Planet-positive venture capital firm At One Ventures closed on its Fund I, aimed at injecting $150 million into startups that are innovating in the technical hardware space and specializing in environmentally positive technology.
The Bay Area firm was started in 2019 by GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi, Laurie Menoud, who co-led venture capital for North American BASF, and Helen Lin, who spent time in Africa providing banking services to low-income populations.
That combination of scientific, financial and deep-tech backgrounds gives them an advantage to be able to evaluate hardware and environmental economics to find companies that are truly making humanity a net positive to nature, Chi told TechCrunch.
Chi had a house in Hawaii and said he watched a nearby coral reef go from every color of the rainbow — full of life — to grey and brown in a matter of months.
At One Ventures team, from left, Laurie Menoud, partner; Tom Chi, managing partner and founder; and Helen Lin, principal. Image Credits: At One Ventures
“We are on a mission to find early-stage startups that are destroying the industries that destroy nature,” he added. “Being witness to one of the most beautiful things dies, someone needed to do something about it, and so I quit my job and went around the world looking at some of the most environmentally destructive and social ills, and it led me to launch my own firm.”
He believes that the most severe carbon emission cuts are unlikely to prevent global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2040. Instead, the answer is beyond stopping emissions to repair the damage and fix problems on a deeper level.
At One Ventures’ investment thesis doesn’t stop at founder, product and company, but looks deeper into the company’s unit economics. Chi explained that a majority of the startups are trying to be planet-positive, but their business model involves asking consumers to pay more money for a product that may only benefit the environment 30% better. Instead, the firm is looking for the companies that can scale a product that, for example, will cost three times less, and be 50% better for the environment.
There is big potential here: Chi is aiming to raise $300 million for its second fund, a milestone he said the firm is well on its way to achieving.
The firm has invested in 21 companies of 30 for its first fund. Ultimately, the firm plans to invest in 100 companies over the next decade. Chi said his team sourced more than 2,600 deals to get to the 21. Some of those include robotic indoor farming company Iron Ox, earth digestible foam packaging company Cruz Foam and zero water textile dyeing company Alchemie Technology.
“We don’t have the time to invest poorly, we only have a decade to get this right,” he added. “Even in a perfect world, our investments will still only represent the 1% of capital going into climate technology, and the other 99% needs to get deployed efficiently as well. We are all limited in the capital and time we have.”