The Brief | March 29, 2022

The Brief: Today’s Call: political risk, celebrity impact in Hollywood, rhino bond in South Africa, small business lending in India, inclusive fintech in Mexico

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Hop on today’s Call: Political risk and impact investing in Ukraine and other conflict zones. Join Jessica Bleyzer of the private equity firm SigmaBleyzer, Daniel Kozlov of Moscow and San Francisco-based Global Venture Alliance, Media Development Investment Fund’s Harlan Mandel, Open Road Alliance’s Caroline Bressan and other Agents of Impact for a timely discussion on impact investing in hostile environments, today at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. No RSVP necessary. Zoom right in.

Featured: Celebrity Impact

Impact investing goes to the Oscars. He won his first Oscar for best actor, but King Richard is not likely to be Will Smith’s last smash hit (sorry!) For years, Smith has been making bets on high-impact startups with breakout potential as an early funder of climate tech investor Prime Coalition and a co-founder 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 Leonardo 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 that has invested in Pangaia, a sustainable apparel brand; CleanO2, which makes soap using captured carbon; and Cruz Foam, which has developed 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, which puts extra income into the pockets of hairdressers; and Black-led Esusu, which is helping low-to-middle income renters save money and build credit. Venus Williams invested alongside Dreamers VC in Withco, a startup that offers small businesses lease-to-own financing.
  • Robert Downey Jr.’s footprint. The Iron Man actor has launched a pair of venture funds to invest in early and later-stage environmental startups via his investment firm Footprint Coalition Ventures. Investments include insect farming venture Ynsect; 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. 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. The U2 frontman and global activist co-founded TPG Rise in 2016 with billionaire (and movie maker) Jeff Skoll and TPG’s Bill McGlashan (since departed). The fund raised an initial $2 billion – at the time, an eye-popping sum for an impact fund. TPG Rise Climate is expected to close at $7.2 billion this quarter, TPG’s Jack Weingart said on an investor call. The climate fund is taking big swings, investing $1 billion, with co-investor ADQ, in Tata Motors’ electric vehicle spin-out. It has made bets on renewable natural gas producer Monarch Bioenergy and a rollup of natural gas companies Element Markets and Bluesource to develop nature-based carbon credits.
  • Keep reading, “Impact investing goes to the Oscars,” by Amy Cortese on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Conservation Finance

World Bank raises $150 million ‘rhino bond’ for conservation in South Africa. Proceeds from the five-year bond will support conservation projects to increase the population of endangered black rhinos. Investors will see returns of 3.7% to 9.2% if populations recover at two parks that protect a majority of South Africa’s rhinos. Investors won’t receive coupon payments on the bond. Rather, the conservation sites will receive $10 million for rhino conservation. Credit Suisse brought in blended donor capital to catalyze backing from private investors. The World Bank’s David Malpass said the pay-for-success structure can be replicated for other conservation and development objectives. Investors include the World Wildlife Fund, the foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the U.K. government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

  • Endangered watchlist. The global black rhino population dropped 95% in the last three decades due to poaching. Publicly funded conservation efforts have helped to nearly double the black rhino population to around 5,600. In an earlier bond, the Zoological Society of London teamed up with Conservation Capital in a five-year program to boost black rhino populations in Kenya and South Africa.
  • Hunting quotas. South Africa’s government last month granted hunting permits for 10 male black rhinos on conservation management land. The government says “regulated and sustainable hunting” incentivizes wildlife conservation and generates income for impoverished rural communities.
  • Share.

Vivriti Capital secures $55 million for lending to small businesses in India. The Chennai-based fintech venture has deployed $700 million in loans for small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for most of the country’s job creation and economic development. “Vivriti channels capital to segments underserved by the prevailing financial system in India,” said Tyler Day of Chicago-based Creation Investments, which invested in the Series C round with Lightrock India. Vivriti is looking to grow its loan book to $5 billion over the next five years. 

  • Inclusive fintech in India. Gurgaon-based small business lender Aye Finance raised nearly $10 million in debt financing from Northern Arc Capital and Triple Jump, which has been an investor since 2018. Aye will use the loan to on-lend to the most underserved micro businesses.
  • Check it out.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • EdgeGrid scores $6 million for on-demand clean energy for households, small businesses and EV charging stations in India.
  • South Africa-based The People’s Fund and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency will invest $36.8 million in more than 5,000 small and mid-sized companies over five years.
  • Vexi snags $24 million from investors, including Village Capital and Pomona Impact, to improve financial services for underbanked people in Mexico.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Ivelyse Andino of Radical Health, Aaron Johnson of Oasis Fresh Market and Kwamane Liddell of Nutrible are among the Healthy Communities Fellows at Aspen Global Innovators Group… Anthos Fund & Asset Management is hiring a managing director of multi-asset impact investing in Amsterdam… Citi Foundation is requesting ideas for a $50 million Community Finance Innovation Fund to support the growth of community development financial institutions in the U.S.

Thank you for your impact.

– Mar. 29, 2022