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Venture Capital

Homebrand ventures: Woolies goes global with its VC fund in partnership with international grocers

- April 9, 2024 2 MIN READ
Ingrid Maes
W23 Global CEO Ingrid Maes
Australian supermarket giant Woolworths has teamed up with four international retailers to create a global venture capital looking to back startups in the shopping space.

Joining Woolies in W23 Global are Dutch-Belgian multinational Ahold Delhaize, which runs 16 brands in nine countries, the UK’s Tesco, Canada’s Empire  Co. (best known for Sobeys, Foodland & Safeway) and and Africa’s Shoprite Group. Each retailer is contributing US$25 million to W23 Global, and their CEOs will be on the investment committee. The fund plans to invest US$125 million (A$190m) over the next five years.

Ingrid Maes, who founded the initial W23 Australia fund for Woolworths in 2019, is now CEO and

“W23 Global is a pioneering international VC fund with a uniquely powerful proposition for both our investors and portfolio companies,” she said.

“At a time when innovation is reshaping retail and value chains across the economy, we aim to offer our investors incomparable access to transformative innovation in grocery and sustainability across the globe.”

The OG W23 fund has backed a range of Australian startups including ecommerce platform Longtail UX, vegetarian meals manufacturer All G Foods, which last year offloaded its fake meat arm into a joint venture business; and telehealth brands creator Eucalyptus, which sells solutions for weight and hair loss, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

Maes said founders will have the ability to pick the brains of the CEOs involved about their needs to test and develop ideas quickly and the fund’s portfolio companies will be free to contract with any customer, whether a W23 Global partner or not.

“W23 Global will also work with its investors to identify common unaddressed challenges and identify  entrepreneurs best placed to innovate new solutions,” she said.  

“Our ambition is to offer our portfolio companies faster pathways to global scale, without being  exposed to a venture fund anchored by a single strategic investor.”

Outgoing Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci, whose golden handshake is nearly as big as the retailer’s proposed investment in startups, said they’re using innovation to create better, faster and more personalised experiences for customers.

“We’re committed to bringing the world’s best retail innovation into Woolworths Group, and a key strategy is supporting entrepreneurs, many of them in our own backyard of Australia and New Zealand, to start and scale ideas that can solve our biggest challenges for the benefit of our customers, team, suppliers and the environment,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Australian supermarkets under political pressure over alleged profiteering and price gouging, with the federal government yesterday releasing a review into the sector that suggested making the current voluntary code of conduct mandatory, adding financial penalties, potentially worth billions for Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash for serious breaches and major abuses of market power.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers wants more competition in the sector and says the current code is “too easy to walk away from”, and must change.

The review’s final findings are due in June.

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