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Carin Luna-Ostaseski is a first-generation Cuban American and one of the first Hispanic people in history to create a Scotch whisky company. Knowing that entrepreneurs of color in the United States are less likely to secure capital than their counterparts, Luna-Ostaseski wanted to do something to bridge this gap.
In partnership with activist, actor and producer Wilmer Valderrama, she decided to launch The Entrepreneurial Spirit Fund by SIA Scotch Whisky. She sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss how this initiative is challenging conventions and inspiring others to achieve the unexpected.
Jessica Abo: Tell us a little bit about what made you want to get into the scotch whisky business.
Carin Luna-Ostaseski: I was a creative director for almost 20 years and toward the end of my career, I found myself staring at my screen every day, making designs so everyone else could stare at their screens all day and their little phones. I thought, “This isn’t what I want my legacy to be.”
What I love about scotch whisky is it’s something that brings people together in real life. It slows you down, you go slow, you take a moment with your friends and you really enjoy and savor that moment. And I knew at that point that I wanted to pursue my dreams of creating a scotch whisky brand.
What was the first step that you took?
I started blending scotch whisky in my kitchen from my own collection. And then there finally came a point where I created a blend that I thought, “This is it. This is how I could introduce an entire new category of people to scotch whisky.” It’s smooth, accessible, you can drink it neat or in a cocktail and it was just perfect.
When you decided to start this company, you turned to Kickstarter. What was your thinking behind that?
I love Kickstarter. In 2012, I had contributed toward a few projects, and I really liked seeing the behind-the-scenes journey the entrepreneur took you on. How they were developing their logo, the challenges they were facing. And I thought this is a great way to show my friends and family and people all over the world how I started SIA Scotch Whisky.
How did you incorporate philanthropy from the start?
I knew that giving back was a big part of the ethos of SIA Scotch Whisky. All along the way, people helped me get my brand off the ground. So I knew it was really important to give back. And every year at the end of the year, I would tally up my sales and give a percentage of that toward a different group that helped other entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses.
Now you’re taking your philanthropy to the next level. Tell us about your latest announcement.
I’m so excited to announce the launch of the Entrepreneurial Spirit Fund by SIA Scotch Whisky. We’re giving away $250,000 in the form of $10,000 grants to 25 entrepreneurs of color. We’ll also be supporting them with mentorship opportunities. We’re doing this in partnership with Hello Alice, which is a free online platform that helps entrepreneurs get the tools and resources they need to scale and grow.
Tell us a little bit about who should apply.
We’re taking applications now through August 10th at siascotchfund.helloalice.com. If you self-identify as a person of color and you are a for-profit business producing less than $1 million in annual gross revenue, and you operate your business in at least one of these states: California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New York, and Texas, and you’re 25 years or older. We’ll be announcing the winners on September 14th and the grant recipients will receive their funds by October 8th.
You’ve decided to join forces with the women behind the Entreprenista League, a community of trailblazing entrepreneurial women that offers curated online events and access to business support. Why was this so important to you?
I think community is so important as an entrepreneur, and the Entreprenista League has done a wonderful job of giving their community all the tools and resources that they need. I’m really proud to say that I’m personally donating a one-year membership to entreprenista.com/theleague to all of the grant recipients.
On a final note, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find a community. If there isn’t a community out there, then go out and create one. I was fortunate to find a fellow entrepreneur that reached out to me about the Women’s Cocktail Collective, which is a group of 25 female founders of spirit brands. We don’t compete with our business. In fact, we collaborate on cocktail menus and at trade events, and it’s just wonderful to have a sounding board where you can let your guard down and just be honest.