Marie Ekeland has unveiled her next act — and it’s a new fund called 2050. But it’s not your average French VC fund as it’s going to be an evergreen fund focused on building a better world. It sounds ambitious, but Ekeland isn’t just daydreaming as she has a detailed action plan.
If you’re not familiar with Marie Ekeland, she used to be an investor at French VC firm Elaia. She invested in adtech firm Criteo, which later became a public company in the U.S. She is also one of the founding members of France Digitale, the main startup lobby in France.
More recently, she co-founded Daphni, her own VC firm. While she’s no longer involved with Daphni’s day-to-day activities, she still follows her own investments in Daphni’s first fund. Her investments include Shine, Swile, Holberton School and Lifen.
With 2050, Ekeland is going back to the drawing board with a different vision when it comes to investment thesis, fund structure and the firm’s own values.
“Investment is self-fulfilling,” Ekeland told me. “When you invest in this company instead of that one, you’re shaping the future of society.”
During our lengthy discussion, it became quite clear that Ekeland both suffers from tech fatigue and also still believes she can have a positive impact through her investments.
Let’s start with the investment thesis. 2050 wants to focus on five fundamental areas — the future of food, better healthcare, improving education, shaping a sustainable lifestyle and fostering trust in the media and financial institutions.
As the name suggests, 2050 has a lot of time to think about these issues. The firm is willing to invest over the long haul. But if an entrepreneur wants to sell their company, that’s OK too. The idea is that there shouldn’t be any time frame pressure.
With traditional VC firms, limited partners invest in a fund and expects returns 10 years later. That’s why most VC funds have to sell their positions within eight to 10 years. It could lead to some pressure to go public, get acquired or find other investors to buy back previous investors.
So how do you remove short-term financial pressure from investment firms? 2050 is a fonds de pérennité, which works a bit like a trust fund, a mission-driven fund.
As an evergreen fund, investors in 2050 can invest whenever they want. Regularly, 2050 will open up liquidity distribution windows. It means that existing investors will be able to sell their positions in 2050. New investors will purchase those positions.
“What we’re doing is quite innovative, so we’re learning by doing,” Ekeland said. 2050 is still expecting regulatory approvals from France’s financial regulator AMF. In the meantime, 2050 has already participated in Withings’ latest funding round. Along with Ekeland, Anne-Lise Bance, Aicha Ben Dhia, Charly Berthet, Meyha Camara and Aude Duprat have already joined the team.
2050 also plans to dedicate 10% of investments in the fund and 50% of the team’s carried interest for digital commons. Arguably, this is the most interesting part of 2050. It proves that the team is committed to its vision beyond blog posts.
For instance, 2050 will contribute to Université Paris Dauphine’s class on the ecological challenges of the 21st century. The idea is to share that class as broadly as possible under an open license.
Some key concepts will be turned into actionable items for entrepreneurs. If you browse the business book section of your local bookshop, chances are you’ll see a ton of books about building a startup, growing as fast as possible and not paying attention to structural damage.
By investing in (often underfunded) knowledge, 2050 could share a different kind of actionable items with its portfolio companies and the tech ecosystem at large. Other investments in commons could include infrastructure investments that help everyone, or mutualized research.
Tech isn’t just about building companies. Public institutions, individuals and nonprofit organizations also have a say in the tech ecosystem. And I’m glad to see that 2050 understands that tech investment isn’t just about financing private companies. It’s such an important shift and I hope other investors will follow suit.