When Michael Skarda started the journey of becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, there were no indications that his military career was beginning amidst two decades of conflict. In 2002, Skarda joined the Air Force’s Reserve Officer…
Small Business Week Success: From Airman to Entrepreneur
Originally from Long Island, Logan Bonney G’17 enrolled in classes at Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) in 2008, intent on studying aircraft mechanics. Military service wasn’t necessarily on his radar but he saw the hands-on training his roommate was getting by serving in the Air National Guard in Syracuse. So, at age 19, Logan signed up, too, and graduated with a two-year degree from MVCC while waiting for a basic training date.
For eight years, he served at Hancock Field, working as a sensor operator and mobilizing during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel.
“Serving in the Guard was such a unique opportunity,” says Bonney. “I was on active duty, but in Syracuse. So while I never left the base, I was controlling planes in the Middle East—actively a part of the nation’s fight supporting troops on the ground.”
It was during his military service that Logan’s interest in entrepreneurship first piqued. On advice from his mother, Bonney used his military bonuses to invest in real estate and become a landlord.
“I actually bought my first house from a colonel on the base. He signed his tenants over to me, and I just went from there,” says Bonney. “The biggest thing I took away from the military was the mentorship. My commanders taught me not just how to be an airman, but also gave me some of the best personal and business advice I have ever received.”
With his military supervisor also a landlord, Bonney grew his tenant roster. As his business grew, so did his rank in the Guard.
“I was training to become a sergeant and acquiring more real estate all at once,” he says. “The strong support, relationships and leadership training I was getting inspired me to pursue a more entrepreneurial path. That is where Syracuse University came in—I needed the education to support this new dream.”
As he served, he worked on his degrees—first a bachelor’s in business administration at Columbia College and then he applied to the Whitman School. As a military service member, his application to Syracuse was streamlined, and he began working on his master’s in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises just weeks after applying.
In his courses at Whitman, Bonney conducted guided market research and soon found an opportunity in the growing craft beer space.
“We learned that 40 percent of people drink beer most often. But interestingly, almost half of that percentage would prefer to drink something else,” he says “As I dug deeper, I found that drinking is often a social experience, and a good portion of people have a drink in their hands just to fit in—many weren’t really enjoying it.”
Bonney and his business partner, Brittany Berry ’18, an industrial design graduate from the School of Design, discovered that by preference, or dietary need, many of the beer alternatives in the craft beer space were not satisfying the customer. With the craft beer scene on the rise, Berry and Bonney knew their research was revealing a pain point—people enjoy going to craft breweries for the social experience, but many people aren’t enjoying what they are drinking or are being excluded from the craft beer industry entirely.
With guidance from the Whitman School, they worked to create a business plan that solved the gap their research revealed.
“The structured process at Syracuse helped me find an opportunity and conceptualize a way to solve this problem,” Bonney says.
Bonney graduated in 2017 with his business idea brewing. He separated from the Guard at the same time, ready to dedicate his time exclusively to his new venture. But his Syracuse education was far from over.
Bonney and Berry incorporated their business—Anything but Beer LLC—in June 2017, just weeks after graduation. The brewery creates grain-free beer alternatives from local fruits and vegetables that have the same alcohol percentage of craft beer. Each drink has a unique flavor with different combinations of fruits, vegetables and spices.
In November 2017, Bonney went through the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV), offered by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF.) He elected the program offered at Cornell University, where they specialize in food, beverage and hospitality.
“EBV was so helpful in keeping us focused and disciplined,” he says. “We really honed our story and process through EBV to the point where we were ready to take the next big step just a few weeks after completing the program.”
Anything But Beer secured the necessary licensing and opened in January 2018. For the past year, Bonney and Berry have been creating their brews and building relationships with Syracuse-area bars and breweries.
“What’s great is that our product has really helped to better the craft beer category in Syracuse,” Bonney says. “By putting our products on tap, breweries and restaurants are able to better serve those one out of five non-beer drinkers and make their experience more fulfilling.”
Anything But Beer is set to open its own taproom this summer in downtown Syracuse. As they get ready, Bonney again tapped Syracuse University to prepare.
“In February 2019, I attended IVMF’s Veteran EDGE conference, which is for growing veteran-owned businesses,” he says. “As you get into the grind, it’s easy to lose sight of certain things. The IVMF programs have been a great asset to staying on track and focused. Meeting the people there and staying connected with the guardsmen and the network at Syracuse University has been so helpful. Everyone has potential. I am lucky that my military leaders and those I met at Syracuse have helped me unlock mine.”