Brewing the Dom Perignon of Sake

Meet Our Visionaries

Richard Geoffroy — Founder of IWA Sake

In the world of wine, the effervescent Richard Geoffroy is globally renowned, as the former Chef de Cave and legendary brand ambassador of Dom Perignon where he spent 29 extraordinary years mastering his craft, and realising some of the finest wines in modern history.

Now, as Richard bids farewell to the industry that he revolutionised, he seeks out a new frontier, founding IWA Sake with the innovative idea of bringing the techniques of ‘blending’ used in Champagne production to IWA’s high-end sake — IWA 5, that assembles three varieties of rice (Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, and Gohyakumangoku), along with five yeast strains.

"One of the wine world's most important luminaries."

­— Jancis Robinson on Richard Geoffroy

From left to right, renowned industrial designer Mark Newson, star architect Kengo Kuma and Ryuchiro Masuda, CEO of  Masuda Shuzo, a family-owned sake company established in 1893 — each are contributing their considerable talents to IWA’s reinvention of sake.

Richard’s inspiring vision was launched in partnership with a constellation of stars — he is joined by co-founders Ryuchiro Masada, CEO of a leading sake producer, star architect Kengo Kuma who built IWA’s stunning Kura (sake brewery), and storied industrial designer Marc Newson, who designed a luxurious sake bottle finished with a dark velvety luster.

Nestled in Tateyama in the Toyama Prefecture, IWA’s Shiraiwa brewery will open in January 2021. It will rest between mountain foothills with access to the purest local water straight from the crest of Japan, amidst some of the heaviest snowfall in the world.

“The making of IWA 5 is not a stable recipe but an experimental process reconsidered every year.”

— Richard Geoffroy

At BlackPine, we see immense potential in the premium sake sector. The IWA brand and product is extremely well-conceived and enjoys a differentiated, appealing narrative. We believe Richard is uniquely positioned to elevate sake to art form, with his unrivalled experience, constellation of talents, and excellent management team that possess a unique and proven ability to produce and market premium alcoholic beverages (CEO Charlie Picart spent 19 years at Moet Hennesy, 10 of which as Head of APAC and previously Brand Director for Dom Perignon Japan).

We see a resurgence of sake gathering pace, with recent upticks in premium sake consumption analogous to that of Japanese whisky, which has gone from a neglected product 10 years ago to one that struggles to keep up with demand.

Premium sake is growing rapidly - From 2012-2016 the category grew by more than 10%; Junmai Ginjo/Daiginjo (the highest grades of sake) production has grown by 61% from 2010-2015.

IWA 5 — bottle designed by Marc Newson.

Exports are driving this growth. Importantly, unlike other sake brands, IWA targets 80% exports and new modes of drinking, accessing a wider pool of consumers than traditionally achieved, with exports more than doubling since 2010 within the key markets of USA and China which account for over a third of sake exports, markets which IWA will be laser-focused on in its goal of bringing premium sake to a global audience. In the premium segment, category leadership is relatively unchallenged – Juyondai and Dassai have emerged as leaders in export markets, but the wider industry lags behind, presenting a compelling opportunity to fill the gap with IWA, an innovative, export-oriented premium sake with a strong brand identity — Kanpai!

Alternative protein is eating the food industry

Meet Our Visionaries

Plant-based alternative protein milkshake by Grounded — a Lever VC portfolio company.

“Mindfulness” has permeated global culture in countless ways, in the food sector Millennial consumers increasingly base their choice of what foods and brands to consume on sustainability, health and ethical considerations, and demand a conscious mindset towards food production and consumption. As a result, eating habits are undergoing profound change, disrupting the whole food industry and value chain.


As we move into the next decade, conventional animal-based protein sources are steadily being displaced by the rise of plant-based meat, eggs and diary products, proliferated by recent food innovations. Innovative plant-based products are made from plant ingredients formulated to replicate the taste, texture and other attributes of conventional products that consumers love. In the case of cultivated meat, eggs and dairy, the products are molecularly identical to the conventional versions but are produced from animal cells or fermentation, without the need for live animals.

"73 percent of millennials and members of Generation Z reported purchasing a dairy-free alternative in the past 12 months."

— McKinsey 2018 Dairy Survey

Nick Cooney — Founder of Lever VC

Nick founded Lever VC to be the first sector-specialist fund investing globally in the alternative protein space. Lever VC invests in early-stage alternative protein innovators  and is regarded as a leading fund in the space and its Partners as thought leaders in the field, with a portfolio that includes the likes of Better Meat Co, Good Planet Foods and Avant Meats.

