How South Africa Inspired a New Venture - by Walker Brown

Originally Published on our Accelerator, COMMON's blog @

Meet Walker Brown, Co-Founder of Cape Venture Wine Co.

I grew up in a tiny little town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia — a beautiful part of the country. My folks are novelists and college professors, so our dinner table conversations often revolved around what a shame it was that Melville wasn’t discovered in his lifetime, or about my namesake, Walker Percy. We spent some time living in Spain, the Basque Country, and England during my folks’ sabbaticals. I credit a lot of who I am and who I’m becoming to this part of my youth — I was constantly challenged to think and create new things in new places. My family also taught me that a story matters.

Like so many things in my life, the business opportunity that became Cape Venture stumbled upon me. Charlie (my co-founder) and I met each other as exchange students at the University of Cape Town while studying abroad, and I think we were both completely struck by South Africa. We were captivated by the topography, and the incredible culture that surrounded us, but we were also floored by the staggering everyday inequality.

As we finished our studies stateside, we used to joke about the potential of the project that has become Cape Venture. But over the past two years, as Charlie delved further into thinking through the business as part of his studies and the idea for the business progressed, the things we used to kid about became increasingly real possibilities. Now, we feel we have a pretty well-thought-out and comprehensive business idea that can make a meaningful (and deserved) contribution to change in the country we’ve both grown to love.

As the business was kicking off, we got really enamored with the idea of a complete and more equitable supply chain, and so we focused on delivering the resources of our business back to improving the lives of the laborers on South Africa’s wine farms. Despite the fact that it’s their tireless effort that makes the industry possible, these people at the beginning of the chain are the ones getting squeezed the most. I wanted our company to have a tangible relationship with the people who would make our product possible. Drawing back on my upbringing in that small VA town, it was important to me to weave a meaningful story that connected all the participants, and created positive change. So you could say the social part of business was deeply rooted in me, and in Cape Venture, from the beginning.

If Cape Venture ends up a resounding success, I think the simplest marker of that will be some really visible shifts in the lives of the South African workers who have engaged with us. On more of a macro-scale, I think I’d like it to serve as an example for others in the wine business by demonstrating that we all have a role to play in making this industry equitable, and that doing so doesn’t have to come at the cost of a great product or a solid bottom line. Lastly, I think a success would mean having had an opportunity to share in an authentic way with people in the US what a remarkable place South Africa is, and the quality of the people and products that come from it.

Joining COMMON has been an incredible experience — given our youth and relative inexperience, it has been comforting and encouraging to be surrounded by so many social entrepreneurs, happy and willing to share their networks and resources. The simple learning experience of many of the conversations I’ve had with other folks in COMMON have been as useful as anything I’ve done for the company over the past few months.

What I lack in experience, I am certain I can make up for in interest and energy. I’d urge anyone in the community to think of me as a sounding board, for encouragement or suggestions or whatever you might need. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the COMMON community so far, and I’m excited to dive in even more.

Walker Brown