The funds, which are part of a broader environmental initiative already launched by the Hollywood superstar, will support companies developing business models and technologies that help address some of the toughest challenges posed by climate change.
“This global existential threat is not something that’s going to be solved by a smattering of elite mega-corporations,” the Iron Man actor said at the event. “I think that paradigm must be smashed in favor of innovation by a broad set of new companies.”
Speaking to Forbes ahead of the formal announcement of FootPrint Coalition Ventures (FCV), Downey stressed that the funds represent an important extension of the work of the FootPrint Coalition, a philanthropic project that he debuted in 2019 to bring together investors, donors and storytellers to help scale solutions to pressing environmental issues.
“This is no time to be an audience member,” Downey said. ”We are getting quite damn serious about our ability to be relevant in this space.” FCV’s aim is to back for-profit ventures that can become significant players in their fields while combating climate change.
One of the funds will focus on seed and Series A investments while the other will focus on later-stage opportunities, from B rounds onwards. FCV hopes to attract thousands of qualified and accredited investors using a rolling fund model, administered in conjunction with AngelList, that accepts quarterly subscriptions.
The funds will be run by veteran tech investors and entrepreneurs Jon Schulhof and Steve Levin. (Levin is also Downey’s brother-in-law and a cofounder of Team Downey, a TV, film and digital production company that he co-leads with Downey and the star’s wife, Susan Downey.) Rachel Kropa, who joined the FootPrint Coalition last year to run its scientific and philanthropic efforts, will be responsible for assessing the broad environmental, social and governance benefits of potential fund investments.
Downey, who Forbes estimates earned $66 million in 2019 from his movie work and other sources, provided most of the $10 million used to get the FootPrint Coalition itself up and running and will be putting his own money into the funds. “I’m willing to demonstrate just how in the game my skin is,” he told Forbes.
Schulhof says he, Downey and other partners will invest 10% of the capital in each rolling fund up to a cap of $500,000 a year for the early-stage one and $1 million a year for the later-stage vehicle—though those caps on their commitments may be raised depending on how the funds develop. The team will hunt for promising young companies in fields ranging from food production to energy and materials science. It will also look at media opportunities related to green tech.
FCV has already made its first investment, participating in a $50 million funding round for Los Angeles-based Aspiration, a financial lender that ensures customers’ money is invested in sustainable projects rather than ones involving things such as fossil fuels. “With the FootPrint Coalition, Robert Downey Jr. is literally putting his money where his mouth is and leading others to do the same,” said Andrei Cherny, Aspiration’s cofounder and CEO, in emailed comments to Forbes. “There are just not enough people with the platform and profile he has who are willing to take that kind of bold step.”
FCV may also invest in future rounds raised by companies that the FootPrint Coalition has already backed itself. These include Ynsect, which is building the world’s largest integrated production factory for turning insects—and mealworms, in particular—into proteins for animals and fertilizers, and Cloud Paper, which uses ultra-renewable bamboo to create products such as toilet paper and paper towels.
The movie star and his colleagues will be entering a crowded market. A report published last year by the Forum for Responsible and Sustainable Investment found that U.S.-based assets under investment using sustainable investing strategies totaled just over $17 trillion, or about a third of U.S. assets under professional management.
Downey, who intends to use his storytelling skills and huge following on social media to help the funds and the companies they invest in, says he’s excited by the challenge of making a difference. And he’s already getting into the new role of venture investor, joking that he’ll be seen like one of the financial backers who put entrepreneurs through their paces on ABC’s Shark Tank series.
“I am the shark,” he said, “that wants to tell the story about saving my species.”