New York-based organization Pronghorn strives to diversify the spirits industry

A New York company is working to diversify the spirits industry, starting with black-owned brands.

Dia Simms, originally from Queens, has worked in a number of different industries, from fashion advertising and defense to pharmaceuticals. Working in the liquor industry was not something that was on Simms’ radar.

“I kind of fell into the industry, it was definitely not on my radar,” Simms said.

After attending a few parties and learning the kind of impact the spirits industry can have, Simms dove into it. She worked as an assistant to Sean Combs and helped develop Cîroc Vodka. She is now at the helm as CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila & Mezcal.

“It was truly a masterclass in how to build a brand from scratch in the spirits industry and it was such an opportunity to serve a consumer in a new and original way in the space,” Simms said. “We saw that pay off in how the brand went from being a brand that wasn’t doing so well to becoming a multi-billion dollar brand.”

Simms has partnered with Erin Harris (CMO of Lobos 1707) and Dan Sanborn (President of Wheelhouse Labs) to launch Pronghorn, a 10-year initiative to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the gaming industry. spirits, in 2022. The three began to reflect in 2020 as the United States experienced a resurgence of issues related to racial injustice and inequality.

“We started conversations just as the country went through this racial reckoning and honestly it was refreshing we started getting calls from people we respect, friends and colleagues in the spirits industry saying, what can we do?” Sims said. “The three of us don’t want to do anything small. We want to think about how we want to be useful, it has to be meaningful, it has to be systemic and have the right resources. »

Ultimately, the planning resulted in a framework to diversify the spirits industry as a whole by focusing on entrepreneurs from the black community. Pronghorn, backed by the world’s largest spirits producer, Diageo, aims to generate $2.4 billion in economic value for the black community by 2030 by investing time and resources for black founders.

“The premise we started with was, this is in an industry we love, but see bigger. How can we create a model of how we can effectively diversify any industry?” Simms said. “Let’s build this as a model and we’ll start with the black community and the spirits industry, and we’ll build open code and as we learn, ideally, we just build a platform that’s applicable to other communities and other industries.”

Pronghorn assesses each brand’s situation and helps clients find what they need to navigate the business side of the industry, including distribution, e-commerce, marketing, supply chain management, etc Essentially, the Pronghorn team will work with you to help you find the best opportunities to succeed.

“We have access to world-class data and the ability to derive insights from it, so we can say there is white space in the industry that you can target,” Simms said. “We will also provide access to opportunities to leverage the supply chain and also eradicate a lot of the time that founders spend trying to figure out, like where can I source glass, how to negotiate a distribution. There’s quite a bit of time where the founder will just learn the industry, and basically we’re trying to speed up that process.

Pronghorn works specifically with the black community because in the spirits industry, black consumers make up 12-16% of alcohol sales, but only make up 7.8% of its workforce, just 2% at the moment. executive level and less than 1% for black women. , and 0% in acquisitions.

This is partly where the name of the initiative comes from. The name Pronghorn is for the animal, which is the second fastest land mammal in the world, behind the cheetah. Even if a cheetah would win in a sprint, a pronghorn would win in a marathon – Simms says the black community has a lot of catching up to do after so many years without having had the opportunity to succeed in this area.

“What’s unique about the spirits industry is that it’s very complex and a bit small. It’s not on many people’s radars. When I was in college, it never occurred to me that I could become a master whiskey distiller. There hasn’t been a lot of awareness about the spirits industry as an opportunity to go to work or be an entrepreneur,” Simms said. “The second thing is just the simple math of when you look at the black community, which is 12-14% of the population and consumers on one side of the bar, not represented on the other side of the bar at executive level where less than 2% of executives are black, and for black women it’s almost zero, as if it were a decimal point. And that just doesn’t make mathematical sense.

Due to the pandemic, Pronghorn’s team saw how people in a lower economic bracket were disproportionately affected compared to those with more wealth and opportunity. Through its mission, Pronghorn aims to build lasting change that will truly last over time.

“It really underscored something that we understood but kind of tripled when we saw people affected by the pandemic. If we’re not intentional about economic engineering within the framework of civil rights or any community, it can be difficult for any of these things to stick around long term,” Simms said. “You have seen how people have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic based very specifically on your economic situation. It just underscored why all of the work we do at Pronghorn had to build lasting change in a way that could have an economic impact for the industry and the black community at the same time to actually last.

Pronghorn’s model has the potential to expand into other industries, and while Simms hopes to be able to use Pronghorn as a framework for other industries, for now they will remain focused on spirits. For those looking to dip their toes into the spirits industry, Simms says that in addition to Pronghorn, there are a ton of great resources available, and everyone has the potential to succeed in this industry, and she encourages fellow New Yorkers to connect.

“One thing I always say is that all humans have 99% the same genome, we all have the same capacity for abundance within us. I think for those of us who are like, ‘I don’t don’t know that, I don’t have that,” the differences between us, we celebrate what makes us unique, but the opportunity to excel and live a life you love is available to all of us,” Simms said. “The spirits industry isn’t so much about whether you like it or not, it’s a $353 billion industry that I would love to see more women and more people of color in. “

For more information about Pronghorn, visit

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