Being rich and famous does not mean a person knows what a good business looks like. But that won’t stop celebrities from going the venture capital route when investing their riches.
And now, as government-serving technology startups appear to be gaining momentum in the world of equity investment, a handful of famous people have turned their attention to the space.
The Ecosystem Map, a new project Government Technology launched this year to go with the GovTech 100, shed some light on that. The graph shows relationships between investors and companies, and, in particular, enables discovery of investors who have backed multiple companies on the list.
Since the project only involves 2018’s GovTech 100 companies, it by no means offers an exhaustive view of famous people who are backing companies in the gov tech space. For example, actor Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in the trash-hauling startup Rubicon Global. That company touches on an area — trash — that is certainly a government concern, but the firm doesn’t fit so squarely into the definition of a gov tech company and it isn’t featured on the list.
Even if famous people aren’t guaranteed to win in the investing world, a person’s celebrity doesn’t mean they’re not going to make good investments, either. Some of the names on this list lend firsthand evidence to that.
Here are some names that stood out on the list of investors backing companies on the 2018 GovTech 100 list:
Ashton Kutcher, the actor perhaps best known for playing stoners in Dude, Where’s My Car and That '70s Show, is quite famous by now for his investment activity. He started with A-Grade Investments in 2010 and invested in some companies that proved to be very, very successful — Skype, Nest, Uber and Airbnb among them.
Then, in 2015, Kutcher and others from A-Grade launched Sound Ventures. It’s this firm that has made a splash in the gov tech space. In fact, Sound has backed four companies on this year’s 100 list: OpenGov, Binti, Neighborly and Mark43.
Sophia Bush, known for roles in John Tucker Must Die and One Tree Hill, has been investing independent of a fund for at least five years now. Outside of acting, Bush has become an activist for environmental, human rights and women's issues.
In the venture capital world, she hasn’t been nearly as active as Kutcher. She did, however, cross financial paths with him recently as an investor in Mark43.
David Petraeus, a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is widely remembered for a scandal that led to his resignation from the federal government.
But Petraus has been busy in retirement. In 2013, the asset management firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts named him chairman of its Global Institute, giving him influence over investment activities.
His two gov tech investments, Mark43 and One Concern, come independently of KKR. They also fit tangentially with Petraeus’ military-intelligence background: Mark43 creates software for law enforcement and public safety personnel, while One Concern creates technology to help governments prepare for and respond to disasters.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has used his investment vehicle Bezos Expeditions to branch out from his core business. And a couple of times, that vehicle has veered into gov tech.
In particular, Bezos has invested in Mark43, as well as neighborhood-based social media platform Nextdoor. Bezos Expeditions has also backed the enterprise resource planning software provider Workday, which isn’t exactly a gov tech company but nonetheless has a sizable government footprint.
John Chambers, long-time chief executive officer of Cisco Systems, may have stepped down from the company last year, but he hasn’t stopped working.
Chambers officially announced the launch of a venture capital firm, JC2 Ventures, in January. The initial portfolio includes OpenGov, which has been on the GovTech 100 list all three years. It also includes Dedrone, which is not featured on the list but has clear government applications. Dedrone offers software and hardware for organizations to detect, protect against and even take down drones in unwanted airspaces — including those that are interfering with public safety efforts.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and long-time participant on the investment TV series Shark Tank, is not an investor in any company that’s currently on the GovTech 100. He is, however, a backer of FiscalNote, which was featured on the first two versions of the list. FiscalNote was a rare example of a GovTech 100 company whose main thrust was working with companies and organizations who deal with the government, rather than working with the government itself.