Industry Insights

7 British celebrities who invest in startups

The path from business angel to celebrity is well-worn in Britain.

Branson, Sugar and the gaggle of TV dragons who’ve grimaced on screen over the years have all made the leap into the nation’s living rooms.

Less publicised, but perhaps equally popular, however, is the reverse journey – from mainstream fame to startup investment.

A stake in an entrepreneur’s endeavours is seemingly up there with a bestselling life story among the celeb must-haves of 2018.

And why not? Startup investment, and the strong returns available if the right company is backed, enables celebrities to grow their wealth.Their fame could be fleeting and securing prosperity for the rest of their days may be a priority. Angel investment also offers diversification in portfolios otherwise dominated by property or stocks and shares.

Startups may be less exposed to market-wide crashes and fluctuations, giving added balance to a wealthy individual’s interests.

Many famous people are also keen to leverage their high profile to support causes they care about.

Usually they do this through ambassadorial charity work, but it can just as easily come via startup investment.

For others, becoming an angel is simply a fun, adventurous pursuit carried out away from the public eye.Describing his reasons for backing numerous businesses, including Uber and Airbnb, Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher said in a recent interview: “I love working with the smartest and brightest people in the world on some of the hardest challenges. And oftentimes I make a return as a result of that.”

Whatever their motives, celebrities from all disciplines and talent pools continue to invest in startups - and here’s how a few key British figures are hoping to benefit from the many advantages of angel investment.

1. Benedict Cumberbatch

Cumberbatch’s typically clever-but-cold on screen persona would perhaps make an ideal investor. Imagine Sherlock’s supercharged mind analysing the prospects of a hedge fund or property project, for example.

Unlike some other investment vehicles, however, startups usually require an additional dose of passion on top of cold hard facts.

Fortunately for the startup he has invested in, the real Cumberbatch seems to have plenty of the required belly fire, regularly speaking up for what he believes in.

And the need to reconnect with the great outdoors may be one of these issues close to his heart, given his 2016 investment in Tentrr, camping’s answer to Airbnb.

Landowners rent out secluded, semi-permanent glamping spots, for a hassle-free, rural experience.

By the end of this year, the company expects to have over 1,000 sites on board in its native US. Cumberbatch’s own entrepreneurial experience, as a co-founder of independent film firm SunnyMarch, may come in handy as it looks to grow further afield beyond that.

2. Gary Lineker

Commercially, Gary Lineker is best known for his TV romance with the Walkers crisps brand. But the footy pundit has other interests besides snacks and his beloved Leicester City. In 2016 he invested in an insurance startup, as part of a £1m funding round. Lineker backed Neos, which aims to tap into the emergence of internet-enabled gadgets in the home.

Read more: sports star to startup investor - a profile of Gary Lineker

Sensors and other devices will allow policy holders to monitor their home remotely via smartphones. With the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ predicted to soar to prominence in the coming years, he may well have netted a winner here.

3. David Haye

While David Haye hung up his boxing gloves for the final time earlier this year, his career as a startup investor is just getting started.In 2016 he invested in Syft, an online recruitment platform which enables leisure, events and hospitality firms to find flexible, trained staff.

Haye was involved in a £2.65m seed funding round and, last September, was one of several investors collectively providing a further £6.1m.

Backed by a former world heavyweight champion, the startup has since begun flexing its muscles.

This year it acquired culinary recruitment agency PBL Chefs, bring 600 chefs across to the platform.In a press release, Haye said: "Supporting British entrepreneurs is really important to me, especially those who are the driving force behind tech and growth-focused businesses.”

4. Adele

Last year it was reported that global superstar Adele had put part of her £125m fortune into a tech startup.

The singer is believed to have backed EVR Holdings, which owns music-meets-virtual reality app, MelodyVR.

The platform enables fans to watch their favourite acts through a VR headset and is tipped for big things.In August this year it signed a licensing agreement with Sony/ATV, the world’s largest music publishing company, vastly boosting the library of content it has access to.

Although Adele has never publicly confirmed how much she has put into the venture, getting involved in its early stages certainly looks a shrewd move.

5. Andy Murray

Tennis star Andy Murray is fast becoming a big hitter in the startup investment game.

Recent reports suggest he now has a stake in at least 30 startups, on the back of a partnership with the equity crowdfunding site Seedrs.

Read more: impact investing - why Andy Murray decided to invest for growth and impact

His investments largely represent his areas of interest – namely sport, nutrition, health and wellbeing, and dogs.

And, according to an interview in Forbes magazine, the opportunity to support problem-solving technologies is among the biggest attractions of angel investing for Murray.

When his successful - but increasingly injury-ravaged - tennis career finally ends, perhaps he’ll have time to add more startups to his portfolio.

6. Victoria Pendleton

As a track cyclist, Victoria Pendleton won two Olympic golds and one silver. More recently, she swapped pedals for stirrups and her reputation as a jockey is now growing.

But the sportswoman is also a champion of startups – primarily through her investment in healthy meal delivery service Mindful Chef.

In 2016 she was part of a £1m funding round for the London-based firm, which this year passed the 500,000 meals milestone and reported on annual revenues hitting £10m.

If such progress continues, the potential returns for Pendleton could be as healthy as the food itself.

7. Stephen Fry

To the many talents of Stephen Fry, like writing, comedy and serious acting, add startup investing. For the man who epitomises the phrase ‘national treasure’ is also a seasoned business angel, as well as a doyen of culture and entertainment.

In 2011 he invested in iPhone app Summly, the news article summariser which was sold for a reported US$30m to Yahoo two years later.

Read more: the story behind Stephen Fry, celebrity investor and entrepreneur

Other startups backed include Ticckle (2013), an online video debate platform, and Pindex, a firm billed as ‘Pinterest for education’, which Fry co-founded in 2016.He was also an investor in Pushnote, a web article comments tool that folded in 2012. Despite that knockback, he remains heavily involved in the tech scene as both an investor and an innovation enthusiast.

Joining the celebrities investing in startups

Whilst it’s clear some of our most loved celebrities enjoy investing in startups, you don’t need to be rich and famous to join them as an investor.

The continued emergence of online co-investment platforms and the growth in startups being set up has provided a combination that allows investors of all kinds to get involved as startup investors and back the next generation of British businesses.

Driving Growth.
Creating Value.
Delivering Impact.

Backed by

Growth Capital Ventures (GCV) is backed by funds managed by Maven Capital Partners, one of the UK’s leading private equity and alternative asset managers.