Almost any institution can invest in hedge funds. Endowments, foundations and pension plans all have access to these types of products if they wish to use them for managing their own portfolios. For example, there are over 450,000 foundations in the United States, while many do not use hedge funds a percentage of them do and each group’s assets are generally many times the size of the portfolio of an individual. In aggregate these institutional assets add up quickly. Over the last 5 years institutions have typically been allocating 6-12% of their portfolios to hedge funds or alternative investments (generally private equity and hedge funds). Now the trend is to start allocating 12-20% of their total portfolio to hedge fund managers and alternative investment options.
The short answer is that hedge funds make up a large percentage of the equity trades each day within the stock market and are often involved in activist proxy battles and takeover attempts that seem to make the headlines on a weekly basis nowadays.