Interview: Dia Simms, Co-Founder Of Pronghorn, Talks To Diversity In The Spirits Industry

Pronghorn, a black-women led business, was designed with the sole purpose of cultivating the next generation of black founders and executives in the spirits industry.

Through capital investments and recruitment programs, Pronghorn is looking to remove barriers and grant access to the critical resources that will empower untapped talent and emerging black businesses to reach their full potential.

The organization was co-founded in 2021 by spirits industry veterans Dia Simms, Erin Harris, and Dan Sanborn.

Co-founder Dia Simms used the company’s monniker, the pronghorn, as a metaphor likening diversity and inclusion in the spirits industry as a marathon, not a sprint.

“There are a lot of interesting things about the animal that inspired the way we wanted to build Pronghorn. It’s a template on how to effectively diversify any industry. And we’re starting with the spirits industry. And we’re starting with the black community,” she said. “We have centuries of inequity to catch up from. We need to go far, but we need to go fast.”

Dia Simms recently visited with The Whiskey Wash about the new business incubator and what the future holds for the black community in the spirits industry.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn co-founders Dia Simms (right – CEO of Lobos 1707, ex-president of Combs Enterprises) and Erin Harris (left – CMO of Lobos 1707, ex-GM and SVP of the Blue Flame Agency) (image via Pronghorn)

The Whiskey Wash: Do you feel the spirits industry is heading in the right direction regarding diversity? Are you seeing the change or is it still down the road?

Dia Simms:  “Although there’s been a shift in accepting DE&I principles as it correlates to the spirits industry, so much more work needs to be done. As a co-founder of Pronghorn, I am excited about the company’s incubator and accelerator programs that are dedicated to expanding diversity within the spirits industry by cultivating and investing in the next generation of black founders, executives, and entrepreneurs in a sustainable and scalable way. The initiative is committed to generating $2.4 billion in economic value for the black community by 2032.”

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TWW: What are incubator and accelerator programs in regards to diversity in the industry, and can you give us a personal experience with a program or mentorship that touched your life?

Dia: “Pronghorn will create a new standard in incubator and accelerator programs by establishing credibility for minorities. While working as a promoter early in my career, I met a nightclub legend named Marc Barnes. He taught me what it would be like to run a bar and I immediately became fascinated with the hospitality concept because of my love of hosting.”

“Soon after, I was afforded an opportunity to become an executive assistant to Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Throughout a 14-year period, I went from being his executive assistant to becoming the first president of Combs Enterprises. Now, I’m the CEO of Lobos Tequila and Mezcal, working alongside our founder, Diego Osorio. As co-founder of Pronghorn, a 10-year economic impact initiative to drive DE&I in the spirits industry, I have been afforded the opportunity to make sure that other minorities can excel within this industry not just by happenstance.”

TWW: What about the Pronghorn animal that drew you to it for your brand’s logo?

Dia: “The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in North America. And the second-fastest land mammal in the whole world. A cheetah would beat a pronghorn in a sprint. But in a marathon, a pronghorn will win every time. We have centuries of inequity to catch up from. We need to go far, but we need to go fast. There are a lot of interesting things about the animal that inspired the way we wanted to build Pronghorn. We are building a template on how to effectively diversify any industry. And we’re starting with the spirits industry. And we’re starting with the black community.”

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TWW: Being ranked in Forbes and Ebony magazines’ power lists, what are your aspirations in the spirits industry and how can you help pave the way for better strength in diversity?

Dia: “Within the spirits industry, I aspire to inspire women and BIPOC to create safe spaces for us to thrive in a field that wasn’t originally forecast for us to win at the executive level. My goal is to elevate platforms with intent to drive meaningful impact and change from the next generation of women and BIPOC entering the spirits industry.”

TWW: Tell us what we can expect in the next year, five years, ten years as Pronghorn invests in black-owned spirit brands and provides industry knowledge and access.

Dia: “Throughout the remainder of 2022, Pronghorn will welcome its inaugural cohort of investment brands, build relationships with HBCUs and establish its headquarters in Atlanta.”

“Over the next several years, Pronghorn will work with the black community to develop a pipeline of talent that will fill 1,800 roles within the industry; roles that will be committed to by suppliers, distributors, and retailers. Pronghorn will serve as a hybrid incubator and accelerator, making capital investments in 57 black-owned brands, while also providing supercharging capabilities that allow brands to leverage industry-leading knowledge and resources to realize their brand’s ambitions.”

TWW: What are some of the barriers that must be removed to ensure that black founders and executives not only get in the door of the spirits industry, but thrive once making it in?

Dia: “Pronghorn is focused on granting access and removing barriers that have put black people and other communities of color at a disadvantage when it comes to ownership, investing or just working within the spirits industry in general. Pronghorn will work to open as many doors as possible to help uplift our communities for the long term. Just like the beautiful animal we chose to name our company after, we are prepared to go the distance to make our vision reality.”

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TWW: What does it mean to have industry giant Diageo North America as an anchor investor in Pronghorn?

Dia: “Diageo North America’s anchor investment in Pronghorn, in 2021, added an instant momentum to the trajectory of the company. It’s been an incredible ride thus far working alongside the senior team, and they are truly in lockstep to amplify Pronghorn’s messaging and programs.”

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Gary Carter

Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether...