Paul Kozub

Age 32. Founder and Owner of V-One Vodka

Paul Kozub was captain of the basketball team at Skidmore College.

A small forward, he could shoot a little (he scored 35 points in two different games while in prep school), but his forte was, and still is, defense. “I could jump pretty high, and I’m left-handed. Most people shoot right-handed, so when they get in the shooting position, my hand is right there,” he explained. “So I was often called on to try and shut down the other team’s top scorer.”

More often than not, he did. And he believes his exploits on the court have helped him achieve success with one of the Pioneer Valley’s more intriguing entrepreneurial ventures — a vodka label, V-One, that started in his bathtub, was perfected (and is now produced) in Poland, and now adorns shelves in liquor stores and bars across Western Mass. and one region in California.

“Having an attitude of not being afraid of the big guy has definitely helped me,” he said, drawing a direct parallel between the taller players he defended in college and the giants in the vodka business. “Companies like Grey Goose and Belvedere have all this money to develop and market their product; how the heck am I going to compete with that?

“I’ve competed by just not being afraid.”

This ‘no fear’ approach should serve Kozub well as he prepares to take the training wheels off a business he has grown through small, measured steps. He recently hired his first full-time employee, a salesperson who will help the company penetrate the Connecticut market and move on from there.

The addition to the staff should also help relieve some of the burden from Kozub’s shoulders. He has been a virtual one-person show since launching V-One in late summer 2005, and still services some 300 clients personally. That doesn’t leave much time for things outside work, but Kozub makes time for his church, a few men’s basketball leagues, and 13 nieces and nephews.

They were all in attendance at Uncle Paul’s wedding on Cinco de Mayo — he took that day off, but the honeymoon will wait until the winter, when the vodka business slows down — an event that no doubt featured some seriously good martinis.

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