Cover Manav Gupta and Yat Siu announce Brinc's US$130M in funding for startup investments. (Photo: Brinc)

Brinc's founder talks to Tatler about partnering with Animoca Brands, and what's next for the company in 2022

Gen.T Tribe member Manav Gupta’s VC firm is one with a difference. Since Gupta founded Hong Kong-based Brinc in 2014, the company––which has grown to seven offices all over the world––has invested in and supported the growth of more than 200 startups, all with a focus on making the world a better place. 

Now, that mission is set to accelerate, with the announcement from Brinc that they have secured US$130M in funding for startup investments and to help fuel their global expansion. The funding––which was led by Asia’s Most Influential honouree Yat Siu’s Animoca Brands––will be seeded to companies who are pioneering emerging technologies in food, health, energy, climate and deep tech, and allow Brinc to continue its expansion into Web 3.0 investments. 

On the day the funding was announced, Tatler spoke to Gupta about Brinc’s journey, how the company’s purpose has found new meaning during the pandemic, and what’s next for their accelerator programmes. 

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How did Brinc's partnership with Animoca Brands come to be?

I met Yat [Siu] back in 2015 when I first moved to Hong Kong to start Brinc. Entrepreneurship and early-stage investing were still relatively nascent in Hong Kong during that time. Still, Yat shared a similar desire to support the development of an ecosystem that would enable startup innovation. Yat's a true pioneer. We started working together by facilitating introductions to the Brinc portfolio teams that went through our initial accelerator––an IoT-based program. Yat personally invested in many of these teams and, over time, recognised we could drive a greater impact together by expanding the number of accelerators that could support the growth of early-stage startups at scale. 

Over the years, our relationship developed over a shared passion for sustainability and entrepreneurship, underpinned by our ability to create value together. That has now resulted in Anomica Brands leading this US$130 million investment.

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Since founding Brinc in 2014, you've supported over 200 startups. Is there one pitch that was the most memorable to you?

The best pitches I've seen at Brinc tell a clearly articulated story and take you on a journey. 

They help you recognise why the team decided to enter this space, how they came together, clearly communicate the problem they see in the world, and how they plan to solve it. I remember the first founder we backed in 2014. His name is Florian (who ironically had the same birthday as my mom and Brinc's incorporation date - December 1st), and he delivered an incredible pitch for his company, Soundbrenner. He fully engaged the audience by switching back and forth between his pitch on stage onstage, and team members live in the audience playing music and demonstrating its capabilities.

Teams like Florian's leave you with confidence that they have done thorough validation, driven enough traction even with limited resources, and that they can genuinely make an impact with our financial backing and support.  

How have startups that Brinc has funded pivoted to support the global fight against Covid-19?

A number of our portfolio teams established side projects to support COVID-19 relief efforts. You may recall the ferocious wave of infections that spread across India in April and May of this year. There were hundreds of thousands of cases per day, which put massive amounts of pressure on hospital beds and drained oxygen supplies.

In response to the situation in India, we set up a Whatsapp group with all our Indian founders. We started brainstorming areas where we could drive collective action and support each other.  Several of our Indian-based portfolio teams re-purposed some of their existing infrastructures to provide aid. Lastbit, a crypto payments startup, utilised their platform to gather and convert micro-donations from the bitcoin community, which went to support the CryptoRelief Fund in India. This CryptoRelief Fund raised over $1 billion for the cause.

Sensegrass, an intelligent farming company, worked with clients to support the donation and delivery of raw materials and food to India's daily workers who had experienced significant drops in wages due to country-wide lockdowns.

It was great to see the portfolio teams stepping up through collective action and collaboration. I think long term, the only way to avoid further epidemics is to move to an animal-free food system as the current systems will continue to fail us. 

What are you most excited about for Brinc in 2022? 

We believe 2022 will be a huge year for Brinc. Not only are we expanding into new locations, launching new accelerator programs, as well as closing new corporate partnerships, we have also just established funds management as a practice in Singapore under BrincArtesian, a JV with Artesian. These funds will open up a gateway of growth opportunities for our portfolio companies through our follow-on investment strategies, in addition to permitting us to make more direct investments in companies that we historically could not support. It also expands our ability to scale talent to establish additional accelerator programs to support the development of over a thousand new purpose-driven startups over the next decade.

Brinc’s new fund is to be invested in startups that are pioneering emerging technology in food, health, energy, climate, and deep tech. Which of these are you most interested in finding and why?

I'm excited about all the categories that help us avoid a climate disaster. My passion is in transforming our antiquated food systems. We have limited time, and if we only focus on a few areas, we need to double down on the highest impact categories. These are important for our planet's survival and have proven to financially outperform the investment opportunities that don't have a sustainability focus. 

Overall, we genuinely love Drawdown.org's framework which helps lay this out clearly. 

At Brinc, we prioritise categories based on the industries that have the most potential to drive reduced emissions (by reducing sources), improve carbon capture (by supporting sinks), and improve society's equality through innovation in health and education. 

The space we are doubling down on and I'm excited about is FoodTech. Our food system is completely broken. The world's population is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 and will be composed of people who, on average, will live longer than ever before. To accommodate this, current food production will need to almost double. Yet, our current food production system is inefficient, unsustainable, and cannot be scaled to meet the growing demands of an ever-increasing global population. Animal agriculture requires a massive amount of water: one beef burger requires 660 gallons of water to produce, and just one pound of chicken uses up 71% more water than the same amount of soy. Industrialised animal agriculture rules the world's current food system. It is responsible for widespread habitat destruction, including rainforests, harmful air and water pollution, and species extinction (including those who have yet to be scientifically identified by humans). It contributes significantly to climate change, adding more harmful greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere than the entire transportation sector combined.

Today, Brinc invests in high-growth early-stage alt protein companies that are using tech to make our food system more sustainable by removing products that are traditionally animal-based or derived. We aim to accelerate the transition from animal foods (like fossil fuels) to plant and lab grown foods (like renewable energy) and significantly enable an animal-free food system in the next 10-15 years.  

How do you see the physical world integrating into the metaverse in the next 12 months? 

I get excited thinking about the potential of scaling experiences and interaction through more immersive means for those who are locked at home or quarantine, unable to travel for work or to see loved ones, etc. I also get excited about the potential for inclusive learning, earning and alignment through more integrated value-driven digital economies.  I think just as the internet ate the world over the last few decades, Web3 will drive unparalleled alignment, trust and engagement across all our walks of life.  

What advice would you give to future "game changers" who are looking to secure startup investment for their big idea?

Fundraising is hard, but it helps when you can clearly articulate how you developed your business idea and how you got to where you are today. Communicating your company's purpose, the problem you're solving, the solution, and how your team is well suited to execute is paramount when trying to attract investor interest. For investors, seeing a solid team with a proven track record helps them determine whether or not they'll get their desired return. You may also want to consider your end goal. Think of potential exit scenarios that indicate how investors will make money.

You'll also have more success when you can showcase real traction. This doesn't necessarily mean you need a market-ready product. It could be a prototype or community traction that reflects customer interest. Most investors want to see a more evolved startup rather than just an idea. 

I would also look at sustainability seriously and think about how to increase outputs with fewer inputs. Clean and green tech will change the world, and we need more entrepreneurs working in this space. Don't forget the richest person in the world is someone that is dedicated to doing good for our planet.

My last bit of advice would be to be patient but persistent. As I said, fundraising is hard and it might take a while to find the right investor who believes in what you're trying to build.  But it will get easier, particularly when your startup becomes more structured in management, talent, and revenue capability.

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