Distill Ventures co-founder debuts drinks incubatorBy Nicola Carruthers
Dan Gasper, co-founder of Distill Ventures, has established an independent drinks accelerator to support low- and no-alcohol businesses.
Founded by Dan Gasper, Daniel Rowntree and Andreas Redlefsen, The Ardent Company aims to invest in founders who are actively looking to ‘change the way the world drinks’.
The firm will be headquartered in California and focus on investing in businesses in the low- and no-alcohol space, as well as across spirits.
Gasper has worked in the drinks industry for 20 years, including managerial roles at Allied Domecq, Beam Global, and Jose Cuervo Tequila.
His most recent role in the industry was as chief commercial officer of Diageo-backed Distill Ventures, which he co-founded in 2013 as the first drinks accelerator in the industry, alongside Frank Lampen and Shilen Patel. Brands that Distill Ventures invests in are eventually acquired by Diageo, the company’s main backer, as long as certain targets are met.
On his decision to launch The Ardent Company, Gasper said: “What’s crucial about us is that the company offers what we believe is a better way for founders to scale while remaining in control of their business, and allowing them to remain independent for longer.”
Gasper stressed the independence that founders will maintain once they are supported by The Ardent Company.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be part of hundreds of founder journeys in drinks,” he said. “However, the worst parts of those journey have always been when the founder loses control, and people who don’t understand early-stage drinks companies challenges and what success looks like, make decisions instead of the founder.
“Our deal with founders, fuels the boldest version of their vision and our team, with deep industry experience of supporting founder-led brands, know that the road to success can be a bumpy one at times.”
Gasper said the company will provide expertise to businesses, alongside coaching them and offering a community of founders.
The Ardent Company will also act as a “long-term investment partner” to businesses, he said.
“We will partner with a founder and aim to be the sole source of investment for them for up to 10 years,” Gasper explained. “We typically write checks anywhere from around US$2 million up to around US$20m. But what’s really important is this long-term support.”
Furthermore, he noted the company will “maximise exit flexibility” for founders.
He said: “Our independence is also crucial for maximising the returns for the founders we work with. We are free to invest in anyone, have the capital to support for the long term, but we are not their exit partners. Our independence means our founders are free to exit to anyone – not just their early-stage investor.”
To date, the company has invested in four undisclosed ‘game-changing’ founder-led businesses.
Gasper cited three areas within the low-and-no space that are evolving. He pointed to brands that are trying to replicate the flavours of alcohol, zero-alcohol functional drinks and the “alt-alc” category – drinks that provide a buzz – including THC and CBD-based products.
As for the opportunities in spirits, Gasper is “fascinated by new world whisky” and “what comes next from Latin America”, where there’s some “radical brands sitting in existing categories or blending the boundaries of categories”, he said.
“We’ll see lots more things coming out of both Latin America, Asia and Africa,” he added. “The craft spirits revolution has allowed us to explore a lot of American heritage and a lot of European heritage. I’m more interested to see what comes out of the other parts of the world.”
Gasper also noted a lack of diversity in the spirits sector, with the company aiming to invest in underrepresented groups in the drinks industry.
Recently, Distill Ventures pledged to invest a further US$5m in drinks entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities.