For generations, Black-owned spirits brands have struggled to gain visibility and traction in an industry often dominated by established names and market entrenchment. While challenges aren’t new, such as systemic discrimination, the hurdles of capital access, lack of network resources to distributors and retailers, and the disparity in employment opportunities, a disruptive player with an innovative open-code business model has emerged to change the narrative.


Pronghorn, a trailblazing company co-founded by spirits industry veterans Dia Simms, Erin J. Hall, and Dan Sanborn, is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of Black founders, executive leaders, and entrepreneurs in the spirits industry. Their approach is designed to impact both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship to effectively diversify the entire industry. The mission is to create $2.4 billion in economic value, place 1,800 Black candidates in industry roles, and invest in 57 Black-owned spirits brands by 2032 thereby creating ubiquitous success.



Pronghorn, backed by the world’s leading spirits producer, Diageo, was named after the pronghorn—the second-fastest land mammal known for its endurance. This name encapsulates Pronghorn’s mission: to move with pace and endurance to create lasting change in an industry historically slow to embrace diversity. The team has Simms to thank for coming up with the name, one she admits came to her in the middle of the night.


“We thought the pronghorn was such a perfect manifestation of what we were trying to accomplish,” said Simms. She continued, “If the pronghorn and a cheetah were in a sprint race, the cheetah would win. But for the marathon, for the distance run, a pronghorn would win every single time. Dismantling systems of inequity and reframing opportunity for a shared win is a marathon.”



A key aspect of Pronghorn’s strategy lies in embracing its role as a formidable yet emerging force in the spirits industry. Although it has only been active for a few years, Pronghorn stands out due to the extensive expertise of its founders— Simms, Hall, and Sanborn—who collectively bring decades of experience across integral sectors of the spirits market. The depth of their combined knowledge sets Pronghorn apart and drives its innovative approach.

Dia Simms, a legend in the industry with a history of driving exponential sales and optimizing operations, has an impressive résumé. She has been instrumental in the success of multiple brands, including her recent role as CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila & Mezcal. Her accolades, such as multi-year recognition as one of Billboard’s “Most Powerful Executives in the Industry” and Ebony Magazine’s “Power 100,” highlight her industry-agnostic impact and peer-applauded success.



Early in her career, Simms and her co-founders recognized a glaring gap in the spirits industry—a gap disproportionately affecting Black Americans. “We have been brainstorming about this challenge for years,” Simms shared in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE. “As our careers progressed, we saw an opportunity to create lasting, meaningful change by demonstrating how investment in diversity is smart business and tangibly creates shared success for the industry.”


Erin J. Hall is an enigmatic industry powerhouse. With deep experience in the highly regulated business dynamics of spirits, an enviable Rolodex of corporate and influencer relationships, and a specialty in partnership marketing, Hall brings vision and impact-driven determination to close the equity gap for Black founders and professionals.


“In the U.S. spirits industry, the Black community represents 12% of consumers, but only ~7% of the workforce and just ~2% of the executive level. And there has only been one acquisition of a spirits brand with Black ownership in this country. The data was clear, and we knew in our hearts that things needed to change,” Hall explained.

Dan Sanborn brings a wealth of experience and a deep love for spirits. Following his noteworthy career rooted in culture and partnerships at Diageo, Sanborn now serves as co-founder of Pronghorn and the president of Wheelhouse Labs, which he describes as a “curious cultural marketing funhouse.” Under his leadership, Pronghorn’s commitment to ushering in a new generation of culturally inspired spirits enthusiasts across the market is stronger than ever.


“We are in service of the industry,” said Sanborn. “We believe we’re going to help this industry grow because it’s going to be better serving the consumer that they’re seeking to engage. We are creating a template to diversify this industry and, in doing so, will help future-proof its success.”




Pronghorn is focused on ensuring the spirits industry reflects the consumers it serves by right-sizing representation through employment. They’ve partnered with HBCUs and nonprofit organizations (e.g., National Black MBA Association) to build a talent pipeline of entry-level candidates and executives with transferable skills, integrating representation into key areas of the industry like supply, marketing and sales, and route to market. The idea is inside-out industry transformation so that Black founders are resourced and empowered to navigate the complexities of the spirits market. The team has also spearheaded programs to fuel industry education and candidate growth, including HBCU business school competitions and its flagship Spirits Prep Certification in partnership with DISCUS.

Pronghorn already has proof of concept through the impact delivered in its less than two years in business. In year one, the company invested over $10 million into 19 Black-owned spirits brands, provided nine student internship opportunities, placed over 50 Black executives into spirits industry roles, and delivered over 150 hours of mentorship to founders. The team is tracking well ahead of its ten-year goal, with 24 brand investments made to date, including Greenwood Whiskey, Anteel Tequila, and Ten To One Rum.

To achieve its goal of economic impact, Pronghorn’s philosophy is about more than just breaking into the spirits industry. It’s about constructing bridges to boundless opportunities for the Black community, whether generating consumer awareness and community engagement with Black-owned brands (like Hella Cocktail Co, IslandJon Vodka, and Rally Gin), helping founders delve into the regulatory intricacies of production and distribution or placing diverse representation in critical, decision-making roles of the business.


“We not only believe in the founders that we’re investing in but also in the teams that are driving those brands. They might one day go on to become the CMO of Diageo or Pernod Ricard or start a whole new brand,” Sanborn said. “For us, it’s not even about competing. It’s about partnering to diversify the future and demonstrating how that change is essential to business growth.”


Looking ahead, Pronghorn is committed to showcasing the myriad of opportunities within the spirits industry and, ideally, incentivizing other industries to take notice of the economic value inherent in the model. “Beyond supporting founders and new entrants, we’re open for business and actively infusing strong talent into the market,” said Hall, highlighting the many roles available in the sector now posted on the company website ( “We encourage people to think about careers within the spirits industry, whether they’re accountants, lawyers, or marketers. Most skills and expertise applied outside the spirits industry can be successfully transferred to the industry.”


Sanborn emphasized the importance of diversity for future business success: “Diversity is only going one way in this country. If you’re not thinking about the future consumer and incorporating diversity, you won’t have a thriving business. Agree or not, diversity is America’s business plan, and it’s good capitalism.”


Simms’s inspiration to lean into newfound admiration of the pronghorn species when toying with naming ideas for their vision might have been unconventional, but the team agreed it was the perfect north star to guide their path. Pronghorn’s ultimate mission is a marathon, not a sprint. The journey is long, but the business imperative promises everyone a stronger, more inclusive (and profitable) future.

Mission Critical:

Pronghorn partners with over 30 disruptive spirits brands