(Updated February 10, 2022) | Black celebrities like Lewis Hamilton and Jay-Z are increasingly backing plant-based food companies, using their fame and financial power to fuel a sea of change in the way we eat. These celebrities’ very visible investments tell a story of the struggle against institutional racism in finance, as well as forecasting a dynamic future of Black impact investing.
Black individuals have long been underrepresented in finance. These obstacles include existing racial wealth gaps, a lack of access to banking services and loans, discrimination within the insurance industry, among others. These disparities, unsurprisingly, extend to the investing and venture capital (VC) world.
According to Federal Reserve data, only 33.5 percent of Black American households held stock in 2019, compared to 60.8 percent of white families. Black founders received only 1.2 percent of the $147 billion invested in American startups during the first half of 2021. Due to discrimination, these entrepreneurs face hurdles obtaining business loans, which has contributed to an economic loss of $16 trillion since 2000, according to a Citigroup study. When it comes to VC, only 5 percent of wealth management professionals are Black.
But the tide is turning. In 2020, more young Black investors reported engaging in the stock market compared to white individuals. More Black founders are starting investment firms, unlocking opportunities for people who have historically been left out of the mainstream conversation to engage in VC.
Some individuals are also taking action, such as Aisha “Pinky” Cole, the founder of Slutty Vegan, a plant-based fast food chain that began as a food truck. Cole opened the first brick-and-mortar in Atlanta in 2019 and last year, she opened her fourth Slutty Vegan location.
But, running a successful food business isn’t enough for the Baltimore native: she’s using her success to uplift others. Through the Pinky Cole Foundation, she helped pay tuition fees for college students and rent for struggling small local businesses. Most recently, she’s partnered with online banking service Varo Bank to offer financial support and literacy to Atlanta entrepreneurs. “I built my business from scratch and know firsthand that everyone deserves the opportunity to make their money work for them, regardless of their history or income level,” said Cole.
Given the rise of the celebrity investor, it follows that Black musicians, athletes, and multi-hyphenates are also participating in VC—and plenty have taken notice of the fast-growing plant-based food market, which is predicted to reach a value of $162 billion by 2030, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report. Tennis pro Serena Williams founded her VC firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014 and has invested in Impossible Foods and Daily Harvest, among other companies. Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am has invested in a number of tech startups as well as Impossible Foods. Read on to learn more about some of the biggest investments in the space so far.
Lewis Hamilton and Questlove
Seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and prolific musical artist and author Questlove are both no strangers to the investment space. Hamilton is a backer of the vegan fast food chain Neat Burger, while Questlove, whose real name Ahmir Khalib Thompson, is a two-time Impossible Foods investor. In July 2021, the pair both helped Chilean food-tech startup NotCo raise $235 million in order to expand its range of plant-based products developed using AI software.
Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, has one helluva track record when it comes to investing in plant-based brands through the VC fund, Marcy Venture Partners, which he co-founded in 2019. The award-winning rapper and former CEO of Def Jam Recordings has put money into a wide range of products like plant-based chicken, oat milk, nut cheese, and even gluten-free cookies. And these are only his investments in food. Jay-Z has even backed Rihanna’s lingerie line, Savage X Fenty. Learn more about his portfolio above.
During the height of COVID-19 in 2020, Beyoncé and the NAACP partnered on The Black-Owned Small Business Impact Fund to raise money for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Together, they supported 715 small businesses, including the South Carolina-based vegan meal prep service Herban-Eats and plant-based bakery, The Pink Bakery, in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s not VC, but the Grammy Award-winning artist’s investment in small businesses is admirable.
Naomi Osaka and Cam Newton
Plant-based chicken is one of the fastest-growing categories in the alternative protein space—and that’s something that celebs appear to understand. In October 2021, tennis pro and KINLÒ founder Naomi Osaka, along with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, both invested in Daring, a vegan chicken brand based in Los Angeles.
In early 2021, Grammy Award-winner and billionaire beauty founder Rihanna invested in Partake, a Black woman-owned allergen-friendly vegan cookie brand—her first investment beyond personal ventures. At the time of the $4.8 million series A fundraising announcement, Partake founder Denise Woodard said that more than half of her brand’s funding has come from Black investors. Other investors include Jay-Z (through Marcy Ventures), Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, former Sacramento, California mayor and retired basketball player Kevin Johnson, and Grammy Award-winning rapper H.E.R.
Speaking of star athletes and plant-based chicken… British footballer Dele Alli, who plays as a midfielder for Everton F.C., invested in Singapore-based vegan chicken brand Tindle last year. The brand’s meat-free chicken is already available across Hong Kong—including at two-Michelin Star restaurant Bo Innovation–and with a total of $30 million in funding, the brand is looking to expand into the U.S.
More vegan chicken investments? Yep. Before Naomi Osaka and Cam Newton invested in Daring, the LA-based brand nabbed cash from Grammy Award-winning rapper and former Degrassi: The Next Generation star Drake. The rapper joined a $40 million Series B round of funding for the company.
In July 2020, entertainment mogul Oprah helped Swedish oat milk brand Oatly raise $200 million, alongside Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and others. This wasn’t the influential philanthropist’s first investment in the food space. Earlier in 2020 she invested in Apeel Sciences, a tech company that developed a coating to extend the shelf life of produce, like avocados. She also made a big equity investment in the vegan-friendly restaurant chain, True Food Kitchen, in 2018 and joined its board of directors.
Calvin Broadus, best known as Snoop Dogg, is an experienced investor. First off, he’s the co-founder of Casa Verde, a VC that’s focused entirely on the cannabis industry. But he’s also contributed to a number of fundraising rounds, including for vegan pork rinds brand Outstanding Foods as well as vegan-friendly organic baby food brand Yumi.
Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul has made a number of investments, including in the food space. In 2021, he invested in the plant-based nutritional shake brand Koia, as well as the indoor vertical farming startup Bowery Farming, which also counts Lewis Hamilton (as well as Natalie Portman and chef José Andrés) among its supporters. The North Carolina native is also a supporter of Pinky Cole; in honor of Juneteenth last year, he paid for plant-based burgers and fries for customers at all Slutty Vegan locations.