Richard Branson launches green venture

It’s one of the few private equity ventures to raise its target amount this year. And it’s a green enterprise. Richard Branson’s Virgin Green Fund is defying the downturn, raising £240m in total: £70m from the billionaire entrepreneur himself and the remainder from a panel of insitutional investors.

The fund-raising round is set to close in two months once the target amount has been reached. The purpose of the fund? To invest in renewable energy projects.

The Virgin entrepreneur has come under fire in recent months for his espousal of the green movement while running an airline: a so-called "dirty business". However, Branson maintains that “We shouldn’t stop trying just because we have not yet put our own house 100 per cent in order or because we think a challenge is too great to achieve.”

The Virgin Green Fund will be based in London and San Francisco and will plough between $5m-$100m into growing renewable energy sectors.

Branson has already had his fingers burned with coconut oil and ethanol (there aren’t enough coconuts in the world to produce Virgin’s oil quota and ethanol freezes at 15,000 ft), but the entrepreneur is very excited about his latest discovery. He tells The Times: "“Isobutanol is wonderful,” he said. “It doesn’t absorb water, so you can pump it in the same way as petrol. And you can make it from anything. Sugar is good. What if all the sugar now turned into soft drinks were, instead, turned into clean fuel?”

Other renewable energy sources that will be supported by the Virgin Green Fund include biomass and solar power.

Several investments have already been made: Branson has invested £2m into the Carbon War Room, a New York environmental ideas incubator. He has also led a $14.5m funding round in GreenRoad Technologies – a start-up that helps reduce car fuel usage. Then there’s the Virgin Earth Challenge, a £15m prize fund which aims to find commercially viable green technologies.

The Virgin Green Fund is seeking returns of up to 30 per cent.

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