With the amount of sustainability related startups growing at a staggering CAGR 27.8%, we have seen a whole subvertical of VC funds specialising in sustainable investments arising. One such VC is Zinc VC, which has developed a philosophy, portfolio and team driven by the goal of bettering our world in a sustainable way.
Written by: Tanay Sonwane, Varshith Uppalapati, Jonathan Ouyang and Jasper Wigley
CORE INVESTMENT PHILOSOPHY
Zinc VC is a stalwart in the investment realm, rooted in a core philosophy dedicated to promoting both human health and the well-being of our planet. Their investment strategies intricately align with these guiding principles, reflecting a commitment to a holistic approach.
Prioritising Human Health:
Zinc VC's dedication to human health spans a broad spectrum. They passionately support initiatives addressing various stages of life, from childhood health to managing chronic conditions in later years. The focus extends to the well-being of the adult brain, immune and digestive health, reproductive health, and particularly, women’s health. Moreover, their drive to foster new healthcare models and innovations in health technologies sets the stage for transformative change within the sector.
A testament to this philosophy is their support of Vira Health, a prime example of their values in action. Vira Health's mission to democratise high-quality personalised menopause care resonates deeply with Zinc's ethos. Through their app-based lifestyle support and personalised app, Stella, Vira Health effectively aids in managing menopausal symptoms, aligning seamlessly with Zinc's commitment to enhancing mental and physical well-being.
Fostering Planetary Health:
Zinc VC’s commitment extends beyond human well-being to the welfare of the planet. Their investment priorities emphasise initiatives such as biomaterials, biodiversity, regeneration, and nature-based solutions. They also prioritise technologies related to environmental sustainability, including heating and cooling innovations, decarbonization strategies, critical minerals, and combating pollutants. Their focus on environmental enabling technologies reflects a comprehensive approach towards a sustainable future.
An exemplary instance of their commitment to planetary health is showcased through Sterling Biomachines. This early-stage biotechnology startup, born from Zinc’s Venture Builder, endeavours to revolutionise biomanufacturing processes with a novel bioreactor system. The co-founders’ passion for driving positive environmental impact at scale aligns perfectly with Zinc's philosophy. Their innovative approach promises to enable the creation of entirely new products while positively impacting the environment.
Zinc Venture Capital boasts an expensive portfolio of companies with four overarching themes: environment, globalisation & automation, later life, and mental health. In this section, we shall take you on a journey, looking at one company across each of the four verticals. Let us start with the environment vertical.
Environment - Sterling Bio Machines
Sterling Bio Machine is the youngest company outlined in this section, founded fresh in 2023. The company is currently still in its building-up stage, but showcases an exciting future ahead. Sterling Bio Machines aims to be developers of bioreactors (where cells are grown and biological products are cultivated) for biomanufacturing processes (essentially, the use of biological systems such as microorganisms to produce commercially important biomaterials such as medicine, materials, food, and more).
The founders Akshaya Ahuja and Steve Goldenberg, are currently utilising their respective engineering and entrepreneurship expertise to develop a novel bioreactor system that is able to combine hardware and software that will enable the commercial manufacturing of synthetic biology products. Or, in human-speak, they are currently making a new type of advanced container that integrates high-level computer programming to grow engineered biological products in large quantities for sale.
Globalisation & Automation - Etiq AI
While validating test data pipelines and models, data scientists and engineers often experience difficulties, whether that be having to spend tedious hours monitoring and investigating issues or simply running into a brick wall when trying to validate data. Etiq aims to solve this problem by providing a platform to enable companies to test data quality, monitor prediction issues, and minimise unintended biases that might affect the outcome of their algorithms.
The startup was founded in 2019 by Iris Anson who came from a consulting background. Anson has a decade of experience working around business functions. When she joined the Zinc VC programme, she was connected with a data scientist, Raluca Crisan, who later became her co-founder for Etiq AI.
