Rado Distilling

For more information, visit facebook.com/radodistilling

University of Colorado business graduate student Devin Mills and his team are making a new kind of rum, unique to Colorado, from the state's sugar beets.

"Colorado rum" is the basis for Rado Distilling, a new company that got its start in CU's Leeds School of Business master's in business administration program.

Mills and his team are set to compete Tuesday at the Angel Capital Summit, an annual conference that connects entrepreneurs with funding. The conference, held at the University of Denver, also includes panels on building brand value, intellectual property, market share and other entrepreneurial topics.

Mills, the company's chief executive officer and founder, will pitch to investors his business idea of selling packaged cocktails using sugar beet rum.

No matter the outcome of the summit, Mills and his partners, most of whom are fellow CU business students, are in the process of finding a space to open a still and tasting room in Denver.

Rado Distilling is on track to open to the public sometime in late fall, and will have a mix of homemade cocktails on tap such as Colorado rum-and-Coke and the "Denver Donkey," a Moscow mule-inspired drink made with Colorado rum instead of vodka.

The idea for Rado Distilling came to Mills a few years ago, but he hadn't seriously considered starting his own business until he began the MBA program at CU.

Mills has a degree in petroleum engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and worked as a drilling engineer before coming to CU.

Even then, he was hesitant about the entrepreneurial lifestyle. But the environment of CU's business school, which prides itself on innovation, got to him eventually, Mills said.

"When I interviewed here to get into this program, one of the questions they asked (was) do you want to start your own business," Mills said. "I said, 'No, I know people who own businesses. They work way too hard. They don't sleep enough. It's a terrible thing that they've done to themselves. I want to move up the corporate ladder and have a nice secure job with a paycheck.'

"And now, instead, I'm running a company and working 120 hours a week and haven't had a full night's sleep yet this week."

Because Rado Distilling uses sugar beets, not sugar cane, as the base of its rum, the company is technically not making rum, Mills said. Right now, Mills and his team are working to brand their product as Colorado rum, a gluten-free product made from local ingredients.

The company has been working with a sugar beet plant in Fort Morgan to create the base of the Colorado rum, Mills said, because sugar cane can be expensive and inefficient to transport in the United States.

Most sugar cane is imported from Brazil, India, China or a number of other countries, Mills said.

"We're trying to be responsible," he said. "There are a lot of benefits to not dealing with that. We have a small carbon footprint and there's already stuff here (to make rum). It's really easy to do the right thing, so why not do it?"

Using Colorado-grown sugar beets also gives Rado Distilling an opportunity to brand itself as a local product, said Kristin Dero, the company's chief marketing officer and CU business graduate student.

"I've lived in several different states and Colorado is one of the few where people actually wear the state flag as a tattoo on their body," Dero said, laughing. "From a marketing perspective, it makes my life a lot easier. You have the natives who live here and are very proud of supporting Colorado, but we do also have the tourists who are very interested in taking that home."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kutas@dailycamera.com