Nick Cooney grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. He went to Hofstra University in New York, where he was an interdisciplinary study major. Early in his career, Cooney worked for the University of Pennsylvania in their Urban Nutrition Initiative program for several years. He then started a nonprofit organization called the Humane League.
Cooney has been working in the alternative protein space for over 15 years. In the beginning, he oversaw multi-million annual budgets and managed a team of 45 staff working to promote and market alternative protein products across North America, South America and Asia. He also worked with major international food companies such as Nestle and Subway on adding more alternative proteins and other issues.
Over his investment career, Cooney has invested in over 25 alternative protein companies around the world, including Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats, with a combined value of nearly $2 billion. He currently serves on the board of several portfolio companies in the space.
Cooney is the founder and managing partner at Lever VC, a venture capital fund investing in early-stage companies in the alternative protein sector. The company has offices in Hong Kong and the U.S., and staff in the U.S., Hong Kong, Europe, and Israel. In addition to Lever VC, he is also the co-founder and former managing trustee of New Crop Capital venture capital trust, and co-founder of the Good Food Institute.
In his free time, Cooney likes to spend time in nature by going to the beach, camping and bicycling. He also enjoys writing poetry and music.
- Tell us a bit about what you do.
I run a venture capital fund called Lever VC, which invests globally in early-stage food companies in the alternative protein sector. What that means is investing in plant-based meat or dairy products, or so-called clean or cell-based meat, egg, and dairy products.
- What gave you the idea for Lever VC? How did it start?
The alternative protein space has been growing very quickly in recent years, and I’ve been working in and around that space for over 15 years. So, we started Lever VC to be the first traditional venture capital fund that’s investing globally in the alternative protein space.
- What’s your favorite thing about your chosen profession?
The space that we invest in is a space that I, myself, very much support. As these companies succeed, it’s beneficial and positive for the planet, for consumers, and animal welfare as well. So, I am glad that we can help these startups grow, both by investing in them and also by assisting them and helping them in various ways to grow. By helping them, we can help move society forward in several positive ways.
- What keys to being productive can you share with us?
A few things that come to mind are, one, keep track of how much time you are putting in. Of course, we strive to balance personal time and work time. However, it’s inescapable that the data is clear that working longer hours, at least up to a certain point, boosts total productivity.
Two, working more quickly and efficiently. I know it sounds like that’s an obvious statement, but all of us work at different speeds. When we motivate ourselves to work quicker or have the need to do so, we’ll get in the habit of doing it. Just like an athlete can train themselves to lift heavier weights or run more quickly, we can train ourselves to work more quickly while accomplishing the same thing.
I know it doesn’t work for everything, and I know you can’t rush creativity, for example. However, for many of us, working more quickly can allow you to be more productive.
- Tell us one long-term goal in your career.
To help advance the alternative protein space in parts of the world where it is still in a much earlier stage, including the greater China region.
- What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?
Working hard and efficiently is undoubtedly important, but it is even more essential to make sure that what you’re spending that time on is the type of work that will have the most significant return for whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
- What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?
To make sure they truly understand the industry. Get into the weeds of the industry and understand it as intricately and intimately as possible. Learn about the companies, the sectors, the driving factors beyond consumer adaptations, and so on.
- What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I enjoy spending time in nature. I like to go to the beach, go camping, and bicycling. I like to work out. I also do some writing on poetry and music.
- Name a few influential books you’ve read and/or websites you keep up with that you’d recommend to readers.
Principles by Ray Dalio. I recommend this one because he makes a case for several things, including the value of direct communication and the value of weighing opinions and credibility. He says to place more importance on the weights and opinions of people who have a clear, quantifiable, demonstrated track record of being accurate in their judgment. I think both of those are often not done in most environments, and I think it makes a lot of sense.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It’s an excellent book for better understanding the innate judgment biases that all of us as human beings have. Moreover, through being aware of those biases, hopefully, people will be able to make better decisions.
- What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell a younger Nick Cooney not to be satisfied with what he’s currently doing and to consistently work towards figuring out other ways to accomplish his goals more efficiently.