Co-written with Anouk Banlier.
US$ 19 billion was allocated to impact startups and scaleups in 2020 — a number that’s grown threefold in the last five years¹. Yet access to capital is still one of the biggest pain points for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. There are multiple reasons for this:
- VCs’ deal flow is still overwhelmingly network-based, making it difficult for under-represented entrepreneurs and first-time founders to meet investors.
- Some generalist investors are risk-averse and tend not to invest at the early stages of purpose-driven ventures, before a business model has been proven.
- There are not enough resources to cut through the noise of thousands of potential investors and find relevant (impact) VCs. A search for impact investors on databases like Pitchbook or Crunchbase returns thousands of investors, most of which are large generalists investing at the later stage, who have a handful of purpose-driven companies in their portfolio but are not the early-stage impact-driven VCs which would be most relevant to entrepreneurs when they are first starting out. On the other hand, the top-impact-VCs lists will often focus on investors with broader mandates, and overlook the niche VCs — investing only in oceantech or new materials for example — which may add a lot of value if you happen to be in this field.
While we won’t be changing the venture world today, we will chip away at this last hurdle. Firstly, we break down the process of finding relevant VC investors² in the same way we suggest to our founders at Antler (Antler Team). Secondly, we provide more clarity on the impact VC landscape, with a list of the investors most active in the impact space by sector, investment stage and geography³.
We focus on VC investors in this article, but before kicking off this process it’s always better to have one or more strategic angels committed as it shows some market validation and will give confidence to other investors who may not be subject-matter insiders.
Looking for VCs
Step 1: Create a target list
On databases like Crunchbase (paid, $29 a month) or on our impact investors’ list, filter for investors based on your company’s sector, stage and geography.
This will be your long list and shouldn’t include more than 50 investors.
For example, let’s imagine we are looking for relevant investors for Equality Check, an inclusion-tech platform operating in Europe, which is early-stage so would be looking for seed investors.
Step 2: Research to narrow down your hitlist
You’ll then research in-depth this long list of investors, to identify the ones that are most likely to be relevant and fit your values.
To narrow down your search you can use Crunchbase, Dealroom or the investor’s website. What you’re looking for is:
- The type of investor — ESG and financial performance expectations, exit timelines or the ability of the fund to follow-on in your next round may vary depending on whether you are engaging a corporate VC, government-backed fund, a generalist VC⁴ or an impact-driven VC. Here you may also consider whether the investors are strategic, to the sector you are targeting or your expansion plans, for example.
- The reputation of the investor — peer-review tools like Landscape Ventures may be useful here. NB. As you progress into serious discussions later down the line, it is wise to get feedback from one or two of their current portfolio companies.
- The preferences, mandate and activity of the investors — to get a better understanding of this, look into their portfolio. It’s important to check that they haven’t invested in a competing company — if that’s the case they won’t be able to back you — but it’s great to see that they have invested in companies with a similar model or in an adjacent space.
Reach out only to these investors, because it will save time, but also because getting several predictable rejections early on may hurt your reputation with other investors that might have been a better fit (yes, they talk!), as well as your confidence!
Step 3: Prioritise and tier
This research may narrow down the hit list to about 30–40 investors and will help to “tier” them in outreach waves. You can prioritise your hit list into tiers or waves of about ten investors, from least relevant (and least preferred) in the first wave to most relevant and preferred in the last, once you’ve had the most feedback. If you start getting lots of interest and term sheet offers early, then you can change your plan and reach out to your top five earlier.
Don’t start with the top 5 investors you would die to have onboard! We see this happen too often, and it results in lost confidence and burnt leads. Prioritising your investors in waves is important because it creates opportunities to iterate and refine your pitch and your story every time you get feedback — or rejections — preparing better for common questions or addressing a recurring point of concern up front, for example. Ultimately, it allows you to be in a much better position to engage with your top five favourite investors.
Step 4: Keep track!
Make sure this hit list is captured and kept up to date in a (free) CRM — Hubspot, Pipedrive, Airtable or similar — since diligence in outreach and follow-ups will be key.
Navigating potential investors for your mission-driven company can be overwhelming, with database searches yielding thousands of results. This is why we created this map, which lists 300 of the most active and relevant impact VCs globally.
A few notes for optimal use:
- Sectors — you can read more on how we define impact sectors, in our previous article.
- Investment Geo — when searching by investment geography, remember to add the country, the region and the global tag for a complete view of potential investors.
Netherlands, Europe, Global — for a company based in Amsterdam
Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa, Africa, Global — for a company based in Nairobi
- Impact-angle — we identify as generalists funds that are not purpose-driven but are frequent co-investors and invest in fields that are often associated with impact, such as health and foodtech. Impact-driven VCs are funds for whom positive impact metrics are core investment criteria.
If you spot any mistakes please reach out, if you find investors that are not yet on this list, add them here!
¹ Dealroom, Impact & Innovation Platform Launch Report.
In 2016, US$6.2 billion was allocated to impact entrepreneurs.
³ Although we’ll be focusing on VC investors here, angels or government-backed funding may be more accessible depending on your stage and model.
⁴ If you are looking for non-impact VCs, The TechCrunch List is a great resource.