Later Life - eargym
Founded in 2020, eargym is a digital hearing fitness platform that offers hearing training games designed to improve hearing skills. With this, the firm aims to minimise the effects of age-related hearing loss (ARHL) on people’s social and cognitive wellbeing. Their main objective is thus to delay the process of hearing loss and help people lead high quality lives, with robust hearing as a foundation. The start-up offers this service through an app designed for iPhone and Android.
eargym was founded by Amanda Philpott, an ex-NHS CEO and population health strategy specialist, and Andy Shanks, an ex-DJ, both of whom are living with hearing loss, and are thus inspired to help people “live well for longer”. With Philpott and Shank’s collective experience of over 28 years of senior management experience in the NHS, and expertise across manufacturing, marketing and digital production, eargym should expect great things on the horizon.
Mental Health - Prorizon
Prorizon was founded in 2022 by Joly Fengyang Zou, an international professional who is a veteran in marketing. This startup is a healthtech firm that aims to empower young individuals who work in high-pressure and high-performance environments to optimise their lifelong health by utilising their mind and body digital-twin platform. In April 2023, Prorizon launched their new beta app, collaborating with athletes in the UK, EU, and USA. They have also launched a pilot with the British Judo Association, who is using the app to understand the factors that drive their overall performance.
At the heart of Zinc Venture Capital lies a dynamic and accomplished team, each member contributing a unique set of skills and experiences that form the backbone of the firm's success.
Guiding the ship is Co-founder and CEO Paul Kirby, whose extensive career includes a tenure as a partner at KPMG and leadership in public services and government globally. With a background that spans the Number 10 Policy Unit, media, education, transport, and urban regeneration, Paul's multifaceted expertise positions him as a strategic visionary steering Zinc VC towards impactful investments.
Joining Paul in steering the ship is Co-founder and General Manager, Ella Goldner. A former Strategy Director at IPG Mediabrands, Ella's journey from an engineer in Tel Aviv's hi-tech aerospace industry to a consultant for tech firms showcases her adaptability and strategic mindset. Her role as Co-founder of NewCo UK underlines her commitment to bridging the gap between large corporates and innovative startups, a synergy that aligns seamlessly with Zinc VC's investment philosophy.
The team's scientific prowess is exemplified by Chief Scientist Rachel Carey, whose background as an Associate Consultant for UCL's Centre for Behaviour Change and former Senior Behaviour Change Research Advisor at Bupa brings a unique perspective to the intersection of technology and human behavior. Rachel's role in embedding social science research in tech-enabled businesses aligns with Zinc VC's commitment to understanding and leveraging human dynamics in the technological landscape.
Saul Klein, a Co-founder and partner at LocalGlobe, contributes a wealth of venture capital experience to the team. His previous roles as a partner at Index Ventures and co-founder of Seedcamp, Europe's pioneering tech accelerator, showcase his ability to identify and nurture early-stage tech companies. Saul's involvement in successful businesses like Lovefilm, MOO, and Kano underlines his track record in shaping the trajectory of emerging ventures.
Venture Partner Baiqu Gonkar and Managing Director Natalie Pankova bring a deep understanding of deeptech ventures and healthcare, respectively, to Zinc VC. Baiqu's passion for healthtech and social impact, demonstrated through ventures like Art Represent, adds a socially conscious dimension to the team. Natalie's ~15 years of healthcare experience, ranging from a PhD in medical science to venture building and advising organisations like WHO and the European Innovation Council, enriches Zinc VC's expertise in the rapidly evolving healthcare landscape.
Programme Director Julia Ross, a cornerstone member since Zinc's inception, lends her experience in setting up and scaling startups in market research and building design. Her passion for high-impact social innovation resonates with Zinc VC's mission, contributing to the firm's efforts in fostering meaningful and impactful ventures.
Collectively, the team at Zinc VC embodies a commitment to innovation, impact, and strategic foresight. Their diverse backgrounds and complementary skill sets position the firm as a leader in navigating the dynamic landscape of venture capital, driving positive change and fostering the growth of ground-breaking start-ups.
Zinc VC looks really promising, and goes to show us that firms with this level of specialisation are in great popularity, and are in their own right succeeding in meeting their objectives. It will be interesting to see how specialised they get, with firms tackling even more specific verticals. Ultimately this is an area to keep an eye out for, and if you are a founder within the sustainability industry, a great opportunity to match yourself with the best possible VC.