Folks likely know Mitch Cobb as one of the guys behind Upstreet Craft Brewing, but you may not know that he has an interestingly varied background in education, employment, and experiences that led him there.
With an education background in anthropology and community development, a younger Mitch assumed he would have a career in the not-for-profit sector. He worked for several years in community by delivering training and education in skill building and employment. In 2007 he decided to put those skills and experiences to use when he started his first business, an international student recruitment company.
“I thought to myself, ‘how hard can it be to start a business?’ It turns out it is much harder than I thought!”
With his newfound interest in entrepreneurship and recognition that he needed more skills, knowledge, and experience about business, Mitch completed a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and soon after started teaching at Holland College.
“Lightbulbs started to go on for me when I saw that community development and business didn’t necessarily live on opposite ends of the spectrum.”
Mitch is clearly an integrator, so he started connecting the dots from his multitude of experiences. His background in adult education proved invaluable as he was able to take what he learned there and apply it to his business. “Adult education and facilitation show us how to open up spaces for people to speak freely and to cultivate community and culture within a group setting.”
Mitch was able to integrate the principles and practices from adult education and saw the parallels with what he was learning in his MBA about organizational behavior. These connections and his conviction for community development has helped him cultivate a leadership style that encourages active participation of all members of the team.
Often when people think of business, they think about profit and the bottom line. But as Mitch reminds us, “There are many types of business models, including social entrepreneurship, where there is a focus on both profit and purpose.”
Mitch talked a lot about volunteering and the importance of giving back to the community. “These experiences help us get perspective and learn about the world around us.” He walks his talk and can be found volunteering as a Board Member with Food Island Partnership, a mentor with Futurpreneur, and by supporting Big Brothers, Big Sisters in their marketing campaign, among many other things.
“With Upstreet Craft Brewing, we always knew we wanted to create culture and community, and we do that through a variety of events, relationships, and initiatives.”
When they first started out, Upstreet allocated marketing dollars to support community events instead. It served as a reciprocal way to build the profile of both the brewery and the arts and culture sector.
When the pandemic hit and everyone was learning how to pivot, Mitch promptly switched gears from brewing craft beer to making hand sanitizer. “The pandemic required specific focus and agility and everyone on the team, including myself, the servers, all the staff, started bottling hand sanitizer. It was a way that we could still employ our staff during a time when people were not permitted to gather in public places.”
Despite the many challenges that come with being a business owner during a pandemic, Mitch says, “nothing builds a team like a crisis and the entire pandemic has been an exercise in team building.”
As a team leader during a pandemic, it was also important to Mitch to find ways to take care of himself.
“When I turned 40 two years ago, my wife says I started to take mid-life seriously. I began to look at health and wellness, and seeing the ways a holistic lifestyle impacts breweries. I also started making changes in my own life with food and exercise, meditation, and generally becoming more aware of how lifestyle choices impact our health.”
Mitch’s own personal wellness journey was the catalyst behind the popular Libra brand, a non-alcoholic craft beer from Upstreet. “Many people choose not to drink alcohol for a variety of reasons, but they still want to participate in the social ritual associated with it and we want to support that.”
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it makes for an excellent leader. Regardless of where we work, Mitch offers some sage words for us to follow: “Be curious. Ask questions. Make connections. Everyone has a unique experience and perspective of the world, and we all have the capacity to make powerful and meaningful change when we build community together.”