Investing from 8,000 Miles Away to Change the Lives of Millions

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Unitus Ventures Offices at Impact HUB SeattleIf you want to have global impact from Seattle, a few things are required: reliable broadband connectivity, tolerance for long plane flights and odd working hours, and a great team and connections on-the-ground where you’re investing.  Unitus Ventures ’s home office is at the Impact HUB Seattle, where the broadband is fine, and where many other like-souls spend their time making a difference locally and abroad.  At our HUB office we have two investing partners, a vp of fundraising, and two interns, with the balance of the team in Bangalore India, some 8,000 miles and 20 hours of flying away.

Many ask us: why are you focused on India? Backed by the successful Unitus Group, we’re building a Micro VC platform focused on high-growth sectors such as healthcare, education, agriculture, livelihoods, tech for development and necessities that have built in impact for low-income populations. India has more people in closer proximity needing these services than anywhere else on the planet. Unitus Ventures Six Sector FocusBy investing in impact businesses serving this extraordinary need, we look to provide strong financial returns and provide opportunities to millions of people living at the base of the economic pyramid (BoP). Nowhere else is such scale and potential for return possible.

Diving a little deeper on the “why India” question requires a few numbers. While India has experienced substantial growth and development over the past few decades, unlike China where hundreds of millions of risen from poverty, the vast majority of India’s BoP population have not enjoyed many benefits of its growth. Statistics that illustrate this include:

  • Large low income population: India’s BoP population is approximately 1 billion people living at under $10/day family income.
  • Need for skills: More than 1 million youth have their 18th birthday every month. Most of them do not have the skills to get a job despite many job openings.
  • Lack of access to education: India is 2nd worst globally for education achievement.
  • Lack of key infrastructure: More than 140 million people in India do not have reasonable access to affordable, clean drinking water.
  • Rapid economic growth: India’s gross domestic product (“GDP”) has grown at an average rate of approximately 7.5% per year for the last five years and is expected to growth at about 5-7% per year for the next five years. Yet the BoP population is not shrinking.

USF Focus AreaWith that combination of need and resulting entrepreneurial activity, the challenge is putting together a venture team that can execute effectively. At Unitus Seed fund we use a conventional venture firm model, with our three investing partners driving the decisions to invest in companies, backed by our investment committee, with whom we converse biweekly over Zoom video conferencing, connecting us between Bangalore, Buenos Aires, Provo, Delhi, and Seattle.   We’re unconventional in that we’re high volume “Micro VC”, on track to make 30+ seed investments in the first 4 years, which is 3-5 times the number of investments made by other impact firms of our size. We leverage the best practices of the US venture community and apply our partners’ decades of operational experience to grow our portfolio. Our team in Bangalore applies their experiences and relationships across the impact sector in India as well as those of our 35+ Venture Advisors to ensure great deal flow, support quick decision making, and provide ongoing support to our portfolio companies. We could not hope to do what we do without such a strong team and network on the ground in India.

The final key element of our bi-continental operation is in making *everything* we do a documented, clear, repeatable process.  For example, whenever we take on a portfolio-related task, we think about doing it for 40 companies, up to 12 times per year per company, over 5-10 years, with only a handful of busy people to make all that happen.  So we have to be brutally efficient, striving for simplicity and clarity on all fronts, and using simple cloud tools so we can work from anywhere and collaborate seamlessly across the globe.
Seattle to Bangalore MapTwenty three hours airport to airport, Seattle to Bangalore, does not make travel easy; each of us does it once a quarter. But with the efficiency of our systems and ability to be productive from just about anywhere, it works out remarkably well to make the Impact HUB Seattle our home base, from which we aim to improve the lives of millions some 8,000 miles away.

 

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