Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund) raised $23 million for impact investing in India, nearly a third of it from local investors. It is now gearing up for a second, larger fund. With internet penetration reaching critical mass, the ‘base of the pyramid’ is a serious investible asset class.
Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, co-founder and partner, Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund)
Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India
In early 2015, when Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund) announced it would invest in Bengaluru-based startup BetterPlace Safety Solutions, it was another indication that the fund, an impact investment pioneer in India, was ready to ramp up its footprint in the country.
Businesses deploying technology to improve the livelihoods of the economically unprivileged are Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund)’s target ventures. And BetterPlace—that uses data analytics to offer background verification services, thereby helping the urban poor land jobs—was a perfect fit in the venture fund’s portfolio.
BetterPlace’s platform uses a person’s Aadhaar number, provided by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), as the basis for providing digital verification solutions. By tapping into the Aadhaar database and also physically verifying documents, the startup creates a ‘trust profile’ of its users. This can be used by millions of urban poor to apply for jobs—as security staff, courier and food delivery personnel, in warehouses and factories and also shopping malls and cab-hailing networks. Health care services platforms like Practo and Portea Medical also rely on BetterPlace’s services to recruit staff.
“It [BetterPlace] is a perfect example of the kind of entrepreneurs that we like to work with and is also a business that applies state-of-the-art technology, on a business-to-business (B2B) basis, to empower low-income people,” says Will Poole, 55, co-founder and managing partner at Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund), which has invested $500,000 (around Rs 3.4 crore at current rates) in BetterPlace.
Poole, who at one time ran a $10-billion business as vice president at Microsoft Corp, teamed up with Dave Richards, another long-time US-based technologist, and Srikrishna Ramamoorthy (an engineering graduate who had earlier co-founded Kinara Capital, a small business lending startup) in 2012 to start Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund), based out of Bengaluru and Seattle.