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From diapers to whiskey: Raleigh entrepreneur on new liquor startup

The serial entrepreneur behind a diaper technology startup is tackling a new challenge – liquor – and investors are betting $3.6 million that he can disrupt that industry, too.

Scott Bolin, CEO of new intellectual property holding firm Anavo Technologies, announced Thursday his firm spun out its first company: Raleigh-based Next Century Spirits. And it’s being supported by a $3.6 million investment, led by Chapel Hill private equity firm Blue Hill Group.

The idea came from a researcher at his first company, Tethis, which Bolin founded six years ago. Bolin initially thought Tethis’ technology could filter water used in fracking. Over the years, however, the spongy material he helped create found a more enthusiastic market in diapers, where proponents hope it one day replaces the petrochemicals usually used in absorption.

But other ideas for the material continued to matriculate – as did ideas for completely different technologies. About six months ago, the company split in two, buoyed by some of those ideas.

Tethis would push forward in diapers and Anavo, the second entity, would explore other applications. Bolin went with Anavo, as did an idea first born in Tethis.

“We had a scientist who was thinking a lot about bourbon and whiskey and alcohol,” Bolin explains.

Specifically, he was thinking about the inefficiencies and expenses – how the liquor has to be put into a barrel for years “to get the flavor you want.”

“He created an invention that allows us to get those same flavors much more quickly and at a very large scale,” Bolin says.

The team prototyped the technology for a year before the Anavo spinout. Its Durham distillery now has the capacity of about 300,000 liters per year.

“We actually have some products in the market,” Bolin says. “I can’t say who is using it right now, but it’s mainly in the whiskey and rum space.”

The money will go toward investing in capacity. In January, the team builds a larger production unit, he says.

And it’s securing more resources from a manpower standpoint, too, as Blue Hill investor Matthew Bronfman has been tapped to lead Next Century Spirits’ board of directors. Bronfman’s grandfather and father built Seagram’s liquor company.

In the meantime, Anavo will keep exploring other applications for its materials technology. And Bolin expects more companies to join the portfolio.