Startup Inspiration: Learn how these celebrities did it

What do Ellen DeGeneres, Linkin Park and Kobe Bryant all have in common? Each celebrity has not only used his or her talents to become famous, but they have also made lucrative personal investments in startup businesses and technological advancements. These actors, TV personalities, athletes and band members each have investments in the future.

7. Linkin Park band members have turned to creative business investments to keep money flowing while they’re not touring or producing music. Since its rise in popularity in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the alternative rock band has backed everything from ride-sharing service Lyft to stock market app Robinhood. In 1999, Linkin Park opened up an “innovation company” called Machine Shop. In 2015, the band’s newest project became a venture capital firm, a type of private equity which funds small, early-stage companies that are deemed to have high growth potential. The VC has already invested in a few hot commodities, including the California-based coffee roaster and retailer Blue Bottle, and has partnered with Lisa Kidd, who helped Gwen Stefani launch her fashion lines.


6. “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr. was not only the highest paid actor of 2017, but he has also invested money in both Loot Crate, a Los Angeles-based subscription box service that delivers “nerdy” memorabilia monthly, and Masterclass, a website that offers interactive video courses taught by big-name athletes, actors and singers who are considered experts in their fields. The actor, who stars as entrepreneur Tony Stark, was also an early investor in Maker Studios, a YouTube-based video supplier that Walt Disney acquired in 2014 for $500 million. Downey later joined Loot Crate, a fast-growing, five-year-old company in the market for trinkets, toys and T-shirts that appeal to comic, book and movie fans. Downey’s latest venture, MasterClass, is an online education platform with goals of redefining digital learning by bringing to students online videos with renowned instructors, like Christina Aguilera, James Patterson, Usher, Aaron Sorkin and Serena Williams.

5. Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres made Stamped, a 2011 app for reviewing business and restaurants, her only personal investment. A group of former Googlers relaunched the app in 2012 as a tool for users to track their favorite things, such as books, movies and music. Now, users can also share that information with their friends, family and followers as they would on Yelp or Google reviews. Investors, including a horde of other celebrities, such as Ryan Seacrest and Justin Bieber, and The New York Times, have $3 million in the company, which Yahoo purchased for $10 million.

4. Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant began his own venture capital vehicle in 2013. Informally, Bryant, with entrepreneur and financial adviser Jeff Stibel, has backed restaurant-booking platform Reserve and education platform VIPKid, which uses virtual immersion techniques to teach English to children in China. He and Stibel founded Bryant Stibel in 2016 to provide strategic, financial and operational support to entrepreneurs and their companies. Bryant Stibel’s main focus is on the convergence of technology, media and data (TMD), as well as in industries, such as sports and wellness, where TMD has “the potential to create massive opportunities.” Bryant’s organization may be the highest profile example of a sportsman involved in VC, but he’s certainly not alone in his efforts. Shaquille O’Neal, Carmelo Anthony and Stephy Curry are also among the athletes financing startups.

3. Ashton Kutcher is one of the most active celebrity investors to date. The American actor, who starred in hits like “That 70s Show” and “Two and a Half Men” and Netflix’s original series “The Ranch,” has backed startups like Airbnb, Spotify and Foursquare. Kutcher has spent the last several years making a name for himself as a notable tech investor. In 2009, he invested in Skype, which Microsoft later bought for $8.6 billion. Through his venture capital fund, A-Grade Investments, Kutcher and his co-founders, Guy Oseary and Ron Burkle, have invested in more than two dozen companies, including Duolingo, an app for learning new languages, and E-commerce company Fab. Since founding his VC, Kutcher has added 34 companies to his portfolio.

2. Acclaimed actor and Academy Award-winner Leonardo DiCaprio led a $4 million investment round in Mobli, a Tel Aviv-based photo sharing app maker, in 2011. DiCaprio came on as an adviser to assist with branding and marketing, as well as to help the company gain access to other celebrities, such as fellow investors actor Tobey Maguire and athletes Lance Armstrong and Serena Williams. Mobli, however, has yet to mount a major challenge to its
popular competitor, Instagram. DiCaprio has also invested in Diamond Foundry, which has a goal of reinventing the $100 billion diamond industry by setting a new standard for social and environmental good, and LovetheWild, a women-led startup in Boulder, Colo., that sells boxed fish dinners at grocery stores with a sustainable, environmentally friendly approach.

1. Paul Hewson, who is more easily identifiable by his stage name, Bono, turned from lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, to co-founder of both Elevation Partners and The ONE Campaign in 2004. Elevation Partners is a venture firm that makes large-scale investments in market-leading media, entertainment and consumer-related businesses with a focus on investing in intellectual property and content-oriented businesses to help media create and market content to reach the widest possible audiences. The firm’s highest-profile investment came in 2010 when it bought $120 million in Facebook stock, giving it a 1.5 percent stake in the company. Simultaneously, Bono co-founded ONE, a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, by raising public awareness and pressuring political leaders to support effective policies and programs. ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African activists and policy makers.

Similar to these celebrity ventures, investments in business incubators like SpringBoard are also smaller scale alternative to funding startup companies. 

SpringBoard provides startups with the services, networks and professionals that can support businesses as they succeed and thrive in Bellefonte and its surrounding area.

For SpringBoard, helping businesses flourish is not only an investment in a startup but also an investment in the Bellefonte community. Bellefonte has a network of resources and experts, which make SpringBoard’s location in Downtown Bellefonte perfect for upcoming business ventures. SpringBoard is already partnered with Centre County Commissioners, Belle/Key (Bellefonte Keystone Community Development), SCORE Business Mentors, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Penn State’s Entrepreneurial Center.