Raising early-stage funds is an uphill task for deep-tech startups. The first product is often expensive to build and takes years to launch. Not many are willing to back such bold startups until they make a breakthrough in the technologies they are building. It was this that led to the launch of IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship Continuum (CIIE.CO)-backed early-stage venture firm Bharat Innovation Fund (BIF) in 2018. It was meant to provide pre-Series A and Series-A funding to deeptech and IP-focused startups, which remain outside the profile and deal flow of most venture capital (VC) funds at their initial stages.
This category-I VC firm has so far funded seven deep-tech startups, and has seven other investments in tech infrastructure/inclusion solutions, deploying almost 40% of its fund pool of $100 mn. The fund has secured commitments from institutional investors like SIDBI (Fund of Funds), ICICI Lombard, SBI Life, RBL Bank, and Federal Bank, and corporates such as Philips and Bajaj Electricals, along with global entrepreneurs, family offices, and HNIs.
“Under our deeptech umbrella, we have experience in running both tech-focused as well as industry/sector focused startup support programmes,” says Priyanka Chopra, chief operating officer and managing partner – seed investing at CIIE.CO, and a venture partner at BIF. “We are currently running the Sustainability Value Accelerator in a partnership with Accenture and plan to launch more programmes this year.” The $100-mn corpus is allocated to two major funds – BIF and Bharat Inclusion Fund. BIF focuses on deep-tech start-ups while Bharat Inclusion Fund backs India Stack-based products that target the next billion internet users.
“BIF backs deeptech start-ups that build global IPs from India, investing up to $4.5 mn in pre-Series A and Series A entities, while Bharat Inclusion Fund is a seed fund that invests up to about $1 mn in ideas building on the India Stack concept, such as micro-insurance, micro-savings, and mobility products,” she says, adding, “through our knowledge creation efforts, we aim to be every entrepreneur’s toolbox.”
Chopra says, “the seeds for CIIE.CO were sown back in 2002 as an entrepreneurship centre built at IIM Ahmedabad. We came into existence when incubation as well as the idea of ‘startups’, was in its infancy, the idea of formal mentoring and networks was non-existent and venture capitalists were averse to early-stage investments. In 2007-08, the first piece in the CIIE.CO continuum was truly born when we launched and incorporated our technology business incubator. Since then, we have been building the innovation continuum bit by bit as we have diversified into entrepreneurship research and tools, accelerators, seed and venture funds, innovation partnerships, and a lot more.”
Back to the two funds. “We landscape promising sectors and undertake forecasting to outline emerging opportunities; we create capacity building and decision-making tools for entrepreneurs. Some of our recent landscaping and insights building work has been in sectors as diverse as telemedicine, mental health, insurtech, civictech, property tech, legal tech, etc,” Chopra says. “This year we will continue to undertake rigorous research to build a view of the future of tech and startup opportunities, especially in healthtech, citizen tech, deep tech, sustainability and inclusion tech. We will also be introducing DIY tools for startups, host intensively customised problem-solving clinics and institute calendarised training platforms for capacity building of founders and their teams at scale.”
Chopra believes India is poised to be a super-power in producing game-changing innovations. “Now is the best time to be building for Bharat. We will continue with our work in sectors like healthcare, agriculture, clean-tech, enterprise-tech, fintech, ed-tech/skilling, mobility, space-tech, SaaS, biotech, defence and craft. Climate tech has become really popular with more technology focusing on sustainable, and scalable solutions. There is a lot of capital available in India and a lot more global capital will be available in the next 2-3 years. If you don’t solve the carbon problems from India’s perspective, you are not solving it for the world. It’s not a localised problem, it’s a global problem,” she adds.