It's been just barely past three years ago since we first told you the story of the innovators at Whirlpool's WLabs in Benton Harbor and their creation of the home beer fermentation system -- the Vessi Fermenter. The success of that introductory device has resulted in the successful spin off of Vessi to a group called 80West Labs.
Whirlpool announced Thursday that they have finalized the sale of their Vessi Fermentor to 80West Labs, a company created by Prota Ventures, an operator-investor group based in Chicago, and KZValve, a Nebraska-based firm involved in the original engineering of Vessi. Vessi, the unique home beer fermentation system, was developed by WLabs of Whirlpool, the company's rapid innovation branch in Benton Harbor.
Doug Searles is General Manager of WLabs. He says, "We are excited about the plans 80West Labs has for Vessi," and adds, "As Whirlpool Corporation's innovation incubator, we explore new product and marketing opportunities to address consumer needs. We are proud of the impact Vessi has made in the homebrewing community and what we have been able to learn about early adopters."
Vessi was launched by WLabs of Whirlpool Corporation via IndieGoGo in May of 2016, and quickly sold out and met its funding goal with early backers of the product. The appliance – a single tank that is sealed, pressurized, and temperature-controlled – allows homebrewers to continue to experiment with flavors and ingredients while bringing more consistency and ease to the fermentation process.
Vessi was born out of Whirlpool's internal business concept challenge to employees, called SPARK. With several homebrewing enthusiasts at the company, the idea quickly took off and was developed further at WLabs. The project was unique from the outset with Whirlpool Corporation edging into the homebrewing culture.
80West Labs will continue to support consumers who have bought Vessi since its launch.
With offices in rural Nebraska and downtown Chicago, 80West Labs was named after the interstate that connects KZ Valve and Prota Ventures, bringing together unique perspectives and capabilities with a Midwestern work ethic and passion for technology and craft beer. 80West Labs seeks to advance the craft of brewing by making professional grade, intuitive, and connected products for homebrewers. The company is currently collaborating with existing customers, homebrewers, and craft brewers to uncover insights and evolve the Vessi product line.
Kyle Buzzard of Prota Ventures says, "We have assembled an experienced and passionate team at 80West Labs focused on taking Vessi to the next level," and adds, "We are excited for the opportunity to continue to evolve Vessi in collaboration with the brewing community, and to create products that make brewing a more fun, accessible, and social experience."
80West Labs was created by a partnership between Prota Ventures, an operator-investor group based in Chicago, IL, and KZValve, a family owned engineering and manufacturing business located near Omaha. 80West Labs has a team of designers, engineers, technologists, marketers, and craft beer enthusiasts, with expertise and capabilities in domestic and international manufacturing. More information can be found at 80westlabs.com, protaventures.com, and kzvalve.com.
If you look closely at the photo accompanying this story on Moody on the Market, you can see versions of the Vessi in the background beneath the WLabs logo.