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.

https://twitter.com/frosebillington
francesca@dot.la

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

The Streamys Reveals The Disconnect Between Online Creators and Traditional Media

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

tiktok influencers around a trophy ​
Andria Moore /Charli D'Amelio/Addison Rae/JiDion

Every year, the Streamy Awards, which is considered the top award show within the creator economy, reveals which creators are capturing the largest audiences. This past Sunday, the event, held at The Beverly Hilton, highlighted some of the biggest names in the influencer game, chief among them Mr. Beast and Charli D’Amelio. It had all the trappings of a traditional award show—extravagant gowns, quippy acceptance speeches and musical interludes. But, as TikTok creator Adam Rose told The Washington Post, the Streamys still lacks the legitimacy of traditional award shows.

Read moreShow less

Slingshot Aerospace Is Expanding Its Network of Telescopes To Make Tracking Data Even More Accurate

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Slingshot Aerospace Is Expanding Its Network of Telescopes To Make Tracking Data Even More Accurate
Photo: Slingshot Aerospace

Slingshot Aerospace, the El Segundo-based startup developing software for managing objects in space’s orbit, raised $40.9 million to build out its global network of sensors and recruit new customers both private and public.

The round was a follow-on to Slingshot’s $25 million Series A-1 raise in March.

Read moreShow less

Blink Charging Knows That 'Long-Term' They Need Two Revenue Streams

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

charging station
Blink Charging

It ain’t easy being a charging company…or at least a lot of them aren’t making it look easy. Between reports of abysmal charger uptime, declining stock values, lack of standards and meaningless jargon (is “hyper” really faster than “ultra?”), the race to electrify America’s roads has been a bumpy one. For Miami-based Blink Charging, however, the solution to smoothing the transition may be about becoming more than just a charger company.

Read moreShow less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending