Although myths abound about a culture of greed in venture capital, blisce/’s very existence would seem to disprove that notion. Perhaps that is because of the identity of the man who runs it. Frenchman Alexandre Mars was successful before he founded Blisce in 2013, having already founded multiple start-up companies: a concert organization company at age 17; a France-based online marketing agency called A2X, and a US-based venture capital firm called Mars Capital at age 22; a mobile marketing agency called Phonevalley he sold to Publicis Groupe; and a social media marketing service called ScrOOn that he sold to Blackberry. Despite all this success, which earned him the title of the “French Bill Gates,” he has always been most passionate about philanthropy.
With headquarters in Paris and New York, blisce/ splits its main operations between the two countries and its focus between Mars’ two loves: entrepreneurship and doing good. The growth stage venture capital fund assists entrepreneurs in scaling up their consumer brands and technology startups in the US and Europe, with sustainability front and center. Blisce/ holds itself to the highest of environmental and social standards, especially in the wake of Covid-19, which has left the team “convinced, more than ever, that ESG is critical to building – and rebuilding – a stronger technology industry that is also aligned with consumer expectations for socially-minded brands.” Explaining the fund’s sustainable direction to Forbes, Mars stated, “Consumer behaviors and expectations have evolved immensely over the past several years, and the brands that are able to authentically connect with customers on an emotional level will be the ones that succeed. People are voting with their wallets these days, and every purchasing decision is the chance to be an activist. In other words, performance and profit are becoming inextricably linked.” Blisce/ signed the Sista Charter, dedicating itself to financing 50 percent startups founded by women by 2050. The team also donates 20 percent of their carried interest to Epic, re-investing some of their returns in Mars’ foundation.
As investors, the blisce/ team ensures that portfolio companies share their dedication to sustainability. When considering new investment prospects, Mars suggested, “We really want to understand the company’s mission. So when I sit down with founders, I ask what drives them to get up in the morning, day in and day out. Having started a handful of companies myself, I know firsthand the amount of work involved, and the motivation required, to sustain that drive.” They then include non-negotiable clauses in term sheets, guaranteeing these companies conduct ESG assessments every 12 to 18 months and interview at least one diverse applicant for each senior leadership position that opens up. Blisce/ also assists portfolio holdings in continuing to improve their ESG performance; for example, these companies can take advantage of the blisce/ platform to “internationalize, recruit diverse talent, reinforce their corporate strategy & enhance their ESG policies.”
To date, blisce/ has invested in 28 companies and had 9 exits. A testament to blisce/’s mission for positive impact, many of these companies are instantly recognizable as dedicated to that same goal. Headspace, for example, has one mission: “to improve the health and happiness of the world” via guided meditations, articles, and videos. With users in over 190 countries and a 2018 internal study showing that just 10 days of use reduced stress by 14 percent and irritability by 27 percent, it seems the app is achieving its goals. Last year, blisce/ led its Series C funding round that brought in $93 million; Mars noted that “Headspace’s mission to make health and happiness more accessible to people around the world resonates deeply with blisce/’s core belief that it is possible to both ‘Do Good’ while also building a strong business with sustainable growth.”
Another portfolio company, Too Good to Go, is an app that combats food waste by connecting food businesses who have surplus food with consumers who can eat it before it goes bad; it has seen 38.5 million consumers help save 74.4 million meals across 15 countries since 2016. The app made its debut in the US in September 2020, and this January, a blisce/-led funding round raised $31.1 million, $15.4 million of which blisce/ invested itself. Mars said of the partnership, “we are thrilled to be the first VC fund to join Too Good To Go’s incredible story, a company whose ethos we share.”
And, even more positive impact is right around the corner. Earlier in May, blisce/ announced that it had raised an initial $150 million for its Fund II, with goals for a final $350 million. Fund II will focus on sectors that are both high-growth and high-impact, including “anti-food waste solutions, the circular economy, micro-mobility, future of health and education technology.” The first investment from the fund, Imperfect Foods, is an online grocery store that allows users to “enjoy sustainable, affordable groceries delivered to your door each week.” Like Too Good to Go, it combats food waste, but rather than focusing on the problem of surplus, it finds “a home for the imperfect or ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables that farms couldn’t sell to grocery stores.” In 2020 alone, Imperfect Foods served 400,000 customers and saved more than 50 million pounds of food, and this February, blisce/ joined the Series D funding round, contributing to a total $110 million commitment. In the coming years, blisce/’s portfolio will no doubt continue to round up equally innovative and impactful companies that will help shape the future.