Entrepreneuring for Eyesight – Alex Hage
Alex Hage (Agricultural Business 2016) is not too far into his professional career but has already considerably exercised the entrepreneurial mindset and skillset he started to develop while at ISU. His work ranges from building a greenhouse, starting a CSA, buying a business, starting a Highland Scottish Cattle herd and now starting a brewery with his father.
We had a chance to catch up with Alex recently when he took the time to present his story to ISU students in the 2022 Rural Entrepreneurship Academy.
Alex’s trajectory as an entrepreneur accelerated in 2018, when he purchased his father’s (Rob Hage) business, Digital Community Holdings. “Dad was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. It’s like a form of tunnel vision that's slowly diminishing his sight. It was getting difficult for him to perform his work at the business, so it was time for a transition.”
Alex was able to steer the business through the COVID pandemic, but it surprisingly led to other opportunities. “Dad and I bought some equipment and started to process our own cattle and hogs because all the meat lockers were tied up,” Alex commented. “And Dad started to brew some really good beer.”
“In December 2020 we learned that Dad's doctor Ed Stone and his team at the University of Iowa had miraculously put together the pathway to a preventive treatment and a cure for many causes of blindness, including his.”
The Institute for Vision Research (IVR) had developed a promising vision-restoring treatment that uses patient-derived stem cells to grow new healthy retina cells, which are inserted into the back of the patient's eye to replace the damaged cells.
“Nobody’s gained their eyesight back after being blind in almost two thousand years,” Alex commented with a chuckle. “But now there’s real hope.”
IVR scientists think treatment will be readily available in less than a decade, though the additional challenge is making it widely affordable. “We found out that IVR wants to improve accessibility to the treatment as a nonprofit that will manufacture the treatment in-house. That’s when Blind Butcher was born.”
“The name for the brewery was unique, but we wanted it to reflect a mission,” Alex added.
Blind Butcher Brewing is housed inside a remodeled machine shed on the Hages' farm north of Inwood, Iowa. The brewery has a self-serve tap system, offering a variety of beers from across the state. And all tips go back to the Institute for Vision Research.
“We had a $10,000 goal for how much we wanted to donate from the brewery to IVR. So far at least, that amount is going to be at least four times as much as we expected.”
With the early success of the brewery plus some motivation to accelerate the process, Brews for Blindness was born. Aiming to expand the IVR’s fundraising efforts by teaming up with breweries across the country, the campaign is on the calendar for the fall of ’22.
As the father-son team of Rob and Alex Hage and their family launched Blind Butcher Brewery, some additional motivation for the mission arrived. “I was at work last year when I got a terrible migraine headache. As it went away, I noticed that my vision wasn’t right. Knowing that retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disorder, I was naturally concerned.”
Alex’s appointment at IVR revealed that indeed, he was exhibiting early signs of the same condition his father has. “It makes the Brews for Blindness campaign even more personal,” he adds. “It’s a matter of time and funding, but both Dad and I look forward to a treatment that will work.”
“You never know where you can put your skills as an entrepreneur to work,” Alex tells the ISU students. “Aim to positively impact your community, but also look for ways to help solve hard problems.”
Keep an eye out for the Brews for Blindness logo this fall to support this cause close to home!
For questions or ideas please contact Alex Hage - firstname.lastname@example.org .