A pair of British entrepreneurs have tapped John Browne, the former group chief executive officer of oil giant BP Plc, and David Miliband, the U.K.’s foreign secretary from from 2007 to 2010, for roles in a venture capital firm that’s formally launching.
The firm, Giant Ventures, is committed to investing in technology startups addressing crises ranging from climate change to financial inclusion to affordable health care. It invested $25 million in more than a dozen enterprises prior to the launch. Its two co-founders, Tommy Stadlen and Cameron McLain, said they plan to raise and invest $1 billion via multiple funds over the next decade.
“Governments have shown an inability to solve critical societal and environmental problems, and it’s hard for big corporations to do anything other than window-dressing,” said Stadlen, the co-founder of Swing Technologies, a digital imaging startup that was sold to Microsoft in 2017. “We believe new ventures aiming to solve these problems are going to rapidly scale up.”
As members of Giant Ventures’s advisory board, Browne and Miliband will draw on their expertise and networks of contacts to identify investment opportunities and support companies in the portfolio. After leaving BP in 2007, Browne was a managing partner at Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm that invested in energy companies. Miliband is the president of the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps victims of humanitarian crises.
Stadlen and McLain, a former principal with Hummingbird Ventures in London, have recruited a number of other luminaries as well. They include David Helgason, the co-founder and board member of Unity Software Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that went public on Sept. 17; Alice Steenland, the chief sustainability officer of French technology company Dassault Systemes SA; and Tensie Whelan, the director of New York University’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business and the former president of the Rainforest Alliance.
Pierre Denis, the former CEO of luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo Ltd., is a venture partner in the new firm.
Giant Ventures is setting up shop at a time when “purpose-driven” investing is surging in popularity among the wealthy and institutions. BlackRock Inc. CEO Larry Fink’s announcement in January that the world’s biggest asset manager would strive to align investment with combating climate change capped a long developing shift in priorities on Wall Street. Billions of dollars are flowing through so-called ESG investment strategies that filter out companies with poor records on the environment, social issues and corporate governance.
With scores of private equity firms searching for socially responsible investments, Giant Ventures will have plenty of competition in unearthing winners. Yet McLain and Stadlen are betting that the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the urgency of overcoming global challenges, and that a new generation of entrepreneurs is answering the call. To find them, they have built a proprietary database that tracks tens of thousands of fast-growing startups in the areas it wants to invest in.
So far, Giant Ventures has backed Sesame, a U.S. startup that helps uninsured consumers find affordable health care; Mighty Buildings, an enterprise that uses 3D printing to produce inexpensive housing; and Calm, which makes a sleep and mental wellness app.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.