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'Villgro Has Supported 323 Social Enterprises' Audrey Selian, Director, Artha Impact & A B Chakravarthy, India Country Director - Upaya Social Ventures

Villgro and Switzerland-based Artha Impact are jointly launching iPitch with an aim to connect hundreds of social entrepreneurs with impact investors; this is beyond the 30+ entrepreneurs that stand to win funding.

'Villgro Has Supported 323 Social Enterprises' Audrey Selian, Director, Artha Impact & A B Chakravarthy, India Country Director - Upaya Social Ventures
'Villgro Has Supported 323 Social Enterprises' Audrey Selian, Director, Artha Impact & A B Chakravarthy, India Country Director - Upaya Social Ventures

What is your business model and how does it work? How was the journey so far?

Villgro is India's foremost and one of the world's largest social enterprise incubators. Established in 2001, Villgro creates impactful, innovative and successful enterprises in Health, Agribusiness, and Climate Action. Since 2001, Villgro has supported 323 social enterprises that have raised over INR 4,388 million in investments, to create 4922 jobs and impact over 20 million lives.

Core to our work is the belief that market based models are a powerful way to solve social problems and create impact at scale. By capacitating these models with the right resources and knowledge, they are a sustainable way of creating lasting social impact.

Villgro was awarded the Best Incubator Award by the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (GoI) in 2020. Apart from India, Villgro also has a presence in the USA, Kenya and the Philippines.

Tell us about your recent partnership with Switzerland - based Artha Impact?

Villgro and Switzerland-based Artha Impact are jointly launching iPitch with an aim to connect hundreds of social entrepreneurs with impact investors; this is beyond the 30+ entrepreneurs that stand to win funding. This year’s coalition is seeking a wider range of enterprises right from prototype stage to revenue generating enterprises that are creating innovative and scalable solutions in Agriculture, Climate Action, Healthcare, ShelterTech & Housing, Education and Livelihood among other sectors. Social entrepreneurs will have access to grants, equity and debt solutions with ticket sizes ranging from USD 25,000 to USD 1 million.

Jenaan Lilani Bhargava, Head, Diversity and Inclusion, Villgro Innovations Foundation: The pandemic has no doubt affected communities indiscriminately, but as with all economic, climatic or health shocks, the bottom of the pyramid bears the biggest brunt. We wanted to make sure that we are maximizing the leverage of iPitch to the fullest, which is why we doubled the strength of the coalition and worked hard to increase the funding availability by 5x. Moreover, our partnership with Artha Impact will give hundreds of entrepreneurs a direct entry point to one of the largest networks of impact investors across the globe. Equally important, is to ensure that under-represented entrepreneurs have an opportunity to be discovered through iPitch, and we are doing this by working closely with other ecosystem players. We are hopeful that these collaborations will significantly increase the pace of innovations being deployed to under-served communities in India.

Importance of impact investing for social entrepreneurs: How better access to a larger ecosystem of investors can help underrepresented entrepreneurs convert their ideas into scalable businesses

Audrey Selian (Director, Artha Impact): iPitch brings much needed connective tissue to one of the most challenging – and impactful – arenas of social innovation; it brings the gravitas of Villgro’s deep experience and combines it with a program that is light-touch, and accessible for anyone ready to ‘walk the talk’. As Artha Impact, we are pleased to be partnering with iPitch to help drive its access to the wider ecosystem of international investors that we have been cultivating since 2008. Our goals are fully aligned: to drive more impact capital to India’s best social entrepreneurs.

A B Chakravarthy (India Country Director - Upaya Social Ventures): iPitch gives underrepresented entrepreneurs a good platform to access and understand the different types of capital available and potential institutions it can come from. It also helps create awareness on what it takes to access this capital (through the sessions held with various investors). Lastly, fosters the diligence process resulting in investments.

What is the Value of unified platforms like iPitch that bring together start-ups and entrepreneurs across all segments of the country and reputed impact investors?

Audrey Selian: It’s all about access, discovery and transaction costs. We are strong believers in unified platforms, both physical and virtual – and iPitch is a perfect complement to our own Artha Platform developed nearly 13 years ago to capture and hold the profiles of entrepreneurs and active impact investors in the country.

A B Chakravarthy: 

For Investors:

a. It helps in co-investing along with other peers who are like-minded 

For Entrepreneurs:

a. It gives them the choice to meet and discuss with a lot of early stage impact (institutional) investors. This is unique of iPitch platform

b. It helps in concluding an investment in a defined time frame

What are the challenges impact investors face while scouting for a good pipeline of social enterprises? What makes iPitch a suitable platform for investors to identify the right talent?

Audrey Selian: Impact investors who are new to a national ecosystem usually must partake in a learning curve that comprises a discovery and network-building phase; it takes time to meet the right organizations and players, and to build relationships that facilitate the deployment of impact capital. Even those who are seasoned practitioners may not be able to keep their finger on the pulse of where the best social enterprises are rising; COVID-19 and the constraints it has placed on travel has certainly made things more difficult in this regard. For these and many more reasons, iPitch is an excellent platform for investors to avail themselves of one of the best-placed and most powerful programmatic ‘machines’ out there in discovery and cultivation of India’s most promising social startups. It draws from the decades-long experience of Villgro, and also convenes a seriously inspiring group of people.

A B Chakravarthy: In the last few years, early stage (impact focussed) companies are emerging from Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns apart from metro cities. Some of them are in remote geographies. There are not enough channels/ platforms in some of these geographies for investors to reach out to. iPitch has created a country-wide outreach and eased this process of identification.

Sectors where investors have previously invested in and what is the expectation from 2021?

Audrey Selian: We’ve invested in agriculture, livelihood, health and skills thanks to the support of Villgro and Menterra over the years. We are excited to be a formal (member) part of iPitch for the first time this year.

A B Chakravarthy: We have identified companies and ran diligence for investments across sectors like 1. Agri 2. Livelihoods 3. Waste management 4. Rural Manufacturing and 5. Arts & Crafts which is of Upaya's interest. We are looking forward to making an investment in 2021.

What are the challenges faced by investors during the covid era?

Audrey Selian: There was a great study done by the Global Impact Investing Network on exactly this topic over the last year. Discovery and due diligence have been heavily compromised as processes for investors who sit outside or far from their target areas. iPitch helps with both, and specifically at the smallest (and arguably hardest, most expensive) end of the startup spectrum.

A B Chakravarthy: Our typical scouting and diligence consist of meeting potential companies and their partners before making investment decisions. This got impacted due to Covid. We have found ways to address and are able to make 10 investments in the last 12-18 months.



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