Home Entertainment Celebrity Hollywood Firm Helps Celebrities Invest in Startups – The Wall Street Journal

Hollywood Firm Helps Celebrities Invest in Startups – The Wall Street Journal

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Actress Zoe Saldana (above) is a celebrity that PLUS Capital has helped line up startup investments for. Photo: angela weiss/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By Katie Roof

A Hollywood firm that helps celebrities such as actresses Portia de Rossi and Zoe Saldana line up startup investments is raising up to $60 million for a new fund to invest alongside its famous clients, according to a person familiar with the matter.

PLUS Capital plans to co-invest in startups alongside its 35 celebrity clients, which also include Tyra Banks and snowboarder Shaun White.

Marina del Rey, Calif.-based PLUS also recently became a registered investment bank, PLUS Venture Partners, enabling it to help its clientele on an array of equity-related transactions.

The firm works with startups to provide shares as compensation for celebrity endorsements of startups. PLUS also helps celebrities raise capital for their own startups.

The group has facilitated investments for its clients in mattress seller Casper Sleep Inc., business messaging platform Slack Technologies Inc. and salad shop Sweetgreen Inc.

PLUS declined to comment on the new fundraising efforts.

Celebrity investments in startups aren’t new. Many of them write personal checks to back startups, and some even have their own dedicated funds. For example, actor Ashton Kutcher invests through Sound Ventures, while basketball player Carmelo Anthony invests out of Melo7 Tech Partners and rapper Nas from QueensBridge Venture Partners.

But PLUS, which has seven team members and is led by founder and Managing Partner Adam Lilling, found a niche by helping celebrities with a range of matters related to startup equity, whether for their own startups or for others. Before forming PLUS, Mr. Lilling was an entrepreneur and co-founded a startup accelerator in Los Angeles.

PLUS usually works with startups that already have found a product-market fit, Mr. Lilling said, in part because that is the point when a celebrity endorsement can be most beneficial. He said he works with his clients to identify startup opportunities in sectors that align with their passions and interests. When PLUS doesn’t co-invest, it takes carried interest, which is the profits a venture-capital fund receives when a company is sold or goes public.

Actress Portia de Rossi (above) works with PLUS Capital to invest in startups. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Ms. de Rossi said she and her wife, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, made the mistake of passing on an investment in Beyond Meat Inc. when Mr. Lilling recommended it to them before its initial public offering.

“We weren’t in a position to invest, and boy do we regret that,” Ms. de Rossi said. “We’re kicking ourselves” after seeing how well the company has done on the stock market.

Now the couple is on the lookout for promising startup opportunities, particularly animal-friendly businesses, Ms. de Rossi said. They recently invested in vegan dairy alternative business Miyoko’s Creamery after discussing the opportunity with Mr. Lilling.

“He understands that we have to be able to endorse brands and companies,” Ms. de Rossi said, referring to how people in the entertainment industry need to be selective about the startups with which they want to be associated.

PLUS also holds a stake in Ms. de Rossi’s art-related startup, General Public. Ms. De Rossi described Mr. Lilling as “my business brain,” adding, “I don’t make a move without him.”

Ms. Saldana said PLUS helped her secure financing for her media startup, BESE Inc. It also facilitated an investment in Sagely Enterprises.

“They helped me find the money and they also helped me back incredible founders,” she said, adding that she is particularly enthusiastic about backing female-owned startups.

PLUS previously raised a first fund of less than $10 million in 2013. The earlier fund had celebrity limited partners, but has since changed its model. Celebrities won’t be LPs in the new fund, according to a person familiar with the fund.

Write to Katie Roof at katie.roof@wsj.com

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