Mission Accomplished

Written by Matt Crawford on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Taste of the Landscape

Imagined while at war, soldier’s dream becomes reality as military-minded brewery takes hold in St. Albans

Photographed by Gary Hall

It is — as Billy Joel sang in his ’70s hit “Piano Man” — a pretty good crowd for a Saturday. Except it isn’t Saturday — it’s the middle of the week in northern Vermont and the crowd at 14th Star Brewery spills from the hardwood bar to the picnic table seating to the back room where about 30 people, predominantly women, take part in a directed art exercise marketed as “Paint and a Pint.”

Over the shoulders of the beer drinkers at the bar, the regular crowd shuffles in, queuing up to have their half-gallon glass growlers filled. Some quiz the bartenders about new beers on tap, some swill small samples before deciding on what brew to bring home to tide them over until the weekend.

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Andrea Gagner, CEO of 14th Star, spearheaded the growth of the company, which now rings up annual sales of $2.5 million.

Andrea Gagner is slinging beers tonight. She’s actually the CEO of the brewery, but as the painters and the regulars commingle in the taproom, she’s pouring pints ofValor ale and Tribute double IPA, ringing up sales at the register.

Located in the heart of downtown St. Albans, 14th Star Brewery is a part of Vermont’s thriving craft beer industry. In four short years, an idea that was hatched during downtime between patrols in Afghanistan has grown from a part-time operation into a company with a reported $2.5 million in annual sales. But there’s more to it than that. 14th Star’s ascension is a case study in small business success, a central figure in downtown St. Albans’ aggressive revitalization and a reliable partner for numerous charitable causes, especially those focused on veterans.

The genesis of 14th Star begins in a small outpost east of Bagram Airfield, a sprawling U.S. military base in Afghanistan, where Steve Gagner was serving. There, he would often come under sporadic and usually inaccurate rocket fire from Taliban troops, but there was also plenty of that hurry-up-and-wait that the U.S. Army is famous for. In those monotonous moments an idea took shape.

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Greensea’s Ben Kinnaman | Next, Summer 2016

Written by Sky Barsch on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Q&A

Ben Kinnaman at Greensea headquarters in Richmond. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Ben Kinnaman at Greensea headquarters in Richmond. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Ben Kinnaman develops technology (hardware and software) that controls multimillion-dollar underwater robotic vehicles. A former diver and a historical shipwreck enthusiast, Kinnaman owns Greensea Systems, a company whose technology supports cutting-edge research in the deepest parts of the ocean, studying sunken ships, land mines, marine life and other phenomena.

VL: Why are you based in Richmond, Vt.?
BK: We are based in a tiny little town, very deliberately so, because it matches the values that me and my wife have. We decided when were were going to grow the company, it was going to be in our town and our community.

VL: How did you land here?
BK: My wife and I were doing the two-dimensional lifestyle in Baltimore, and I had been developing the concept of Greensea’s core technology. It coincided with my wife and I being in the position to think about starting a family, and we sure as hell didn’t want to do it in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore. We’d been coming to Vermont for years: hiking in the summer, leaf-peeping in the fall, skiing in the winter and everything in between. I decided to pursue this technical concept. When we moved to Vermont we hadn’t started the company, I didn’t have a job. So off we came. It was lifestyle.

VL: How would you put that lifestyle into words?
BK: The values of the community, of preserving the natural world, of being able to live and work and play. My wife and I are pretty healthy people and we value what we do with our bodies and put in our bodies. And it’s just beautiful. It’s hard to describe, it just felt good [here]. When we were visiting we would come to towns like Richmond and at 2:30 in the afternoon when school let out, we saw kids walking down the street, not a grownup in sight. And we saw families and kids out at the parks and families together up on the ski hill. And my wife and I lived a lot of places and we felt like we just didn’t see that anymore.

VL: What do you get out of the Vermont workforce?
BK: You get well-rounded people. The best tech comes from big minds, and minds who engage in all aspects of life. The best technology does not come from sitting on an interstate for two hours a day transitioning from

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