Distill Ventures (DV) has announced its commitment to increasing diversity within the drinks industry through a range of global initiatives, including the launch of a new Pre-Accelerator Programme dedicated to early stage founders from underrepresented groups. DV will aim to invest $5 million in drinks entrepreneurs over the next 12 months through this initiative.

Through the Pre-Accelerator, DV said it has created a more accessible runway to unlock seed funding, a key barrier reported by entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.  Access to capital is a crucial requirement for early-stage companies. However, racial and gender wealth disparities can mean founders from underrepresented groups have less access to capital.

  • Since 2015, just 2.4% of venture capital financing across all sectors in the United States has gone to Black and Latinx founders according to the 2020 Crunchbase Diversity Spotlight Report.
  • In 2019, in the United Kingdom, only 3% of founders who raised venture capital funding for their start-ups identified as Black, 7% identified as Asian, and 3% mixed/multiple heritages.
  • Crunchbase data shows that the proportion of global venture funding to female-only founders was just 2.3% in 2020, a decline from 2019.

DV will identify potential founders via their search pipeline, initially focusing on the United States and United Kingdom.  Additionally, interested entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for funding at www.distillventures.com/pre-accelerator, where they will be asked to fill out an introductory application. Upon review and selection, founders will be supported to develop a six-month business plan to present to DV and Diageo, DV’s sole funding partner.

Successful applicants will be awarded initial funding, typically between $250,000 and $500,000, and will work in collaboration with DV to bring their business plan to life. After this the founders will be guided through a broader pitch process, with the potential to create a longer-term partnership with DV and Diageo to grow their business.

Frank Lampen, chief executive, Distill Ventures, said: “In eight years, DV has built a portfolio of next generation brands, but it has become clear to us that we want to dedicate focus on diversifying the ownership of drinks brands by addressing a key barrier head on: access to seed funding.

“We know that opportunities for entrepreneurs are not equally accessible to all, and so at the heart of our company-wide inclusion and diversity initiatives is the creation of a new Pre-Accelerator that will enable us to work with really early stage founders. This change cannot happen overnight, but we are excited to help evolve the drinks world, one founder at a time.”

In addition to the Pre-Accelerator, DV is expanding its own company-wide inclusion and diversity initiatives including:

  • A company-wide educational programme focused on unconscious bias and other key inclusion barriers.  The six-month programme, already in progress, is comprised of workshops and individual and small group coaching. 
  • A broadened search process that goes beyond DV’s existing industry network, in order to cast a wider net and bring in a richer variety of founders and their brands.
  • A recruitment partnership, first in the United States and then globally, with Wine & Spirits Recruiting. Through this partnership DV is reinforcing its commitment to inclusive hiring practices for DV and its portfolio companies.

Liz Brown, Group Strategy Director, Diageo said: “We are committed to championing inclusion and diversity to ensure our employees, suppliers and partners are representative of the people around the world who enjoy our products. We have ambitious 2030 goals and today’s announcement from Distill Ventures supports our commitment to growing a more diverse drinks industry, supporting innovative entrepreneurs and building a sustainable long-term business.”

Heidi Dillon Otto, Managing Director, Distill Ventures North America, said: “Over the past six months, we’ve had numerous conversations with underrepresented founders – some of whom we’re already working with in our inaugural Pre-Accelerator class, and we look forward to continuing this work over the next 12 months and beyond. We recognise that diversity in ownership will fuel broader growth and innovation in our industry and will enable our portfolio to connect with a wider range of cultures and consumers. By bringing new, diverse founders into the world of drinks, we hope to create a ripple effect, in turn empowering them to mentor, hire, and train future drinks entrepreneurs.”

For more information, or to apply for funding, visit www.distillventures.com/pre-accelerator.