Lever VC’s team has deep experience investing in alternative protein across over 40 deals, including early investments in top plant-based brands like Beyond Meat ($6 billion market cap) and Impossible Foods (valued at $5 billion) and two of the most highly-valued cultivated meat companies (Memphis Meats, Geltor). Between 2015 and 2018 (prior to launching Lever VC) the Fund’s principal Partners executed 35 family office vehicle investments in the alternative protein space, with stellar returns. The fund offers a deep bench of industry, commercial and technical expertise across staff Venture Partners and Advisors. Lever VC has built an ecosystem of renowned experts in the field assisting with deal origination, due diligence and portfolio such as  Ronen Bar (former VP of clean meat company SuperMeat), Biren Doshi (Co-Founder and Director of EuroBev/Next Foods) and Eder Brambilla (former manager of Global New Business and Ventures for JBS).

"We expect the plant-based meat market to expand from USD 4.6bn in 2018 to USD 85bn at the end of the next decade."

­— UBS

Allergen-free plant protein by the The Better Meat Co. — a Lever VC portfolio company.

Just like Nick, we strongly believe alternative proteins will positively impact consumers and promote the welfare of animals, and that growth of the sector will be vital to the preservation of natural resources and tackling climate change, in the long-run greatly benefitting the planet as a whole. We are working with Nick to empower his vision and position Lever VC as a key player in helping innovative startups in the space grow, through funding as well as assisting investments with Lever VC’s deep expertise and world-class network of advisors to supercharge growth.


By empowering innovators in the alternative protein space, Nick and Lever VC are helping to progress society in a positive direction by changing what’s on our plate.

Esports is Changing the Game in Entertainment

Meet Our Visionaries

Sam Matthews — Founder of Fnatic.

Sam founded Fnatic in 2004, since its inception it has been a pioneering brand at the forefront of the Esports industry, an emerging behemoth that is reshaping the landscape of sports and entertainment as we know it. Fnatic’s teams of elite gamers go head to head with the competition in games like League of Legends and Fortnite, tournaments such as Overwatch now take place in huge arenas filled with gaming fans from around the world, captivated by epic battles featuring phenoms like POW3R and Rekkles, Fnatic players with massive global followings.

Fnatic is now the most iconic and most dominant team in Esports history and is known as the “Esports equivalent of football super-team Real Madrid” (BBC).

Fnatic — 15 years at the top ; 55m global audience ; 209 Championships ; 370 Medal wins ; $15m USD prizes won.

"Esports isn’t a new technology or new fad. It’s a full blown shift in entertainment and culture.”

­— Forbes

Fnatic x Gucci: The Dive watch 40mm.

As the clout of Esports grows, brands and advertisers increasingly view Esports as an important new class of sports with a cult following amongst young Millennials and Gen Z. As a result e-thletes, teams and competitions are awarded substantial sponsorships from household brand names and Fnatic is fast becoming the channel through which the most forward-thinking brands communicate with young people, with brand collaborations including the likes of Gucci, BMW and Yeezy.

As with traditional sports, Fnatic’s star players are celebrities in their own right, with a huge number of social followers, we believe that in the near future Fnatic e-thletes will rival the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lebron James and Roger Federer in terms of global fame.

Gaming is the most consumed form of entertainment in the world. In 2018, revenues from gaming ($116B) outstripped music ($17B), films ($41B), and television ($105B).

Total watch time: Gaming (61B hrs) vs. Netflix (58B hrs).

Since Fnatic’s Series A in 2019, BlackPine has teamed with Sam and his stellar team to meet the next stage of Fnatic’s expansion, levelling up by bolstering its appeal to global audiences with a mass affluent strategy, opening up future brand collaborations, implementing marketing campaigns worldwide, and evolving its focus further beyond the hard-core gamer fanbase and pro gear, gaming chairs, PC peripherals and energy drinks.

Despite how far Fnatic has come since we met Sam 15 years ago, there is still plenty of room for opportunity. There remains a vast untapped market for esports beyond hard-core gamers and despite it’s massive growing audience base, Esports remains in the early stages of monetisation. (Revenue per fan: Esports $3.9 NBA $34.6 MLB $34.6), and the sport has a massive foothold in Asia that continues to grow year on year (APAC account for 57% of Esports Enthusiasts in 2019).

Esports already attracts more young males viewers than both the NBA finals and the World Series. A demographic tidal wave brought by the expansion of the Millennial and Gen Z populations in the coming years means a likely exponential increase in engagement with Esports and the the associated influence around it, so we are excited to partner with Fnatic at this watershed moment for the sport to help realise the its full potential as a seismic game changer in the entertainment industry, with Fnatic at the lead.