Willow Growth Partners Raises Inaugural $28M Fund for Startups Serving 'Conscientious' Consumers

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Willow Growth Partners Raises Inaugural $28M Fund for Startups Serving 'Conscientious' Consumers

With their new $28 million fund, Deborah Benton and Amanda Schutzbank aren't looking for the next billion-dollar exit.

Their seed-stage firm Willow Growth Partners wants to invest in the kind of profitable "conscientious consumer" brands that abound in Los Angeles but are more likely to get snapped up.

And while they don't look exclusively for female founders, the duo, who have long operated in an industry dominated by men, already have a roster of investments in which 75% of the founders either women or minorities.

"I was kind of blown away having come from New York to L.A. that no one fund, especially led by women, was focused on these digitally native brands," Schutzbank said. "When many of them are being started in L.A."

"There's a dearth of institutional capital at that stage," Benton added.

Less than 6% of venture firms are led by women, according to a study released last year by Women in VC. And that lack of diversity often creates a cycle, where investors put money into founders who look like them, experts say.

Among Willow's investments are brands like Bubble, a vegan line of skincare marketed by influencers on TikTok and Dae, which makes "clean" shampoo and conditioner scented with essential oils instead of synthetic perfumes.

"The term we're trying to coin is conscientious consumerism," said Schutzbank, who left her investor role at Amplify LA to co-found Willow.

Amanda Schutzbank (left) and Deborah Benton are the co-founders of seed-stage venture firm Willow Growth Partners.

The two are interested in companies building narratives on social media, ones that speak to a generation that wants to know where products are coming from.

"Consumers buy into stories," said Benton, former president and COO of online retailers NastyCal and ShoeDazzle. "There's almost an entertainment or content component that consumers are buying into outside of just the product they're actually purchasing."

Since setting up the Los Angeles-based fund last year, the pair has cast a wide net, eyeing brands that live online and span categories from health and wellness to food and beverage. And they've so far backed 10 seed-level startups in a push to "get more women writing checks," said Benton.

The co-founders closed a first round in May of 2020, a second last summer and topped off their oversubscribed fund this week, at $28 million. Their plan is to lead primarily seed rounds between $2 million to $3 million, investing up to $1.25 million in each company.

Venture capital-led seed deals in the U.S. hit $7.6 billion in 2020, up $200,000 from the year before, according to Pitchbook data.

Benton, who has served as an angel investor for a number of startups, said she's taking a different approach to funding these nascent startups. It's one in which companies aren't all vying for splashy IPOs and valuations.

"We don't think that the vast majority of these brands are going to be billion-dollar exists," she said. "But there's a huge appetite for [mergers and acquisitions] in the $200 to $500 million [range]."

Building successful companies, Benton said, means focusing on "rational valuations."

"You can't put these brands on the same path as a SaaS company," she said. "They're going to scale differently, they're going to need a different amount of capital and the exits are going to be different."

A previous version of this story stated Willow closed its first round in March of 2020. The firm closed it in May.


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Greater Good Health Raises $10 Million To Fix America’s Doctor Shortage

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Greater Good Health Raises $10 Million To Fix America’s Doctor Shortage
Courtesy of Greater Good Health

The pandemic highlighted what’s been a growing trend for years: Medical students are prioritizing high-paying specialty fields over primary care, leading to a shortage of primary care doctors who take care of a patient’s day-to-day health concerns. These physicians are a cornerstone of preventative health care, which when addressed can lower health care costs for patients, insurers and the government. But there’s a massive shortage of doctors all over the country, and the pipeline for primary care physicians is even weaker.

One local startup is offering a possible answer to this supply squeeze: nurse practitioners.

On Wednesday, Manhattan Beach-based Greater Good Health unveiled $10 million in new funding led by LRVHealth, adding to $3 million in seed funding raised by the startup last year. The company employs nurse practitioners and pairs them with doctor’s offices and medical clinics; this allows nurse practitioners to take on patients who would otherwise have to wait weeks, or even months, to see a doctor.

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Plus Capital Partner Amanda Groves on Celebrity Equity Investments

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
PLUS Capital​’s Amanda Groves.
Courtesy of Amanda Groves.

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, Amanda Groves talks about how PLUS Capital advises celebrity investors and why more high-profile individuals are choosing to invest instead of endorse.

As a partner at PLUS, Groves works with over 70 artists and athletes, helping to guide their investment strategies. PLUS advises their talent roster to combine their financial capital with their social capital and focus on five investment areas: the future of work, future of education, health and wellness, the conscious consumer and sustainability.

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