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Finance & Investment
5 Retail Giants Partner on VC to Scale Sustainable Innovation

W23 Global is the first retailer-led venture fund to seek entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures offering solutions to a range of common sustainability challenges.

This week, five of the world’s leading grocery retailers came together to launch W23 Global: a $125 million, collaborative grocery VC fund that will seek to invest in innovative startups and scale-up enterprises that deploy technology to enhance customer experiences both in store and online, increase productivity across the grocery value chain, and address the sector’s sustainability challenges — looking at everything from biodiversity in agriculture to sustainable packaging.

Each of the five retailers — Tesco (UK, ROI, Central Europe), Ahold Delhaize (US, Europe, Indonesia), Woolworths Group (Australia, New Zealand), Empire Company Limited/Sobeys Inc (Canada) and Shoprite (Africa) — is an equal funder and partner in W23 Global, while their CEOs will sit on the investment committee.

W23 Global complements its partners’ continuing direct innovation and investment strategies. The fund’s portfolio companies will be free to contract with any customer, whether a W23 Global partner or otherwise, on whatever terms they decide.

“W23 Global is a pioneering international VC fund with a uniquely powerful proposition for both our investors and portfolio companies,” says CEO and Chief Investment Officer Ingrid Maes, who has led the Woolworths-founded corporate VC fund W23 Australia since 2019. “At a time when innovation is reshaping retail and value chains across the economy, we aim to offer our investors incomparable access to transformative innovation in grocery and sustainability across the globe.

“W23 Global will also work with its investors to identify common unaddressed challenges and identify entrepreneurs best placed to innovate new solutions," Maes added. "Our ambition is to offer our portfolio companies faster pathways to global scale, without being exposed to a venture fund anchored by a single strategic investor. With five of the world’s leading grocery CEOs sitting on our investment committee and access to our broader ecosystem, our founders can test and develop their ideas quickly based on an accelerated understanding of retailers’ needs.”

While retailers have been known to collaborate to drive sustainability, it’s usually centered on addressing a particular issue — such as eliminating single-use plastic bags or addressing scope 3 emissions. W23 Global is the first retailer-led VC to seek early-stage ventures offering solutions to a range of common sustainability challenges, such as those using technology to:

In addition to investing in early-stage businesses, W23 Global will seek out entrepreneurs to solve problems that are not currently being adequately addressed.

“We are excited to be collaborating with four other leading grocery retailers in this new investment fund,” said Tesco Group CEO Ken Murphy. “We are passionate about seeking out the best retail innovations and finding ways to make everything we do sustainable, and this partnership allows us to do that on a truly global scale.”