The Top 10 celebrity start-up investors to watch

By Laura Montini and Graham Winfrey, special to CNBC.com
Actor Ashton Kutcher named Lenovo product engineer and launches Yoga Tablet at YouTube Space LA on October 29, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
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Given that America's entertainment and tech capitals are located in the same state, it's no wonder that the two very different worlds of Hollywood and Silicon Valley have taken an interest in one another. And while it isn't rare for famous entertainers to get involved with start-ups in some capacity, only a handful have really made noteworthy contributions—whether in the form of a large one-time investment or through a series of multiple strategic deals. Click through to see some of the biggest investments celebrities have made to date.

—Posted 13 August 2015
By Laura Montini and Graham Winfrey

Bono

Bono, Musician, Elevation Partners speaks on stage during Day 3 of the 2014 Web Summit at the RDS on November 6, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.
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U2 lead singer Bono co-founded Elevation Partners in 2004, a venture firm that focuses on media, entertainment and technology companies and manages $1.9 billion in assets. The firm's highest-profile investment came in 2010, when it bought $120 million in Facebook stock, giving it a 1.5 percent stake in the social media company. (Elevation also had made a $90 million investment earlier.) After Facebook's IPO in 2012, the firm sold 11.5 percent of its shares, netting Bono an estimated $10 million.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Actors Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio attend Mobli 2.0 Launch Party at Kenichi on March 10, 2012 in Austin, Texas.
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In 2011, acclaimed actor DiCaprio led a $4 million investment round in Mobli, a Tel Aviv-based photo-sharing app maker. DiCaprio came on as an adviser to assist with branding and marketing, as well as to help the company gain access to other celebrities, VentureBeat reported. More star power soon arrived: Actor Tobey Maguire and athletes Lance Armstrong and Serena Williams also have invested in the company.

Mobli, however, has yet to mount a major challenge to its popular competitor, Instagram. It now has a reported 20 million users globally vs. Instagram's 300 million.

Ashton Kutcher

Katalyst Films Co-Founder and angel investor Ashton Kutcher.
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The Two and a Half Men star has made a name for himself as a notable tech investor over the past several years. In 2009, he invested an undisclosed amount in Skype, which Microsoft bought for $8.6 billion two years later. Through his venture capital fund A-Grade Investments, Kutcher and his co-founders—talent manager Guy Oseary and private equity executive Ron Burkle—have invested in more than two dozen companies, including Uber, Airbnb, Spotify and car-sharing service Getaround.

To further his reach, Kutcher formed a more formalized fund called Sound Ventures in Los Angeles earlier this year. Details about the size of the fund have yet to be released, but the founders reportedly plan to invest in later-stage start-ups.


Jared Leto

Actor Jared Leto poses in the press room at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015.
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Until recently, Golden Globe Award winner Leto had been one of the lower-profile celebrity investors. But the actor already has made more than 40 investments in companies like Blue Bottle Coffee, HR software company Zenefits, and video-streaming app Meerkat. Leto has said that his best investment, both creatively and financially, was in Internet of Things company Nest Labs, which Google acquired for $3.2 billion in 2014.

Nas

Rapper Nas perfoming.
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Rapper Nas has invested in dozens of start-ups through his Los Angeles-based venture firm QueensBridge Venture Partners, including bitcoin services provider Coinbase, text annotation website Rap Genius (now called Genius) and the online art community DeviantArt. He and his manager, Aymen Anthony Saleh, reportedly have pledged to dedicate more than half of their entire portfolio to start-ups.

Nas has differentiated himself from other celebrity investors in part by frequently teaming up with Ben Horowitz, an established Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz. The two investors met while participating on a Rap Genius funding round, and Horowitz has been an advisor to Nas and Saleh ever since.

Madonna

Singer Madonna performs onstage during the 2015 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on NBC from The Shrine Auditorium on March 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
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After reportedly drinking Vita Coco coconut water every day while on tour, Madonna invested $1.5 million in the brand in 2010. Other investors included her manager Guy Oseary, actors Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore, and Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis.

The investment appears to be paying off. Coconut water's popularity has been soaring in recent years, and Vita Coco has an estimated 40 percent market share in the United States. The brand is sold in 30 countries worldwide and did $421.1 million in global retail sales last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Magic Johnson

Earvin 'Magic' Johnson arrives for the BET Honors on January 17, 2009 in Washington, DC. Johnson was honored with a corporate citizen award for his achievements in business.
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After NBA star Earvin "Magic" Johnson retired from basketball, he made a name for himself in the world of business. Among other ventures, he opened a chain of movie theaters, a series of fitness clubs and several Burger King franchises.

In 2010, Johnson divested his Starbucks holdings (at one point he owned more than 100 franchises) and his Los Angeles Lakers shares—two sales that together were worth more than $100 million. The following year, he invested an undisclosed amount in venture capital firm Detroit Venture Partners and signed on as a general partner. Its first fund, Detroit Venture Partners LP, raised $55 million, of which $30 million has reportedly been committed to investments. The firm has invested in more than a dozen early-stage tech companies.

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber attends the 'China: Through The Looking Glass' Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City.
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Pop star Bieber is somewhat secretive about the investments he's made; he invested in his first start-up in 2009 but has not revealed the company's name. Since then, he has taken a stake in instant-messaging app Tinychat, ratings app Stamped and music-streaming service Spotify.

Unlike many celebrity investments, the deals are rarely equity-for-endorsement trades. One exception is Shots, a selfie-sharing app for which he led a $1.1 million seed round. Shots' popularity spiked in 2013 when Bieber started using it to post his own photos. Though its adoption seems to be slow-going, the company raised an $8.5 million Series A round earlier this year.

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres
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In 2011, a group of ex-Googlers launched Stamped, an app for reviewing businesses and restaurants. A year later, when the app was relaunched as a tool for users to track all of their favorite things—like books, movies and music—comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres wanted in. (She was joined by a host of other celebrities, including television host Ryan Seacrest, Justin Bieber and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt in a $1.5 million seed round.)

Marissa Mayer decided to make Stamped her first target after taking over as CEO of Yahoo, and in 2012 she purchased the start-up for $10 million and took the app off the market.

MC Hammer

MC Hammer.
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Stanley Kirk Burrell, known professionally as MC Hammer, has quietly had a presence in Silicon Valley as an adviser and investor for more than a dozen years. Despite filing for bankruptcy in 1996, Hammer got back on his feet by the early 2000s, coaching Pandora founder Tim Westergren for meetings with music executives, according to Billboard. Among the musician's investments are contact-sharing app Bump Technologies, mobile payment company Square and magazine app Flipboard.