

Driven by our success and new SEC regulations allowing the American public to invest in private companies, I had another idea: Customers had demonstrated their desire to drink and make our beer, so why not allow them to invest in it?

It goes back to that simple principle of beer bringing people together and providing a communal endeavor. The first Hopsters location was such a hit that I set my mind on opening a second location.

As many business owners can relate to, accessing capital is challenging. But what if there was a way we could democratize funding to allow our community, or anyone for that matter, to invest?

Turns out, there was a way.

We found a crowdfunding site (WeFunder.com) — where other breweries had seen success raising funds — and signed up. We realized we would have to give away 30 percent of our business to bring the goodness that is Hopsters to more people, so who better to invest than the people who love us the most: our customers.

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Next we turned to Facebook. We made a video to explain the crowdfunding campaign and promoted it to our community of 15,000 followers as well as the larger community of beer enthusiasts on Facebook. The results have been truly humbling. Hopsters Brewery & Brewpub has raised $633,000 from 344 investors, who have each contributed between $500 and $25,000 for equity ownership in our (and now their) business.

Hopsters brews
Source: Hopsters Brewery
Hopsters brews

Our dream is for Hopsters to be an overwhelming success in cities across the country. Over the next seven years we hope to expand to 17 cities. Ambitious? Yes. But that's how confident we are in our business and the passion of our community. We also want that to be true for other craft brewers. And we believe it can be with crowdfunding opportunities through sites like WeFunder.

Breweries (like ours) continue to benefit from the rising popularity of craft beer and investments from those who have the heart and taste buds for it. Our model has created the cash flow we need to grow, and we believe it is a recipe for continued success as we look to expand across the country. After all, who doesn't want to know the people working at the bar that you frequent, but also own a slice, too?

By Lee Cooper, founder of Newton, Massachusetts-based Hopsters

Hopsters is one of the 50 companies on the CNBC CrowdFinance 50 Index, which tracks in real time the start-ups that have raised the most money from investors across major equity crowdfunding platforms. It is currently No. 20 on the CrowdFinance 50 with more than $700,00 in investment commitments — $633,000 in deals already closed.