Fears for jobs at beer company Brewbot as liabilities rack up

Brewbot developed a robot that allows users to brew craft beer through their smartphones.
Gary McDonald and Simon Cunningham

FEARS are growing for the future of Belfast company Brewbot, an innovative beer-making robot that allows users to brew craft beer through their smartphones.

The Irish News understands that some of the firm's suppliers have cut off its credit lines, and its last set of accounts showed Brewbot with liabilities of more than £1 million.

Fermanagh man Chris McClelland (34) co-founded and is one of the the brains behind the company, which combines modern smartphone technology with the ancient skill of brewing.

It began its foray into the global technology industry thanks to crowd-funding, including raising more than £114,000 in a single month through Kickstarter.

A further $1.5 million (£1.2m) was added from further worldwide investors in 2014 to enable the company to enter production.

Its most recent venture was opening a bar on the Ormeau Road in Belfast (previously known as Jude's) which boasts 12 rotating taps featuring the best beer from across the world, as well as showcasing the best in local.

The firm, which also has an operation in San Francisco, is believed to employ at least 16 people.

Brewbot is understood to have benefited from around £90,000 from Invest NI for R&D support and marketing assistance for its micro-brewery and associated internet-linked sensors.

The support announcement was confirmed in April 2014 to allow Brewbot to develop a product that was winning export business in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Taiwan.

Invest NI was unable to confirm how much taxpayer money it has given the firm or what clawback options might be available if the company falters.

At the time of that announcement Invest NI’s director of growth and scalability Ian Murphy said: “Brewbot is successfully tapping into the fast growing craft brewing market, especially in the US and Europe.

“The Brewbot team has applied their software expertise to transform a hobby into a business that is attracting the attention of craft beer and ale enthusiasts and led to a series of orders for the smart brewing kit they’ve developed with R&D assistance.

“Our assistance has also enabled this small company to launch the innovative technology at international trade shows and technology events including the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where it proved to be one of the most popular new product introductions. They’ve brought craft brewing into the mobile age.”

The main Brewbot product itself can be installed in bars and commercial premises or the home.

The firm describes it as "a complete brewing set-up out of the box" with the capacity to produce up to 25 litres within around eight hours.

Brewbot's latest set of accounts, filed with Companies House in August and covering the 2015 calendar year, showed that the company's liabilities had almost tripled from £256,165 to £1,095,619.

Chris McClelland is listed as the only director of Brewbot.

He was previously a director of business and domestic software development company Ecliptic Labs Limited, but it was struck off in September past.

When contacted on Monday by The Irish News, Mr McClelland declined to comment.

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