Why Bill Gates Is Backing Impact Entrepreneurs in India
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Will Poole, a top Microsoft executive-turned seed-stage investor, is tapping American and Indian tech entrepreneurs to back some startups in India that are decidedly not tech-related.
Late last year, he closed his $20 million Unitus Seed Fund with a limited-partners list that included an array of startup founders, including the original success story: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Unitus has taken early stakes in 16 for-profit startups providing health, education and livelihoods for Indian families living on less than $10 a day. Many of the ventures are decidedly un-digital, such as chains of dental clinics and pre-school, while others are digitally enabled, such as mGaadi, an “Uber for rickshaws” to boost incomes in Bangalore.
Gates put his prestige as well as his checkbook to work with a statement of support for Unitus’ model. “Impact investing is a powerful model with the potential to build markets and drive change for the people who need it most,” Gates said in the statement.
Unitus invests on the thesis that entrepreneurs providing valuable goods and services optimized for lower-income Indians can reach high volumes, because of pent-up consumer demand in underserved markets.
“There’s a very large, growing and increasingly affluent market among the masses in India,” Poole says. “Companies that target those customers well, that know their needs, and that learn how to meet those needs are going to be valuable companies.”