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Whiskeymaker Tells His Success Story

When Templeton Rye was first produced as a bootleg whiskey during Prohibition era 80 years ago, it was expensive and hard to come by.

“History has a way of repeating itself,” Scott Bush, founder and president of Templeton Rye Spirits, told a standing-room-only crowd Friday at the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Building.

Bush resurrected Templeton Rye as a legal brand about a decade ago with co-founder Keith Kerkhoff after years of hearing stories of Western Iowa farmers making a living during the 1920s selling bootleg whiskey.

When the company launched its first product in 2006, it was an instant success, selling 4,000 cases across the state in just three and a half months.

“There have not really been too many branded products that celebrate the state of Iowa, yet there’s a lot of pride for this state,” Bush said.

Today, Templeton Rye is sold in four markets around the country: Iowa, Illinois, New York, and northern California.

Bush, a 1996 graduate of the University of Iowa who also holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, told students he gained valuable experience from his time in banking and venture capital that he puts to use today. Before starting his own business, Bush worked for six years with JP Morgan Chase, where he was responsible for analyzing and structuring debt for companies of all sizes. He also worked for CommonAngels, a technology-based angel investment firm in Boston.

“I was fortunate that I was able to learn a lot from seeing other people’s mistakes,” Bush said. “I also became an expert at cash flow analysis. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, that’s the most important.”

Lynne Allendorf, director of the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory, said the program brings entrepreneurs to campus on a regular basis to give students a variety of perspectives on what it is like to start a business.

“One of the greatest indicators for whether someone will become an entrepreneur is if he or she had a parent who was an entrepreneur. I think it’s important to bring those people in to serve as role models for students who might not have that example elsewhere,” Allendorf said.


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