Business

Profile: How one family office increased its impact-investment commitment sixfold in three years

Ceniarth, an impact-first family office founded in 2013 by Diane Isenberg, is planning to mobilise the entirety of its portfolio and transition away from public market investments into impact-first funds and direct investments over the coming years.

The London-based family office currently manages approximately $442 million. Since it started focusing on impact-first investing in 2018, total investment dollars – as a percentage of the portfolio – have risen from $30 million to $174 million (through the end 2020). 

Anything that can reduce the cost, or improve outcomes for rural communities, is going to be incredibly impactful, in our view

By working with a network of other like-minded family offices, Ceniarth will seek to allocate more of its portfolio capital to business models that are focused on improving outcomes for marginalized and vulnerable communities globally.

One area where impact-focused families could find fertile investment opportunities is in the booming agricultural technology (‘AgTech’) space. According to Pitchbook, venture funding for AgTech start-ups exceeded $3 billion in Q3 this year, bringing total deal value to $7.8 billion. 

With climate change so high on investors’ priority list, especially among next-generation-led family offices, AgTech offers myriad ways to invest in not only making farming practices more ESG friendly, but also in improving food production and yield productivity in vulnerable countries across Africa and Asia. 

The twin catalysts of AI innovation and climate change risk management are creating a wide array of investment opportunities in areas such as carbon farming, data-driven crop development, environmentally friendly fertilizers, and even AI-powered weed killers with Carbon Robotics having just secured $27 million in its latest funding round. 

Tomorrow’s farms are expected to become increasingly autonomous, thanks to advances in robotic automation. Blue White Robotics, which raised $37 million in Series B funding in September this year, provides “robots-as-a-service” to enable farms to run autonomously, attracting the interest of the Jesselson Family Office, Peregrine VC and Regah Ventures. 

This kind of technology is well suited to the vast acreages of arable land, or “bread baskets” in America and the Canadian Prairies, but for smaller-scale farming in less developed countries, what is more important is applying technology that fits and is most likely to bring step changes, rather than incremental ones. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Inari, for example, is a seed technology start-up company that uses gene-edited seeds to enhance crop yield while requiring less fertilizer and water. It has become an agri unicorn, achieving a $1.2 billion valuation after it raised $208 million in Series D funding in May 2021. 

It is technologies like this that could introduce a sea change for emerging market agricultural economies, let alone first-world countries. 

Ceniarth invests its impact-focused capital across a series of funds and direct investments, principally in emerging markets where local communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of man-made climate change. 

Diane Isenberg’s father was Eugene “Gene” Isenberg, the Chairman and CEO of Nabors Industries. During his 25-year tenure, Isenberg grew Nabors from bankruptcy to an S&P 500 index company with an enterprise value exceeding $9 billion.

According to Harry Davies, manager of program investments at Ceniarth, AgTech is becoming an increasingly important element of its investment strategy.

“A lot of the technologies being used in developed markets are addressing incremental improvements around automation and best practices. In countries across Africa there’s a significant yield gap and large amounts of post-harvest losses. Technological deployment in these markets can create a significant impact for some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” he says. 

In 2018, the family office invested in Omnivore, a specialist Agtech VC fund in India that invests exclusively in companies designing solutions for India, rather than implementing solutions based on best practices in the West. The types of investments it makes cover drone technology, AI-based data science tools and supply chain digitization platforms. 

“Anything that can reduce the cost, or improve outcomes for rural communities, is going to be incredibly impactful, in our view,” says Davies. “Agtech and fintech models in emerging markets are interesting because they can generate really strong social impact (increasing access, decreasing cost), but also financial returns.”

Like many of today’s family offices, Ceniarth is also actively involved in pursuing direct investment opportunities. 

Apollo Agriculture is a Kenyan AgTech/Fintech company, which uses data science to improve access to credit and inputs for small farmers while iProcure, another Kenyan AgTech company, takes a data-driven approach to disrupt agricultural supply chains in rural Africa. 

“Another direct investment in our portfolio is Kheyti, an Indian AgTech company. One of the things they are doing is building affordable, but innovative greenhouses for small farmers to help make their crops more resilient to extreme weather,” says Davies.

“We’re looking for novel technologies that can really help smaller farmers and agriculture businesses grow and be more profitable i.e. better access to weather data, better insurance. Rural farming populations in Africa and Asia are probably going to be at the forefront of the impact of climate change, alongside coastal communities.”

Ceniarth’s direct investments typically take the form of debt financing as opposed to equity financing, which the team will continue to build exposure to via private fund managers like Omnivore. In total, Ceniarth’s portfolio contains approximately 79 fund investments and 41 direct investments. 

As the AgTech space continues to mature, impact-focused family offices should find increasingly diverse ways to harvest sustainable returns.  

Subscribe

You will need a Premium Plus Subscription to access this database.

Exclusive news, analysis and research on global family enterprise and private investment offices.

Access to the most comprehensive fully interactive database on global family offices, principal investment offices, and family enterprises.

Check Deal Data, Senior Staff, and New Analysis on more than 500 family/principal investment and holding groups

Already have an account? Login

Subscribe

You need at least a Premium Subscription to read this article.

The most comprehensive information service on the global family enterprise world, featuring exclusive news, analysis, research and data on global family enterprises, family offices, and private investment offices.

Premium

£299

per year

  • Exclusive reports, analysis and commentary
  • Exclusive access to family/private investment office deal information
  • Exclusive interviews with principals and senior management of family/investment offices
SUBSCRIBE NOW

Premium+

£399

per year

  • Access to All of Premium
  • Access to all of FamilyCapital Analytics, our interactive database with more than 500 detailed profiles of family investment groups

More Info

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Already have an account? Login

You've reached the end.

Continue reading free articles by registering as a Member.
Or choose a Premium Plan.

Membership

Free

  • Exclusive reports, analysis and commentary
REGISTER NOW

Premium

£299

per year

  • Exclusive reports, analysis and commentary
  • Exclusive access to family/private investment office deal information
  • Exclusive interviews with principals and senior management of family/investment offices
SUBSCRIBE NOW

Premium+

£399

per year

  • Access to All of Premium
  • Access to all of FamilyCapital Analytics, our interactive database with more than 500 detailed profiles of family investment groups

More Info

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Already have an account? Login

Leave a Reply