Climate change impacts women and communities of color disproportionately. Over 1.3 billion people in low- and middle-income countries across the globe live below the poverty line, with 70% of those being female.
Increased exposure to heat, poor air quality, flooding and wildfires have been connected to health problems like anemia, malnutrition and pregnancy complications. Research also finds that women and girls are at a higher risk of physical, sexual and domestic violence following climate disasters.
Zoey Dash McKenzie, founding partner at Public Ventures, wants to do something about this and has launched a $100 million impact fund that seeks out nascent life science and clean tech startups, particularly in Canada, that are focused on “improving health equity and supporting climate preparedness for underserved communities.”
“Beyond just being an impact fund, we are really breaking away from conventional structures and venture capital submitted in alignment with the needs of accelerating early-stage science,” Dash McKenzie told TechCrunch. “We’ve decided to employ a waterfall structuring, make assessments on a deal-by-deal basis and then return funds back to our LPs earlier on. We’re accelerating capital velocity at the early stage, when it’s needed most, so we really sit right in the middle of government grants and traditional venture capital.”
She’s not alone: In recent years, impact funds have attracted interest from venture capital firms. Public Ventures joins the likes of Planeteer, Salesforce Ventures, Positive Ventures, and Envisioning Partners recently closing on big and small funds aimed toward positively impacting the world.
Dash McKenzie described working on the fund as coming “full circle.” She studied health and environmental sciences in college and went on to model in New York before joining the entrepreneurial ranks with a communication SaaS platform.
The fund is domiciled in the U.S. but will concentrate mainly on Canada. She explained that Canada benefits from a lot of research funding and has “some of the best hospitals and universities in the world.”
The kind of impact investing Public Ventures intends to do will also “address an issue where Canadians have a bit of a challenge in terms of scaling up the innovation,” Dash McKenzie said.
“We will be very thoughtful in terms of the types of investments that we make as opposed to sprinkling it across various verticals,” she added. “We aim to kind of stack our investments so that they have an amplified impact in the real world. We’re going to come up with a few strategies on how we can pull together a consortium of startups from all over the world to have a meaningful output.”
Meanwhile, Dash McKenzie is at the outset of the process — she says she has some interest, though hasn’t raised money yet; however, she was invited to participate in a government program where they’ve allocated over $50 million for emerging fund managers. She is waiting for confirmation on whether this will be an anchor limited partnership for the fund.
She intends to create a venture studio-like experience for startups. For example, if a female scientist or person of color has a research project that could be a breakthrough, Public Ventures can assemble a roundtable of experts, both in business and in the scientific field, to support them in building up a project that could be commercially viable.
“In some ways, that breaks down the barriers in terms of accessing capital, accelerating their innovation and then also broadening their networks,” Dash McKenzie said. “We’re aiming to do an open call for the fund in the fall so we will be ready to not only identify some really good startups outside of our current pipelines, but to invest before the end of the year.”