Climate Finance | March 29, 2022

Impact investing goes to the Oscars

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, Mar. 29 – Forget yachts. Climate funds are the new Hollywood status symbols.

King Richard, the biopic that won Will Smith his first Oscar Sunday night, is not likely the actor’s last smash hit (sorry!). The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Men in Black star has been making bets on high-impact startups with breakout potential as an early funder of climate tech investor Prime Coalition and a cofounder of Dreamers VC, an early stage investor in companies that “improve lives.”

And Smith has competition for the award for Hollywood’s Best Impact Investor.

DiCaprio’s regeneration

Smith’s portrayal of the father and manager of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, edged out Leo DiCaprio’s performance in the climate crisis parable Don’t Look Up. DiCaprio rebounded with this week’s launch of Regeneration VC, a $45 million venture capital fund to invest in sustainable consumer products and materials.

DiCaprio, a prolific investor in green startups, is a strategic adviser and investor in the fund, alongside circular economy guru William McDonough. Regeneration’s initial investments include Pangaia, a sustainable apparel brand; CleanO2, which makes soap using captured carbon; and Cruz Foam, which makes a styrofoam packaging alternative from shellfish waste. 

Serena’s ventures

Serena Williams herself, last month raised $111 million for Serena Ventures to back diverse founders building inclusive solutions. Her portfolio includes Mahmee, a woman-led maternal health startup; Mayvenn, the online marketplace for hair extensions that puts extra income into the pockets of hairdressers; and Black-led Esusu, which is helping low-to-middle income renters in the U.S. save money and build credit.

Her sister Venus Williams invested alongside Dreamers VC in a $32 million funding round for Withco, a startup that helps small businesses overcome real estate challenges with lease-to-own financing.

Robert Downey Jr.’s footprint

The Iron Man actor has launched a pair of “rolling” venture funds to invest in early and later stage environmental startups via his Footprint Coalition Ventures. Investments include Ÿnsect, which produces protein from mealworms; Sealed, which offers homeowners financing incentives to reduce their energy consumption; and fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Downey, DiCaprio, Cindy Crawford, Orlando Bloom and Drake are investors in Aspiration, which bills itself as a green bank. Celebrity food investors.

Vegan VIPs

Vegan beverages are also a celebrity magnet: actress-turned duchess Meghan Markle invested in Clevr Blends, a female-founded startup that makes instant oat-milk lattes. Beyoncé in 2016 backed WTRMLN WTR, a women-owned company that makes a beverage from blemished watermelons that would otherwise be discarded.

Oscar winner Questlove, along with Serena Williams, Jay-Z and Trevor Noah, is an investor in Impossible Foods.

Bono’s rise

If there is a poster celebrity for impact investing, it is Bono. The U2 frontman and global activist co-founded TPG Rise in 2016 with billionaire (and moviemaker) Jeff Skoll and TPG’s Bill McGlashan (since departed). The fund raised an initial $2 billion – an eye-popping sum for an impact fund at the time – from business luminaries including Richard Branson, Lynne Benioff, Reid Hoffman and Laurene Powell Jobs.

Its latest impact fund, TPG Rise Climate, is expected to close at $7.2 billion this quarter, the company said on an investor call. That will follow an initial $5.4 billion haul last year for the fund, which focuses on what TPG calls a “generational investment opportunity.”

TPG is also planning to raise $3 billion for a third Rise fund, it said.

Unlike typically smaller celebrity-backed funds, TPG Rise Climate is taking big swings. It invested $1 billion, with co-investor ADQ, in a Tata Motors electric vehicle spin-out, and has made big bets on renewable natural gas producer Monarch Bioenergy and a rollup of natural gas company Element Markets and Bluesource to develop nature-based carbon credits.