Distill Ventures, the first accelerator programme for spirits businesses, is on the hunt for its next batch of brands looking to take their spirits further.
The company, which was founded by a group of four entrepreneurs in 2013, provides mentoring from their team and cash investment from Diageo for each of the entrepreneurs it brings on board.
I spoke with Dan Gasper, the company’s Chief Operating Officer to get more details on the programme, what the team is looking for, and how you can enter.
Tell me about Distill Ventures (DV): how did you get involved and what’s it all about?
I spent eight years in marketing and commercial director roles in the drinks industry, with companies like Allied Domecq and then Jose Cuervo. In 2008, I jumped ship to work with small to medium sized businesses, as that’s what I always had a love for. I worked with drinks brands, street food, indie record labels, british furniture companies…around 40 businesses over a five year period.
DV came about because my business partners were doing similar things and we saw that as much as investment is helpful, it is really mentoring and access to great expertise that are often what makes the difference for these companies. We had sat on boards where investors didn’t add much value and we all thought: wouldn’t it be great if small drinks businesses had a network of information and mentors they could have access to.
We took idea to Diageo and they liked it, finding it was nice complementary addition to their innovation team. They are the investment behind us but we offer the expertise and mentoring from independent drinks experts and from within Diageo as well.
The world of spirits seems to be ever-growing. Is this why you’ve expanded to accept 10 applicants this year?
What’s really driving us is there is so much exciting innovation in the drinks area right now and we just felt now was the time to increase, plus we’ve had a really good first year we were able to expand it. It’s just amazing to see across the world how many people have amazing new ideas, how many bright young guys and girls are out there and pursuing something that they’re passionate about…there’s such enthusiasm and can-do attitudes. It’s a great time in the spirits world.
What are you looking for in the 2015 seeds?
We’re looking for incredible entrepreneurs with exceptional spirits who want to set the drinks industry on fire with their creations. We look for ambition especially because it’s a long road to create a successful spirit brand, but also for entrepreneurs who have a clear vision as to where they want to take their brand. But the joy for us is can be from anywhere in the spirits world – we’re opportunity driven really.
And we’re looking for start-ups but some may have been going for two years and maybe need a push or to do a re-brand – we sit down with them and look at what they each need get get their business moving forward and create a bespoke course for them. We’re not looking to create cookie cutter brands; it’s about how can we upscale these brands quicker.
Now, as part of this deal, Diageo will take a 20% stake in the business. So, what’s in it for applicants? Why should they choose you?
If you have a great business idea and are a passionate entrepreneur, there is always investment out there – who wouldn’t want to put a product on their dinner table and say: ‘I helped this young woman or man create this gin!’ But we see ourselves as the smart money: the difference with us is that our purpose is to help entrepreneurs upscale themselves, it’s about empowering them and getting them to make better and more informed decisions.
Additionally, DV is focused on entrepreneurs that would like to exit at some point if they choose to. They get an initial £175,000 to get their basics sorted: redesigning their pack to go into the US, or getting trademarks sorted, or social media training. And Diageo takes a 20% stake in the business as part of the six-month seed programme. If they reach certain milestones, the idea is they will have the opportunity to sell to Diageo, but only if they want to. If they don’t, then we’ll try to help them getting funded elsewhere.
And can people apply from anywhere?
Yes, we’re interested in great brands and great entrepreneurs. At the moment we have people apply from all over the world but I think Europe is one of the fastest growing areas. We try to manage most of it via Skype and phone but they come to London to pitch to the board if they make it to the end stages.
What are you most looking forward to?
We’re massively excited to see who applies. The possibility of greatness is hugely amazing, and we’re so excited to see who walks through the door and reveals their unique new products. It really blows us all away.
For more information about the programme and how to enter, head to: http://www.distillventures.com