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These “Millennipreneurs” aim to shake up the wine industry

Meet the young founders of up-and-coming Shrugging Doctor Beverage Company.

It’s no secret that different generations view and approach entrepreneurship differently. While Baby Boomers and Gen X seemed to be more inclined to running their own business, the much-discussed Millennial hasn’t been as eager. Until…enter the Millennipreneur.

The Millennial doctors are in

It seems times are changing again.

A recent study showed that 61 per cent of Millennials now believe the best job security comes from owning your own business. But there are obstacles in the way. The same study discovered that 45 per cent of Millennials say access to capital is the biggest barrier to starting a business, and that 51 per cent would absolutely want help with a business development plan. The new Millennipreneur has found out how to face these challenges head on and overcome the obstacles.

Shrugging Doctor

What is driving this new generation of entrepreneurs?

I set out to learn more from two young entrepreneurs right here in Winnipeg — Willows (Christopher) and Zach Isaacs, the founders of Shrugging Doctor Beverage Company, which they started at the ripe old ages of 18.

The company wasn’t always in the plans though. It began as just a hobby, and with a talent for creating a delectible drink, it quickly developed into something much bigger.

The duo was passionate about crafting homemade wine, and their bottles gained popularity amongst friends. As good products have a way of forging their own path to success, word spread to friends of friends, and the reactions were very positive.

Seeing an opportunity to expand their creations into a full-fledged business, Willows and Isaacs began Shrugging Doctor.

Their modern vision

The story continued in 2014, when Manitoba’s Liquor and Gaming Control Act came into effect, creating new regulations for the hospitality industry that gave consumers more choice and flexibility. Changes to the law made it easier for the craft liquor industry to break into a market that was heavily dominated by the provincial government. 

Willows and Isaacs sensed an opportunity to create a new business model — delivering their product directly to consumers.

Willows and Isaacs of Shrugging Doctor Brewing Company.Shrugging Doctor saw home delivery as the logical first step in distribution, and they found success by partnering with SkipTheDishes to expand their reach. (The Shrugging Doctor team proudly lays claim to having been the first in Winnipeg to offer home-delivery of an adult beverage.)

Having established a successful online ordering system, they set their sites on moving into brick-and-mortar, aka the Manitoba Liquor Mart. This would be no small feat for a very young beverage company. But after a lot of hard work, they secured placement in 40 stores across the province, including 25 locations in Winnipeg.

The two credit Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries with helping them expand their distribution across the province, including securing space in the Thompson Liquor Mart.

“We’re definitely on an upward trend, as far as sales go. We have our numbers from the LC and there is consistent growth.”

Meet their flavourful products

Shrugging Doctor strives to keep a focus on five products at all times, with seasonal offerings coming in the future. They use mostly local products and everything is 100 per cent Canadian.

Their current offering is mainly fruit wines including varieties like cranberry, raspberry and a strawberry-rhubarb selection that was recently released. They also offer cider, sangria and a mead, commonly referred to as honey wine.

“The strawberry-rhubarb wine that just came out is made with strawberries that I picked myself,” Willows states, laughing.

From their Winnipeg production facility, they are continuing to develop new flavours and creations to refresh the product line.

Shrugging Doctor bottling

Grow, grow, grow

With an umistakable passion for the craft liquor and adult beverage-making, Willows and Isaacs are now committed to revolutionizing their industry. They want to see Manitoba become more competitive when it comes to liquor innovation and regulation. (They’ve even started accepting Bitcoin as payment.)

With this forward-thinking mindset, their growth has been impressive, especially considering how long they’ve been in business. It’s been only a year since they started Shrugging Doctor, and a handful of their product SKUs were only launched in April.

Winnipeg's Shrugging Doctor Brewing Company

Being first-time business owners, there is also clear excitement and contagious energy that these Millennipreneurs exude. However, the business also comes with challenges — including getting people to take them seriously.

“A lot of people dismiss us because of our age. They told us we couldn’t do this — that it wouldn’t succeed. There was a lot of negativity, especially when we first opened. But people are coming around now, and we’re doing well.”

“This is the first business we’ve run…the first jobs we’ve had. So every day we learn something new. It’s very different, making wine at home, versus making wine on a commercial scale.”

Rise to the challenge & do great things

Winnipeg's Shrugging Doctor Brewing Company The biggest challenge the duo faced was finding the financial capital to get things moving. When you’re 18 years old and you walk into a bank asking for a loan, you may have an uphill battle.

A young person with no previous employment, no experience running a business, no credit history and no assets can have a hard time accessing funding. That’s when you rely on programs and resources that are available to young entrepreneurs.

Willows and Isaacs found incredible assistance from Futurpreneur. With the organization’s help, the young team created a business plan and were able to come up with the capital they needed to launch Shrugging Doctor Beverage Company in January 2017.

The advice they give to other up-and-coming Millennipreneurs? Believe in yourself, your product and what you can offer your market. “We haven’t doubted ourselves this entire time — not once. We just did it, and results speak louder than words.”


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Dawn Bourbonnais

Having spent the past 15 years working in the non-profit sector as a communications specialist, Dawn has developed a talent for interpreting what others mean to say and what some want to hear. In her current role at Volunteer Manitoba, she is responsible for increasing awareness of VM’s mission – to encourage and promote volunteerism across the province. Passionate about volunteers and community engagement, she has also managed volunteers for many festival and community events held in Winnipeg, and is especially fond of the volunteers at Jazz Winnipeg Inc. (whom she has been working with since 2004).

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