Robert Downey Jr. launches venture funds to invest in sustainable technology

The actor and activist’s Footprint Coalition will back early and later-stage companies addressing climate change and environmental challenges.

Robert Downey Jr. launches venture funds to invest in sustainable technology
[Photo: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images]

Actor and producer Robert Downey Jr., who quietly has been building an umbrella organization for his environmental initiatives, today unveiled Footprint Coalition Ventures, a pair of so-called rolling venture funds that will invest in sustainability focused companies.

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The venture funds are part of Footprint Coalition, a project Downey Jr. announced in 2019. The coalition also includes a nonprofit arm that supports early scientific research, and a storytelling component that produces content about sustainable technologies.

Downey Jr. tells Fast Company that the investment arm makes a statement about the role private companies can play in tackling sustainability goals. “This just feels so vital,” he says, calling the venture funds “a commitment to wanting to really get knee-deep in the problem solving.” Downey Jr. announced the funds Wednesday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda event.

The two venture funds—one for early-stage and another for later-stage investments—are structured as rolling funds, also known as subscription funds. Through a partnership with AngelList, Footprint Coalition Ventures says it will be able to  accept new capital from qualified and accredited investors on a quarterly basis. Rolling funds hope to make venture investing more accessible to individual investors.

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“We 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,” says Jonathan Schulhof, who heads Footprint Coalition Ventures. Adds Downey Jr.:” We like opening access. It really speaks to what our ethos is.”

The funds will primarily focus on technologies in six investment areas: food and agriculture, energy and transportation, education and media, materials, and what it called advanced environmental solutions. Footprint Coalition said it has made investments in five companies to date: Arcadia Earth, a media platform; RWDC Industries, a biotech company; Ÿnsect, an insect protein company; Aspiration, a socially conscious online bank; and Cloud Paper, a maker of bamboo-based paper products.

Downey Jr. joins a long list of actors and artists backing venture funds, but unlike other celebrities, many of whom prefer to remain behind the scenes, Downey Jr. plans to use his profile and storytelling skills to help advance his investments and their goals. Schulhof points to a Footprint Coalition video, starring Downey Jr., that explains the difference between plastic and polyhydroxyalkanoate, a biodegradable polymer that RWDC Industries, a Footprint company, is developing. Though the video, which got millions of views on social media, doesn’t explicitly mention RWDC, the company has been able to use the video to explain its work to regulators and other stakeholders.

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Schulhof also says Footprint Coalition can create content to help educate consumers or “normalize the adoption of things that might seem abnormal at first.” Asked if he might star in a video extolling the virtues of insect protein, Downey Jr. said: “I don’t see why not.”

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