Celebrity Backers: Startups Bowery Farming and Maven Clinic pass the Natalie Portman test

As a 9-year-old, Natalie Portman showed a knack for making careful career choices. As the story goes, Portman was spotted at a pizza parlor by a Revlon agent who tried to interest her in becoming a child model.

She turned down the offer, choosing instead to pursue acting as a career. The rest is Hollywood history.

Now 42, Portman, an Oscar and Golden Globe winner who has starred in a string of successful big-budget movies including three Star Wars films, is also known for being discerning in her investment choices. Leading actors and other celebrities in the sports and entertainment industries are constantly approached by companies seeking partners to help elevate their brands. Thus far, Portman has limited her investments to a handful of companies that are consistent with a set of personal values tied to healthy eating, animal rights, and women’s health.

In September 2018, for example, Portman was one of several celebrities who invested in a $27 million funding round on behalf of Maven Clinic, a digital health platform focused on women's and family health, according to Crunchbase News.

And in June 2021, Portman, who says she is a vegan, was one of several celebrity investors who were part of a $472 million funding round for Bowery Farming, which uses state-of-the-art “vertical” or indoor farming techniques to grow produce that is sold at outlets across the U.S.

In the years since she made these investments, both companies have increased their valuations while broadening their businesses.

Founded in 2014, New York City-based Maven Clinic is a digital health platform focused on women's and family health. Users have access to care advocates and on-demand visits for medical issues including fertility, pregnancy, adoption, parenting, and pediatrics. Earlier this year, Fast Company magazine named Maven as No. 30 on its list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2023.

The company’s last known valuation, as of November 2022, was $1.35 billion.

Meanwhile, Bowery Farming has built a company that was valued at $2.3 billion as of May 2021. The New York City-based company grows produce that is harvested year-round and delivered to a variety of customers within days of the harvest. It serves e-commerce platforms and virtually every leading grocery chain and many specialty grocers. In July, CNBC reported that Bowery is getting more shelf space at Whole Foods, with a deal to triple the number of outlets that stock its salad kits from 50 to 150 locations.

Like many celebrity investors, Portman shuns media attention regarding the size, timing, and rationale for her investments in privately held companies. But four years ago, she discussed the values that inform her investing decisions. “So now lots of people make fun of vegans, right? Lots of people make fun of anybody who cares about anything deeply, right?,” Portman said during a youth activism speech in 2019. “But I’m here to say, it is always a great thing to care…whether it’s environmental issues, animal rights, women’s rights, equality, never be afraid to show how much you care.”

About the Author

John Kimelman is a veteran journalist who has worked at Barron’s and CNBC covering such topics as investing and commercial banking. Mr. Kimelman has received compensation from Forge Global, Inc. for authoring this article. Read more from John.

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