A newly launched activist VC firm plans to fund social impact startups around the world. But in the wake of the U.S. election, it also has an additional enticement for progressive American entrepreneurs: if you want to start your business in New Zealand, it will help you move.
Over the next year and a half, Aera VC plans to invest in 15 startups, adding to the six it funded while in stealth mode. And if any of those startups want to relocate to New Zealand, Aera will help them get a Global Impact Visa—a new visa category that brings entrepreneurs to the country who are working on "transformative solutions for humanity's most pressing economic, social, and environmental issues."
"Given what's happened this week, I think a lot of people might be seriously considering alternatives," says cofounder Derek Handley—who is originally from New Zealand himself, but now lives in Brooklyn.
New Zealand, at the same time, wants to help build a bigger entrepreneurial ecosystem. "We want to be a country where you have a stream of entrepreneurs building socially or environmentally powerful businesses," Handley says.
All of the companies that Aera funds—whether in New Zealand or elsewhere—have to have a social mission as a core reason for existence, and have to commit to measuring the impact they have. The other requirements are more traditional: the firm is looking for startups with a large potential market, disruptive technology, and impressive teams.
While a handful of other social impact VC firms exist, Handley saw a need for more. "My passion is: how do you get more and more founders to build companies to solve social issues and environmental ones," he says. "I think we need thousands more of them, and I think on the funding side, there really needs to be a lot more early stage funding available to support those entrepreneurs." There's a particular gap, he says, in VC funding for social impact businesses in places like Australia and Southeast Asia.
While in stealth mode over the last 15 months, the firm invested in social enterprises such as News Deeply, a series of sites that provides authoritative coverage on crises like Ebola or the war in Syria, and Maths Pathway, an Australian startup that helps students learn math two to three times as fast as they would with a typical textbook. Most of the startups are focused on digital technology.
Aero doesn't yet know how many entrepreneurs will take it up on the offer to relocate, though people may be more motivated to move after this election than in the past.
"I think, from the little time we've had to absorb it, there's probably enough people who are upset and angry enough to really consider what otherwise might be a flippant comment," Handley says.
And even though social impact entrepreneurs are clearly needed in the U.S. as well, he doesn't think it's unreasonable for some Americans to want some distance.
"In a sense, you need more of those kinds of really empathetic and caring people to really double down on their efforts," he says. "That's kind of one end of the story. But the other end of the story is equally valid, which is this could be tough, it's not what I want, and I want to be somewhere else while this is taking place."