UNEA launches new €100m evergreen climate tech fund

Fabian and Ferry Heilemann, millionaire entrepreneurial brothers, experienced a kind of green awakening.

“A few years ago, we realized we were really in trouble, and the tech ecosystem hasn’t figured that out yet,” says Fabian.

They started with nonprofit investing, then pivoted their family office, now called Pirate Impact, to focus solely on impact investing.

And today they are announcing that Pirate Impact is evolving into a permanent impact tech fund with €85 million to invest in companies that are solving the climate crisis and advancing social equality. By 2026, they aim to increase this fund to 500 million euros.

This is far from the only impact or climate technology fund out there – and it’s certainly not the biggest yet – but its evergreen structure sets it apart. This means the fund can support climate bets from seed to IPO and beyond, which is particularly important given that many climate innovations will likely take years or even decades to develop and unfold fully.

“That’s our USP – if your business does well, we’ll be with you for 15, 20 years,” says Fabian. Most standard funds will have to return money to their investors, the LPs, sooner than that.

The brothers built several businesses between them; most recently, Ferry was co-founder and CEO of Berlin-based logistics unicorn Forto, while Fabian was a partner at German VC Earlybird.

Check sizes and areas of interest

The fund will be called AENU because, according to Sifted, it wants to usher in “a new era of impact venture capital“. It will invest at all stages, with initial checks ranging from €500,000 to €5 million in EU and US-based startups. It will aim to make eight to ten new investments per year.

The team is particularly interested in five main areas:

  • Energy (production, storage, distribution of energy);
  • Carbon removal (carbon capture, carbon sequestration, carbon recycling);
  • Food (alternative proteins, fermentation, vegetable and cell food);
  • Enterprise (enabling software like carbon accounting; mobility; materials);
  • Education and empowerment.

In Europe, the portfolio already includes vertical agricultural startup Infarm and Labster, a Danish virtual reality education start-up.

“That’s our USP – if your business does well, we’ll be with you for 15, 20 years”

The team is looking for technologies that have the potential to avoid or remove 100 metric tons of CO2 emissions, at scale, or dramatically improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Right now, alternative protein startups are Melina Sánchez’s top priority, director and vice president of impact, because they are the “biggest lever to reduce emissions in the food sector.” She wants to see “companies that can really make meat lovers fall in love with alternatives – we want to increase the number of flexitarians”.

Heilemann wants to see more alternative biofuels for trucking, shipping and aviation and carbon removal technology at a competitive cost.

Environmental assessments

They also track the portfolio’s impact on increasing biodiversity and improving water use.

They will assess this, Sánchez says, through industry research and projections based on a startup’s operational data. Sometimes the team will also use lifecycle assessments, either proxies or those done by startups, although they are not as applicable to software companies.

Some startups that might seem rather “green” to others will not fit the UNEA thesis. “We will exclude all startups from the animal value chain, says Sánchez; for example companies that contribute to reducing the methane produced by dairy cows.

Other startups that UNEA is unlikely to support include micromobility operators. “It is an area that is very hot from an investment perspective, in the climate, where the impact is not as high as in other areas that remain underinvested,” he adds. she.

The evergreen structure

So far, UNEA funds have been raised from a (particularly wealthy) group of “family and friends”, including Tier founder Lawrence Leuschner, Skype founder Niklas Zennström and several family offices Germans. The Heilemann brothers have also committed a “substantial portion of their net worth” to the fund. At the start of the school year, the team plans to approach institutional investors to raise more capital, and to now organize two to four closings per year.

“It’s still not proven,” says Fabian, on whether they’ll like the evergreen model – although he says he’s spoken to partners at some of Europe’s biggest funds and some of the family offices the most “sophisticated” about the plan and they didn’t make him laugh.

“We want to drive systemic change, make it big and make a meaningful contribution”

“The evergreen structure brings many benefits to a fund’s LPs – just look at Sequoia’s move [the US VC switched to an evergreen fund structure last year]. There is still a lot of value to be captured in the three, five or eight years following the IPO.

He doesn’t expect the VC scene to switch to a triple bottomline focus overnight, but he’s confident it will happen. “Someone has to take the first step.”

The team

The Heilemann brothers have so far hired two other members of the investment team: Sánchez and another partner, Siobhan Brewster, who was previously a partner at Berlin firm Amplifier. They plan to add two more partners by the end of the year.

They are also building a network of scientific experts to advise the portfolio, especially the 20-30% of their investments that tick the deeptech box. They are big brains on topics like wind power, solar and energy storage, and include names like Professor Dr Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research , and Dr. Beate Heraeus, economist. Advisors are not paid and are not worn; instead, they have access to the UNEA network and the opportunity to invest alongside the fund.

And Sánchez expands the impact team. AENU is currently recruiting an Impact Associate to carry out an internal life cycle analysis, and they will likely be joined by another researcher by the end of the year.

“We want to drive systemic change, turn this into a big operation and make a meaningful contribution here,” says Fabian. Now he just needs to see if institutional investors bite.

Amy Lewin is editor-in-chief of Sifted and co-host of The subdued podcast. She tweets from @amyrlewin

About Dwaine Pinson

Check Also

Venture Capital signs a €35 million investment agreement with 2 fund managers to support SMEs

The Venture Capital Trust Fund (VCTF) has reached an agreement with two fund managers, Mirepa …