Manjit Minhas of Dragons Den How He Made It

Manjit Minhas, co-owner and co-founder of Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Winery, became involved in the spirit business with his brother Rabindra while an engineering student in Calgary. Now, more than 90 of their beverage brands have been sold worldwide, and since 2015 he has been helping future entrepreneurs turn into a dirty ‘dragon’.

My parents were immigrants from India: My mother came to Canada at nine and my father was 21 years old. My brother and I were born and raised in Calgary without any extended family around us. We’ve seen my dad do a lot. He worked nine to five jobs as an engineer, but on the side he consulted, wrote books, taught courses, and later opened a liquor store after privatizing the Alberta liquor retail industry. I don’t think my dad would classify himself as an entrepreneur then, but that mentality must have been around me.

Growing up, I was good at math and science so I thought engineering would be where I would end up. But I had that drive to explore the opportunities around me and, more importantly, the support of my parents to do it – especially at a young age. And support doesn’t make sense financially, it could mean someone saying, “OK, great, go and try something. You’ll probably fail, so keep a backup plan.”

My brother and I started in the alcohol industry in 1999 when I was an engineering student at the University of Calgary. While working in my parents’ liquor store, we had some background in the retail space, and I realized that there was a need in the market that was not being met, that premium-quality spirits were made from genuine ingredients and at a fair price. My brother and I went to think about what we want as consumers, and I think it’s always the first test: see if you miss something in your life, because necessity is the mother of innovation.

“I believe you are not too young to start an empire and never too old to pursue a new dream.”

When we started building our Spirit Company, there were challenges at every step. We were trying to enter an industry where players existed decades-old, in most cases, centuries-old. I was a young brown woman. Talk about three things that weren’t common in the wine industry. No one would talk to us. Canada has a very conservative manufacturing community, especially since wine is highly regulated and there are a few important, big-name companies that dominate the space. So the first big hurdle was to tell someone, “Yeah, let’s work on it together, let me be your supplier.” I really had to think outside the box.

We found someone in Kentucky, USA. I’ve never been there and I’ve been dealing with people who are twice or three times my age. It was awesome, but one thing about me was that I was never able to take “no” for an answer. And I personally don’t take things really well. So we just keep pushing through. That perseverance paid off. Once we got our first wine brand from the ground up we discovered a lot more, including creating our own production facility and entering beer. Now, we have four manufacturing facilities in the United States and Canada – two breweries, a distillery and a winery.

My family has always lived by this motto: Fear is temporary and regret is eternal. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. I can’t tell you how many times we failed as we got older those brands failed for us, the partnership didn’t work. But not everything that has worked is how we get to where we are today, the brands and the products that people like and want to buy. A lot of people look at my story and think, “Wow, what an overnight success.” I say my “overnight success” took me 22 years. I think everyone needs to hear about hard times and failures so that entrepreneurs can get to where they are. We own the ninth largest distillery in North America, so we have eight more places to go.

A big part of joining Dragon’s Cave 2015 was about helping inspire others, but also being inspired by others. Growing up, I didn’t have mentors who necessarily looked like me who were breaking barriers or were on TV. I’ve always been an optimistic person, but I think becoming a “dragon” has made me even more optimistic. It’s amazing to see new innovators and entrepreneurs come out of some pretty significant hardships every year. They are still so passionate about business, success and helping others.

I am a big believer where your money is your face, and where your face is putting your time. I don’t think it benefits anyone because it’s not sugar coating or telling people the truth about their ideas. Occasional commentary Dragon’s Cave It may sound harsh, but I’m glad to hear from people who say, “Wow, it was hard. But no one else around me is telling me that.” After the show where the real work is done, and where the real growth takes place. I believe you are not too young to start an empire and never too old to pursue a new dream.

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