It’s the year 2021, and the earth is under attack from dark, sinister forces that threaten to send the planet into a chaotic maelstrom of tidal waves, floods, storms, scorching heat, and raging wildfires – unless Iron Man can step in to foil the plans of the evil Dr. Pollution!
If that sounds like a movie trailer, hold on to your popcorn. It’s just the Hollywoodized version of something less exciting but still worth recognizing: a new effort by “Iron Man” actor Robert Downey, Jr., to help lower the world’s carbon footprint with a pair of venture capital funds that aim to battle climate concerns through bioplastics, aquaculture, artificial intelligence (AI) and other initiatives.
Downey, a Hollywood A-lister known for films including Sherlock Holmes and Less Than Zero, launched the funds in January with a focus on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) investments. The funds – dubbed FootPrint Coalition Ventures – were created through Downey’s FootPrint Coalition non-government organization (NGO), and will initially include two investment funds: one for startups, and the other for later-stage enterprises. They will be listed through AngelList as subscription-style rolling funds, which require investors to commit to quarterly contributions.
Downey announced the new funds at the World Economic Forum’s Digital Davos event. According to TechCrunch, the goal is to make six investments a year in early-stage companies, along with four later-stage deals.
FootPrint Coalition Ventures will have a $5,000 quarterly membership fee and a minimum one-year membership. It plans to invest in food and agricultural technology, sustainability-focused consumer products and services, energy and transportation, materials and industrial technology, education and media, and advanced environmental solutions. Downey’s fund reportedly will look for up to 2,000 qualified investors and a smaller number of accredited ones.
In an interview with Fast Company, FootPrint Coalition Ventures’ Jonathan Schulhof said the aim is to “reach this really activated audience around a subject that (they) are very passionate about, and we want the audience to really engage in the value creation.”
The FootPrint Coalition got its start in June 2019, when Downey announced its launch at Amazon’s Re:MARS conference. He aimed high right from the start, saying at the conference that “between robotics and nanotechnology, we could clean up the planet significantly, if not totally, in 10 years.”
Downey’s entertainment career played a vital role in his interest in forming the coalition – especially his years with Disney’s Marvel Studios.
“I was finishing my Marvel contract; we had an Age of A.I. series coming out on YouTube,” he told Fortune magazine. “I had started realizing that I’ve been steeped in A.I. and robotics and technology, just for the sake of making genre films more believable.”
After announcing the coalition in 2019, Downey said, “This is going to be the back nine of my life.”
The coalition’s website says its mission is to “invest in high-growth, sustainability-focused companies. We make charitable grants to non-profits that advance the adoption of environmental technology. We entertain, inform, and mobilize the public with original and curated content.”
Among the companies the FootPrint Coalition has already invested in include the following:
- Arcadia Earth: A New York-based platform that describes itself as a “next-generation exhibition and extended reality experience designed to reignite the conversation around the most pressing environmental issues of our time.” It was founded and designed by experiential artist Valentino Vettori and claims to be the first platform of its kind to offer a personal exploration of the earth’s plight through human-scale art installations and the futuristic lens of augmented and virtual reality.
- Cloud Paper: Headquartered in Seattle, Cloud Paper is a “tree-free” paper products company whose aim is to save trees by using 100 percent ultra-renewable bamboo. Those products will provide a sustainable alternative to traditional items such as toilet paper and paper towels. The company will also offer plastic-free packaging and carbon-neutral deliveries.
- RWDC Industries: Based in Singapore with U.S. offices in Athens, Ga., RWDC is a biotechnology company that develops innovative biopolymer material solutions, including fully biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), which can be used as a substitute for plastic in everything from straws and utensils to cups and plates. It was founded in 2015 by Roland Wee and Dr. Daniel Carraway
- Ÿnsect: Founded in Paris in 2011, Ÿnsect is the global leader in natural insect protein and fertilizer production. It uses pioneering proprietary technology – protected by 260 patents – to transform Molitor mealworms into sustainable and high-value ingredients for humans, pets, fish, and plants. Ÿnsect is currently building the first carbon-negative and largest vertical farm in the world.
- Aspiration: This Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based online “neobank” offers 100 percent clean, socially-conscious, and sustainable cash management services and investment products. Its products include deposit accounts, mutual funds, retirement accounts, and tools to streamline charitable giving.