Seattle, USA and Bangalore, India. Unitus Seed Fund (USF) has secured over $8 million in investment commitments for its seed-stage venture capital fund focused on accelerating “BoP startups” – startups serving low-income consumers – in India. USF invests in for-profit scalable companies that will provide economic self-reliance, education, and basic necessities to millions of low-income people living at the base of the economic pyramid (aka “BoP”). USF has also recruited a strong group of venture advisors to provide expert support to its portfolio companies.
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Several impact investing luminaries are among the founding investors of the fund: Mike Murray (co-founder of microfinance pioneer, Unitus Labs), Jeff Clark, Vinod Khosla (Founder, Khosla Ventures and Khosla Impact), 500 Startups, and Bob Gay (Formerly Huntsman-Gay and Bain Capital). Co-investors in India include T.V. Mohandas Pai (Chairman of Aarin Capital Partners), and Dr. Ranjan Pai (CEO of Manipal Education and Medical Group).
“We are delighted that leading investors share Unitus Seed Fund’s conviction that serving low-income customers with free-market principles and business discipline can sustainably improve the lives of those living on under $2/day,” said Dave Richards, Managing Partner of Unitus Seed Fund. “Our investees will do this by bringing products, services and income-generating enterprises directly to their communities.”
By investing in entrepreneurs who are building innovative companies that serve the 800 million low-income citizens of India, USF expects to deliver both strong financial returns and substantial social impact. One of USF’s first investments, Hippocampus Learning Centers, has expanded its rural education centers and has recently received a substantial follow-on growth capital infusion. Others in USF’s portfolio are making solid progress in preparation for accelerating their business growth. Adding to its portfolio of four investments completed in 2012, USF anticipates making ten new investments in 2013, and 10-12 per year going forward.
Building businesses that must operate on narrow margins and at high volume is notoriously challenging. USF will offer the operating expertise of its founders and staff to all portfolio companies. Additionally, USF has recruited its first twelve “Venture Advisors” to help companies thrive. These individuals have a wide range of skills in corporate and entrepreneurial settings, are passionate about serving the base-of-pyramid in India. Learn more about USF’s venture advisors here.
Unitus Seed Fund is part of Unitus, an international group developing innovative market-based solutions to sustainably and scaleably bring opportunities for self-reliance to the four billion people living at the base of the economic pyramid. USF operates out of Bangalore and Seattle and plans to make equity investments in 30-40 early-stage “BoP startups” in India over the next four years. USF was co-founded by Dave Richards and Will Poole, global early-stage investors, entrepreneurs and operators with strong networks and experience in India. USF’s efforts in India are headed up by Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, an experienced impact investor and startup operator. More info at usf.vc.
Mike Murray, co-founder and past chairman of Unitus Labs, commented, “We founded Unitus 12 years ago to improve the livelihoods of millions of people by pushing the limits on current systems and conventional thinking. Our first mission was to help massively expand the microfinance industry across the globe. Our next effort is to demonstrate the efficacy of using equity investing in scalable for-profit companies that serve the same low-income customers. I am excited to be a leading investor in Unitus Seed Fund, the 4th entity in our Unitus federation.”
Commenting on the opportunities Unitus Seed Fund will pursue, Vinod Khosla, Founder, Khosla Ventures and Khosla Impact commented, “The under-served populations of India represent not just a development need, but in fact form a series of large markets with significant and often untapped potential. Unitus Seed Fund will bring the early-stage investing needed to develop the teams and technologies capable of serving these markets. In the process, investors, entrepreneurs and businesses can create wealth for themselves by providing value to the masses.”
Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Aarin Capital Partners, added “Dr. Ranjan Pai and I are both passionate about addressing the social inequalities of India using the best of our efforts through both philanthropic and market-based solutions. Unitus Seed Fund is taking what they learned in nearly a decade of work in India’s microfinance sector and applying their knowledge and network to making investments in inspiring and effective entrepreneurs who will undoubtedly make a difference for millions in India. We’re pleased to be investing alongside of USF.”