Robert Downey Jr. has embarked on the next phase of his efforts to help save the planet.
The producer, actor and investor announced the launch of FootPrint Coalition Ventures, a series of VC funds open to the public with the mission of investing in companies developing solutions to address environmental problems. Downey Jr. made the announcement at the World Economic Forum’s digital Davos Agenda event Wednesday.
Downey Jr., who in Marvel’s Avengers movies famously portrayed billionaire industrialist Tony Stark and superhero alter ego Iron Man, first laid out his ambitions to tap into environmental technology two years ago with the Footprint Coalition.
“I want to suit up and show up for this opportunity… I believe in creative problem-solving,” Downey Jr. told Variety in an interview, calling the environmental threats facing the planet “a global existential crisis.” Such daunting problems, he said, will require a broad set of new companies working on solutions rather than “a smattering of elite mega-corporations.”
Downey Jr. added that he is personally investing in the VC funds, contributing at least 10% of each of the firm’s initial two funds (up to a total of $1.5 million annually). Alluding to his film career, Downey Jr. said, “I did not expect to be in the financial position I am in… This is a logical progression of a semi-retired genre actor steeped in techno-thrillers.”
FootPrint Coalition Ventures’ rolling fund is accessible to “qualified and accredited” investors through a partnership with startup-investment platform AngelList. Up to 2,000 investors are eligible to participate in each of the two funds (a limit set by SEC rules). Each backer must invest a minimum of $5,000 per quarter, meaning the first FootPrint Coalition Ventures funds could raise more than $80 million per year.
To promote its endeavors, the VC firm will tap into Downey Jr.’s creative team — and his huge social-media footprint, which comprises more than 100 million followers. The goal is to use storytelling to translate scientific concepts into accessible information to promote awareness and attract talent to the cause, according to Downey Jr.: “We want to turn complex subjects into culture-defining content, and offer our audience an opportunity to invest with us.”
FootPrint Coalition Ventures is led by veteran tech investors and entrepreneurs Jonathan Schulhof, former managing partner at GTI Capital Group, and Steve Levin, who co-founded the Team Downey development and production company and Downey Ventures, which is focused on media and technology investments. In addition, Rachel Kropa, former co-executive director of the CAA Foundation, serves as the fund’s impact adviser, acting as a liaison to the scientific and research communities.
The two initial FootPrint Coalition Ventures funds are an early-stage fund (pre-seed, Series A) with a minimum investment of $50,000 per startup, and a late-stage fund (Series B and beyond) with a minimum investment of $250,000. According to Schulhof, the firm has identified six investment areas: sustainability-focused consumer products and services; food and agriculture technology; materials and industrial tech; energy and transportation; education and media; and advanced environmental solutions.
Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition Ventures has already invested in five companies:
- Aspiration: a “neobank” that says it offers clean, socially conscious and sustainable cash management services and investment products. In a statement, Downey Jr. said Aspiration’s online banking services are “at the forefront of helping people turn their daily saving and spending into climate crisis-fighting power. Aspiration squarely fits our thesis that consumers prefer sustainable alternatives when presented with best-in-class technology enabled solutions.”
- Arcadia Earth: a VR/AR platform dedicated to environmental storytelling;
- Cloud Paper: a tree-free paper products company that uses ultra-renewable bamboo, plastic-free packaging, and carbon-neutral deliveries for products like toilet paper and paper towels;
- RWDC Industries: a biotech company developing “biovanescent” materials (which are 100% biodegradable) to replace petroleum-derived plastics single-use consumer goods; and
- Ÿnsect: a producer of natural insect protein and fertilizer that transforms Molitor mealworms into sustainable and premium ingredients.
“FootPrint Coalition is opening the door to allow real people to invest in the companies that are building businesses around the mission of saving the Earth for generations to come,” Aspiration CEO/co-founder Andrei Cherny said in a statement. “We are honored to have them and Robert Downey Jr. as investors and partners in this worthwhile battle.”
Schulhof noted that VC funds traditionally have high minimum investment requirements that exclude “only the wealthiest individuals, or endowments and foundations.” FootPrint Coalition Ventures “can now offer access to these same companies to a much broader group,” he said. “When these investors further ignite our passionate audience, we hope to set a positive feedback loop in motion with environmental technologies as the ultimate beneficiary.” That said, FootPrint Coalition Ventures expects to raise funding from institutional investors as well, Schulhof said.