Student entrepreneurs go big

July 29, 2016
Eric Sannerud stands amidst hops.

A student start-up that was launched during a course taught through the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) has received a $4.6 million investment that will support a major expansion of its hops growing business.

Mighty Axe Hops started as a three-acre test plot on a family farm in Ham Lake in 2013. The new financing will allow the company to purchase 120 acres on which to plant 80 acres of hops, making it the largest grower of hops in the state—larger than all other Minnesota hops farms combined.

Two of the founders, Brian Krohn and Eric Sannerud, refined the idea of developing a local hops distributorship for the state’s growing craft beer industry during an IonE Acara Social Venture course. They went on to win the Gold Prize in the 2013 Acara Challenge, and used the $5,000 award to plant their first crop.

“Without that first five grand from Acara we wouldn’t have gotten here,” says Sannerud, then a student in the College of Continuing Education. “It’s one of the coolest things that the University does, as far as supporting entrepreneurship in this state,” he says.

Few hops are grown in Minnesota at the moment, forcing local brewers to send about $27 million to mostly West Coast growers. With the new acreage, Sannerud estimates Mighty Hops can keep a lot more of those dollars in the state.