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The Global Impact Investing Network’s Annual Impact Investor Survey 2018 reports that zero percent of impact investing is targeting Arts & Culture. Upstart Co-Lab’s study tells a different story of activity in the creative economy. Using a “creativity lens” that looks beyond the limits of art and culture and cuts across traditional investment sectors, Upstart Co-Lab has found that impact investing in the creative economy has been hiding in plain sight.

With a dataset pulled primarily from publicly available lists and previously published primary research, Upstart Co-Lab has identified more than 100 funds, representing an estimated $60 billion AUM, that have been active in the creative economy. This is an illustrative list across fund types and asset classes that demonstrates the scope, variety, and opportunity for impact and financial return available in five primary creative economy categories: Creative Places, Ethical Fashion, Social Impact Media, Sustainable Food, and Other Creative Businesses.

Opportunity and Impact

Upstart Co-Lab has defined a creativity lens borrowing from the model set by gender lens investing, the practice of investing for financial return while also considering the benefits to women. Lenses help impact investors to see opportunities that align with their values across asset classes and all along the risk-return-impact spectrum.

Significant investment in the creative economy has been undertaken by Impact investment funds, Sustainable & Responsible funds, and Conventional funds.  Investment has been particularly strong in the private equity, private debt and real estate asset classes.

The majority of activity was in the Sustainable Food category, with nearly half of the funds investing, followed by Other Creative Businesses (28% of funds investing), Ethical Fashion (27%), and Social Impact Media (24%). Creative Places was the smallest category, with sixteen percent of funds investing.

Nineteen percent of the funds reviewed have explicit creative economy strategies or invest exclusively in one or more of this study’s five creative economy categories. One-third of the funds were investing in multiple creative economy categories. Many funds in this study focused on social impact themes related to the environment, quality jobs, women and girls, or entrepreneurs of color; however, the companies these funds invested in were in the creative economy.

Key Findings

Fund activity highlights the impact value, commercial viability, and innovative edge of creative economy investing:  Impact funds, the focus of this study, lead the way, representing just over half of the identified funds and engaging across asset classes and in all creative economy categories. This activity establishes the relevance of the creative economy to impact strategies, and is supported by the engagement of Sustainable & Responsible funds, as the creative economy also aligns with their ESG goals. At the same time, participation of Conventional funds validates the innovation and commercial viability of creative economy categories. Across all three fund types, cutting-edge funds focused on emerging innovation and cultural trends.

A creativity lens correlates with inclusive economic development and growth:  This study identified a correlation between a creativity lens and inclusive economic growth, with 21% of the funds having an explicit inclusivity strategy, above-average diversity among the investment leadership of the venture capital firms, and above-average diversity among founders in the portfolios of venture firms with a creative economy focus.

Fund focus demonstrates the potential of a creativity lens for identifying innovative, impactful, and viable investments in both developed and emerging markets:  This study also revealed that the creative economy is part of a focused strategy for funds investing in both developed and emerging markets, demonstrating the relevance of a creativity lens for identifying innovative, impactful and viable investments in rapidly changing economies.


Lack of visibility and intention means that when investors ask their wealth advisors for opportunities to invest for impact in the creative economy, they are told the opportunities don’t exist.  This simply is not true.

Creative entrepreneurs are launching and growing great companies that are good enough to attract investors who only care about profit.  But as true social entrepreneurs, creatives want to attract impact investors who share their values and will help to growth these companies – and the creative economy as a whole — to be more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

The viability and projected growth of this segment of the economy suggest the continuing and increasing engagement of impact investors will be crucial to ensuring a truly inclusive, equitable and sustainable creative economy with benefits for all.

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