Kiwi Derek Handley backs 'social' start-ups

By Hamish Fletcher

Derek Handley says it is a ground-breaking time to be building socially oriented start-ups. Photo / Supplied
Derek Handley says it is a ground-breaking time to be building socially oriented start-ups. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand entrepreneur Derek Handley has launched a venture capital network to invest in start-up businesses trying to tackle social problems.

US-based Handley overnight announced Aera VC, which he describes as a collection of "progressive families" from around the world looking for "venture capital style financial returns" from companies aiming to solve social or environmental issues.

Aera VC, whose founders also include Auckland's Nick Winstone and Hong Kong's Keenan Kwok, has already invested in six start-ups, including local business Eat My Lunch.

That enterprise, set up by Lisa King and chef Michael Meredith, is a lunch delivery service that donates a meal to a hungry child for every one a consumer buys.

Other businesses in Aera VC's portfolio include Melbourne's Maths Pathway, whose software allows children in the same classroom to learn maths at different speeds and direct the teacher's attention to those who need the most help.

All start-ups getting funding from Aera VC must sign up to a "social term sheet" as well as the more traditional finance agreements.

That social sheet requires the company to define the venture's "social mission" and specify how they will measure its success. It also includes a "pay it forward" clause that requires a business founder to commit part of the profits to community causes.

Handley, however, said the start-ups won't be able to compromise on the returns they offer investors.

"In-and-of-themselves the businesses are very compelling, become venture-backed and grow quickly," he said.

An investment in a socially-orientated business requires making the same assessments as a purely for-profit venture.

"There's no formula to investing in early-stage companies, whether they have a social mission or not," Handley said. "You have to look at all the factors: 'is this compelling? Is it different enough? Is the team going to be good enough? Is the market going to be big enough?'."

He said Aera VC was planning to fund another 10 to 15 start-ups in the next two years, typically investing between US$100,000 (NZ$137,000) and US$500,000 in each of them.

Aera VC would be a "patient" investor and could also provide further money to business during additional funding rounds.

The fund involves around 15 families and Handley is aiming to grow that number to 25.

"It is a ground-breaking time to be building socially oriented start-ups," Handley said.

"More entrepreneurs and investors are united by the belief that purpose and profit are inextricably linked and will propel each other forward. Venture start-ups aspiring to be the best for the world - not just the best in the world - have the potential to transform our responses to significant issues facing us today."

Asked about the prospect of some of the start-ups failing, Handley said it was better that "creative, innovative entrepreneurial people had a crack at these problems than not".

"We want to build an ecosystem and community to support them."

- NZME.

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