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Skidmore College

Rum Dogs to create loot from the sea

April 5, 2013

Rum Dogs founders Alexander Nassief ’16 and Brianna Barros ’16 want to start a new business aging rum in barrels sunk in the cool depths of the Caribbean Sea. 

It just wasn’t right, as far as Alexander Nassief ’16 was concerned, that his home country of Dominica didn’t offer a locally produced premium rum. So he decided to start up Rum Dogs Inc., whose name is taken from the pirates who used to drink looted rum on the isolated Caribbean island.

Partnering with Nassief is Brianna Barros ’16. The first-year duo wants to implement a proprietary aging method in which barrels or rum are submerged in the Caribbean Sea, which provides a “mountain-like” coolness and limits evaporation. The result, to be called Black Cap Rum and serve as their “premium product line, “will serve as a symbol of Dominican ingenuity whilst adhering to local values of eco-friendliness,” they say.

The Rum Dogs team is one of six finalists vying for $50,000 in cash and business services in Skidmore’s Third Annual Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition, launched by Ken Freirich ’90, a “serial entrepreneur” who is president of Health Monitor Network. The prizes are intended to catalyze studentsl starting or growing their own businesses. The final round will be held Friday, April 12, at 2:45 p.m. in the Payne Presentation Room of the Tang Museum.  

How did Nassief and Barros come up with their business strategy? Says Nassief, “The end product needed some form of differentiation to stand out against the competition. We studied the approach of a Guatemalan company that claimed that the cool climate of the Andes Mountains had a positive effect on the flavor of their rums. Dominica doesn’t have mountains of comparable height, so we decided to invert the idea and use the ocean floor.”

Easier said than done, of course. The duo plans to acquire green rum from Trinidad and Tobago, to benefit from duty-free prices and avoid the cost of growing and harvesting their own sugar cane. Barrels will be sourced from Jack Daniels, and Belfast Estate will do the bottling. A local boat operator will transport the barrels to an undisclosed location for submersion, and the site will be overseen by a dive master. Depending on the number of barrels, potential yearly profits could be as high as $140,000, according to the team’s financials. For more, see this brief video.

Nassief and Barros have been surprised at the high level of competition and sophistication in the Freirich contest entries. “Planning a company that is scalable, profitable, and marketable requires such time and effort that you end up being surprised not only at your own accomplishments but at those of your competitors as well,” they say. “Everyone has done a lot of work to make their dream businesses viable, and while it has required a staggering workload, it has also been really fun.”

Barros admits that she knew little about business and less about rum distilling until she entered the Freirich Competition. “Now,” she says, “it has become my mission to be an expert in the field. I’ve realized that being involved in the business world allows you to get your hands dirty, regardless of the industry. This competition has shown me that I love finding problems and using all of my resources to fix these problems, and then convincing others that my solution is the best one.”

Rum Dogs is being mentored for the finals by Catherine Hill, F. William Harder Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore. “Professor Hill,” they say, “is easy-going and extremely knowledgeable, so anytime we began to panic she just takes it in stride and shows us how easy our problems are to fix.” They also salute Ken Freirich for being “an amazing presence dedicated to our individual successes as well as increasing the vigor of the competition. He often showed up to the meetings, invited us to his office or made himself available by e-mail. His door was always open.”

The other finalists:

Magdalen Andreoni ’13, a studio arts major, aims to establish “the only specialty-cookie mobile shop in Chicago,” an enterprise she calls The Cookie Jar. Using gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan recipes she has developed from scratch for such flavors as chocolate chip, “oatmeal monster,” peanut-butter chocolate chunk, and gingersnap, she’s targeting Chicago’s Loop, where foot traffic is highest. Advising Andreoni is Mary Vail ’80, president and chief designer of Joyelles Jewelers.

Seth Berger ’14 aims to grow East Coast Lacrosse, the single-member LLC he established in 2010, into a leader in custom athletic apparel. Advising Berger is Jim Rossi ’82, managing partner of the Saratoga Polo Association and chief marketing officer for the United States Polo Association.

Alexander Nassief ’16 and Brianna Barros ’16, having established Rum Dogs Inc., aim to implement a proprietary method for aging rum in barrels submerged in the Caribbean Sea and produce a premium brand, called Black Cap Rum, for the Dominican market. “The product line will serve as a symbol of Dominican ingenuity whilst adhering to local values of eco-friendliness,” they say. Advising them is Catherine Hill, F. William Harder Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore.

Samuel Schultz ’13, who spent a year in Beijing, hopes to provide residential summer-camp placement services in the U.S. for English-speaking Chinese nationals through his Summer Destinations Company. Advising Schulz is Nancy Wekselbaum ’73, president of the Gracious Gourmet.

Kelsey Yam ’13 is a management and business major who is also a star forward on Skidmore’s soccer team. Having interned with Soccer Without Borders in Kampala, Uganda, she proposes to establish a satellite program in Fort Portal, a city in western Uganda. Her program is targeted for poverty-stricken refugee girls under 15. Advising Yam is Rich Flaherty, president and CEO, Cove Risk Services.

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