This feature on Bright Yeast Labs is part the #LoudounPossible Success Story series compiled in celebration of Loudoun Small Business Week 2022. For more information on the week’s festivities, plus other engaging stories of sustainable business growth, please visit LoudounSmallBiz.org.
Global Talent Meets in Loudoun
Shortly after graduating college in 2004, Travis Tedrow moved to Washington, D.C., from Birmingham, Ala., taking an entry level job on Capitol Hill.
Jasper Akerboom moved to Loudoun County from the Netherlands in 2007, leveraging his PhD in microbiology for a neurobiological research job at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn.
While coming from very different worlds, they shared a love of craft beer – and the meticulous calculation in making it.
Tedrow was the first to take the plunge into the local brewing industry, one of the most celebrated in the country. In 2007, he accepted an assistant brewer’s position with Capital City Brewing Company to better align his work and passion.
“I met with a number of Virginia brewers and they all seemed like extremely happy people,” he said with a smile. “After working on Capitol Hill for a couple years, I decided to change fields and pursue a ‘passion gig.’”
It was through this gig that he first met Akerboom, and their shared passion for brewing better beer was obvious.
At the time, Tedrow was already thinking about opening his own local brewery. Akerboom had become passionate about homebrewing, which he says is “leagues ahead” of where it is in Europe, but wanted to take next steps.
“I wanted to go back to microbiology, so I started to isolate my own strains of yeast,” he said. “I got in touch with Favio Garcia, the former head brewer at Lost Rhino Brewing Company.”
Garcia recognized the value in Akerboom’s background, naming him the brewing scientist and giving him space to build a brewing laboratory from scratch. He continued his work at HHMI for 10 months, researching novel calcium indicators for in vivo applications by day, screening naturally occurring yeast for commercial brewing by night.
All the while, there was room for growth.
“Travis had just gotten hired to open up the Gordon Biersch at Navy Yard, across from Nationals Park,” Akerboom recalled. “We both noticed there was a need for a local company to service these breweries, providing healthy cultures, plus knowledge and education.
“We both realized there was a potential opportunity to open a lab that supported the craft brewing industry,” Tedrow added. Before striking out on their own, Akerboom and Tedrow asked the local craft beer community for its blessing.
“We shared our idea with area breweries, collecting over 100 signatures from brewers saying, ‘Yes, we would love to support a local, independent lab focused on craft brewing,’” Tedrow said. “We felt very confident that the community would support us as we started our plans, and that’s a great aspect of the craft beer industry in this area.
“It would have been much more challenging to start our business in another part of the country without a network of support and experience in our industry.”
Taking the Plunge
Both partners had stable employment opportunities in their fields of study, but embraced the opportunity to create unique value in the craft brewing community.
“I think Jasper and many others in the industry would agree, that’s always a risky decision,” Tedrow said of entrepreneurship.
Akerboom added: “HHMI is a great institute with extremely driven scientists that come to Loudoun to work for a brief period on difficult problems. People are drawn to the institute from all over the world. It is a chance of a lifetime to work at a place that has such an infrastructure, and with colleagues that are there to make a breakthrough.”
Deciding to launch in Loudoun was critical to their success.
“Loudoun is a great place to start a business. The county is growing rapidly and is diverse and entrepreneurial,” Akerboom said. “Loudoun is very supportive for small businesses and offers all kinds of support for people to get started: free seminars, networking opportunities and job fairs, just to name a few things.”
It is also home to Washington-Dulles International Airport, which gives Bright Yeast Labs a big runway for domestic and international growth.
“This is something people do not often think about, but yeast is a very perishable organism and it needs to stay cold to stay healthy,” Akerboom explained. “We package cultures in a cold shipper, and it’s essential that it arrives the next day, still cold and healthy.”
That’s why Bright Yeast Labs is located in a flex industrial park just 10 minutes from Dulles Airport.
“Proximity to the airport allows us to package yeast at the very last moment,” he said. “Even when we bring it to FedEx at 10 p.m., it is still delivered the very next day to anywhere in the U.S.”
A Culture for Perseverance
The last two years have been a stress test for any business and Bright Yeast Labs was no exception.
Most craft breweries are heavily dependent on regular customers enjoying beers in the taproom, something that changed substantially during the early months of COVID-19 protocols. Even as breweries pivoted to canning and bottling, not every beer lends itself to carryout.
“Our customers are breweries, and not all yeast strains were in demand during that time. We had to adapt our process to be more flexible, focusing on strains of yeast that work well,” Akerboom said. “Breweries would make smaller batches to ensure everything stayed fresh, in turn, putting pressure on us to sell smaller volumes of yeast, but more frequently. People would place last-minute orders that we tried to fulfill as rapidly as possible.”
Within the challenge came new opportunities for Bright Yeast Labs, which will help them continue to grow.
“We used the time to develop a seltzer product, which is a combination of nutrient and yeast,” Akerboom said. “This is ideal for small breweries to bring seltzers to market, that do not have the means for expensive equipment to clarify the fermentation product.”
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