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Finance & Investment
FootPrint Coalition:
Propelling Climate Tech to Create a World of ‘Radical Abundance’

Robert Downey Jr's FootPrint Coalition is taking a three-pronged approach to boosting environmental science and technology — including a science engine that funds non-traditional innovators, a VC fund for scaling promising solutions, and a media platform that amplifies the innovations.

Driven by a deep personal concern for the rate at which climate impacts were accelerating and feeling "pissed off" that humanity wasn't scaling solutions fast enough, actor Robert Downey Jr decided to take action. In 2019, he founded FootPrint Coalition — an investment firm funding bold scientific research and improving access to science funding for non-traditional innovators; followed in 2021 by FootPrint Ventures — a coalition of investors and institutions identifying and funding solutions to some of the world's gnarliest sustainability challenges.

As the company describes in its 2023 impact report, it has centered its work around three levers “to modernize existing industries and create entirely new ones”: media advocacy, venture capital investment, and nonprofit initiatives funding basic science and environmental justice.

The non-profit ‘science engine’

FootPrint’s non-profit arm — what the team colloquially calls its "science engine," led by co-founder and Managing Director Rachel Kropa — serves as a platform for developing and showcasing novel environmental technology ideas, and funding groundbreaking research from non-traditional and outlier researchers.

"In the past, so much breakthrough innovation has happened outside of the mainstream of science — by people who were often not recognized for their contributions during their lifetimes, or by their peers," Kropa told Sustainable Brands®. "It's often only looking back that we recognize the forward-thinking nature of their work. Our goal is to find these folks earlier and give them support and recognition, while helping to accelerate and elevate their work into scalable applications that can solve pressing global challenges."

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Kropa and her team offer fast grants to non-traditional innovators for the purpose of testing ideas and iterating fast to assess scalability. If accepted, FootPrint funds 50 percent of the proposal immediately and helps to raise the next 50 percent through crowdfunding — which allows the research to gain a public profile and enables funders to participate.

Categories for funding by FootPrint’s science engine to date include conservation biotech, mycological innovations, metascience, environmental justice, indigenous futures, cellular agriculture and negative-emissions technologies. To date, the coalition has funded 44 projects in those areas; in 2022, FootPrint’s fast-grant model won it Breakthrough of the Year in Science and Innovation Management from international science platform Falling Walls.

As Kropa explained at the 2022 Falling Walls Science Summit, the model does several unique things: It breaks up network effects and encourages high-risk/high-reward ideas; it encourages transparency for the average person to trust the scientific process and encourages journalists to mine stories from the results; and it creates opportunities for future leaders who might not otherwise have had a shot — particularly, women and people of color.

"We hope this will have a far-reaching impact across many industries, globally," Kropa told SB.

Venture capital

FootPrint’s VC arm, FootPrint Ventures, was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2021 and invests across a wide variety of environmental tech solution spaces. The fund pools money from other investors and high-net-worth individuals, and has invested in 26 companies working in climate mitigation across the categories of food and agriculture, energy, transportation, home & buildings, industry, carbon removal, climate change adaptation, and waste.

One notable investment is in Commonwealth Fusion Systems — a company building “a real ARC fusion reactor” not unlike the tech in Downey’s character’s robotic suit in the Iron Man and Avengers movies. Commonwealth fusion is, according to the website, “bottling the power of the stars to generate emission-free electricity on Earth” by 2030.

Amplifying impact through storytelling

Along with its strategic investments in potentially game-changing climate tech, FootPrint is also developing a media engine that will amplify these innovations and educate the general public on the constant stream of developments emerging in the space — which includes a media and publishing arm run by TechCrunch and Wall Street Journal veteran Jon Shieber.

“We try to lead with new media and storytelling that helps people see that a better, more abundant future is possible,” Shieber told SB.

As the Coalition explains in its Impact Report, through its multiplatform media advocacy it “celebrates and advocates for the emerging climate tech ecosystem writ large … emphasizing the solutions that are coming to market and creating a community that can actively embrace them.

“Most of the news about amazing innovations coming from startups and large corporations ends up inaccessible to audiences — either behind corporate media paywalls or picked up piecemeal as a smaller item often buried amid other stories of the day. We believe that the response to climate change is the major story of our age, and it deserves a dedicated platform where the successes the world is achieving can be celebrated. ... From corporate decision makers and policymakers to everyday consumers, we aim to engage millions of people with stories about the technologies that are transforming every aspect of our lives: to make real the world of radical abundance that futurists have envisioned since ‘Star Trek’ first premiered on network television.”

In its latest example, Downey Jr.’s new show, “Downey’s Dream Cars” — which chronicles the actor’s conversion of his classic car collection to electric, hybrid and biodiesel engines; and highlights the role of the FootPrint Coalition in solving sustainability challenges — debuted on Max in June.