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New investment scheme for drinks entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups

Drinks investment group Distill Venetures (DV) has announced the launch of a pre-accelerator programme dedicated to supporting early-stage entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.

DV has committed to invest US$5 million in early-stage businesses over the next 12 months through the initiative. Its primary purpose is to create a more accessible pathway to unlock seed funding, as research has found access to capital to be a key barrier for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.

According to the 2020 Crunchbase Diversity Spotlight Report, just 2.4 per cent of venture capital financing invested across all sectors in the US since 2015 has gone to black and Latinx founders. Meanwhile, a report from Cornerstone Partners published this year shows that, in 2019 in the UK, only three per cent of founders who raised venture capital identified as black, seven per cent as Asian and three per cent as mixed/multiple heritages.

DV's new pre-accelerator programme will identify potential founders through its search pipeline, initially focusing on the US and UK, and interested entrepreneurs are also encouraged to apply online. Upon selection, founders will be supported to develop a six-month business plan to present to DV and its funding partner Diageo. 

Successful applicants will be awarded initial funding, typically between $250,000 and $500,000, and will work in collaboration with DV to realise their business plans. There is also the opportunity for applicants to develop longer-term partnerships with DV and Diageo to grow their businesses.

Frank Lampen, CEO of 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."

Liz Brown, group strategy director at 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 at Distill Ventures North America, added: "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."

Alongside the pre-accelerator, DV is expanding its own internal inclusions and diversity initiations, including an education programme focused on unconscious bias and other key inclusion barriers, a broadened search process to find a richer selection of investment opportunities, and a recruitment partnership with Wine & Spirits Recruiting to reinforce its commitment to inclusive hiring practices.

To date, DV has invested more than $120 million in more than 15 drinks brands including Stauning Whisky in Denmark, Starward Whisky in Australia, American single malt whisky producer Westward, Rheinland Distillers in Germany, and pioneering non-alcoholic spirit brand Seedlip.

5 July 2021 - Bethany Whymark