Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Venture capital funds – equity investors into start-up companies – filter the shape of our future economy. They have participated in the production of some of the most highly-valued, companies in the West today, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and hence in the production of big-scale new markets. How do these small, but gate-keeping investment firms decide who to let in, what market to engineer and support? What kind of ethic drives them? Are VCs interested in doing goodbeyond shareholder value?
Based on almost two years of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with 100+ venture capital partners in Munich, Berlin, London, San Francisco and New York, I will present preliminary answers to the question above analyzing a case at the core of recent VC marketization: the ‘good’ (but theatrical) ethics of social impact venture capital funds. Social impact investors have recently sprung up in large numbers, particularly in the US, and focus on areas such as green technology, democratization and health. Looking at how these funds are explicitly combining both – engineering profitable new markets, such as the one around the blockchain, and having a positive societal effect – I want to describe how broader ethical change can be marketized rapidly by investors and entrepreneurs. I will in a second step hint at one critique of this initiative: is the doing good just all Californian rhetoric? Don’t social impact funds also have to repay their limited partners at the end of the day?