Footprint Coalition: Robert Downey Jr’s Venture Firm For Sustainability Tech

Introduction – A Venture Capital Firm For Sustainability

FootPrint Coalition is a venture capital firm that invests in high-growth companies that focus on sustainability. The company also makes charitable grants to non-profit organizations that promote the adoption of environmental technology. In addition, FootPrint Coalition entertains, informs, and mobilizes the public with original and curated content.

Robert Downey Jr. is the driving force behind Footprint Coalition (source: Paul Bird CC 2.0)

For readers who don’t know, a venture capital (VC) firm is a company that provides financial backing to startups in exchange for equity, or an ownership stake, in the business. Therefore, Footprint Coalition is harnessing the start-up world to advance technologies for increasing sustainability. It’s a pretty great thing in our mind to be directing money and capital and people toward sustainability using the same model that brought us new software, hardware, and biotechnology.

History Of Footprint Coalition – The Original 5 Start-Ups

It was in January of 2021 at the famous World Economic Forum’s Digital Davos event when Robert Downey Jr. 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. The fund is said to be managed through AngelList and brings together three ideas: using the power of entertainment and story-telling to attract high-risk high-reward capital to investments for decarbonizing the global economy.

Like other VC firms, Footprint Coalition attracts funding through word-of-mouth and open calls on the AngelList platform. Every quarter it receives commitments from “Limited Partners”. These are people who put a minimum amount into the fund. These moneys are then, through an expert investment team, dispensed to new start-ups.

At the time of inception of the fund, there were already investments into 5 new start-ups. The total amount of money in the fund isn’t known but reports say that the investment amounts from Footprint Coalition total $50,000 to $1,000,000. Likely the start-ups will need Footprint Coalition to be part of a syndicate (a group of investors) if they’re to get out of the seed stage.

1. Cloud Paper – Paper Products

Cloud Paper is a paper products company that uses ultra-renewable bamboo, plastic-free packaging, and carbon-neutral deliveries for products like toilet paper and paper towels. The company’s products are good for the environment because they are made from sustainable materials and are delivered in a way that minimizes the product’s carbon footprint.

2. Aspiration – Banking

Aspiration is a “neobank” that offers cash management services and investment products that are clean, socially conscious, and sustainable. By using Aspiration, consumers can turn their daily saving and spending into climate crisis-fighting power. Aspiration’s online banking services are at the forefront of helping people manage their finances in a way that is both sustainable and responsible.

3. RWDC Industries – Single Use Plastic

RWDC Industries is a biotech company that is developing biovanescent materials. These materials are 100% biodegradable and can be used to replace petroleum-derived plastics in single-use consumer goods. This is good for the environment because it will help to reduce the amount of plastic pollution that is produced each year. Single use items consist of plastic or paper. Even the paper types are often coated with a thin layer of plastic rendering them non-recyclable. Replacing them with a new material that is biodegradable means a closed-cycle, zero carbon process as long as the material is derived from a type of carbon sink source like a plant.

4. Ÿnsect – Insect-Based Protein Sources

Animal protein, especially derived from beef, is one of the most carbon intensive food sources per calorie. Ÿnsect is a company that fits Footprint Coalition’s carbon-reducing start-up criteria, as it produces natural insect protein and fertilizer that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. The company has received B Corp certification, which is given to companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

What is the advantage of insect protein? After all, soy protein has all 9 essential amino acids and likewise is incredibly low carbon compared to beef and chicken. We can think of one compelling reason. In order for soy protein to get to a high protein content state, it needs to undergo a lot of isolation and processing steps. This is due to the natural low protein content state of soy in comparison to meats. In contrast, insect protein starts off high protein and requires less processing. In the end, we haven’t done a carbon accounting of the process for each and can imagine that they balance out so insect protein is a good source of low-carbon protein.

5. Arcadia Earth – Sustainability Story-Telling

Arcadia Earth is an AR/VR entertainment company located in New York: . The company makes highly interactive exhibits that teach visitors about Earth stewardship, sustainability. Billing itself as “story telling” for environmental causes, they are the closest in spirit to Robert Downey Jr’s own background.

New Additions To Footprint Coalition’s Portfolio – 2022

Since then, Footprint Coalition’s portfolio has increased its number of start ups. A number of them have truly intriguing ventures. Nobell Foods, for example, is centered around the idea of making animal-free cheese by making cow milk in plants to carry milk proteins such as casein. This makes sense from a carbon reduction view point because cheese products, as well as other products derived from cows, are highly carbon intensive. Founded by Magi Richani, an engineer, the company emerged from stealth only in July 2022, backed by a syndicate of investors including not only Footprint Coalition but also Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The total raised in the Series B round (a pot of money brought in after an initial “Series A” round) was a very healthy $75 million.

Snapshot of Nobell Food’s website that communicates their aspiration to make animal-free cheese

A Nobell Foods patent that was granted by the USPTO in August of 2022 shows that one of the company’s ideas is to engineer a novel plant that contains within its genome a milk protein gene that has been altered to optimize some property, for example for the secretion of the milk protein from within a plant instead of from within an animal. From there, the milk protein needs to be separated and purified out of the plant.

Presumably the challenge in the future will be to maximize production of the milk protein in the plant (the company specifies that they’re looking for greater than 1% of the plant mass), to develop the tech to cover all milk proteins essential to recreating the taste of milk, and to optimize the extraction of the protein so it goes toward reconstitution of milk. Which plants naturally generate a lot of protein? One might imagine using beans or legumes as these naturally are high protein sources, just not cow proteins for the moment!

A lot of unknowns remain for sure. For example milk contains other ingredients like triglycerides, the mix of which will be figured out to make milk or cheese. For start ups like Nobell, there are different ways to advance up the value chain. They can take this technology all the way to the end and make the product themselves. Or they can sell themselves to a bigger company like Impossible Foods that has the capitalization to carry the innovative new ideas to a consumer friendly product.

In Summary

We love the idea of the venture-backed innovations in sustainability. Footprint Coalition is a cool new effort with a pretty interesting portfolio of NewCos.

Staff Writer
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