Nandini Lakshman has written a nice article in BusinessWeek on how VCs in India are broadening their scope and looking at non-obvious opportunities: “India Rides the VC Wave”
“The fishermen from the Indian village of Chidambaram live a hard life. They sleep most of the day, then spend the night out on the water. For light during those dark hours, they have long depended on wobbly kerosene lamps that were easily blown out or, worse, toppled by the wind, risking deadly fires on their boats.
But these days, the kerosene lamps have been replaced with MightyLights, $50 solar-powered fixtures. “I save 100 rupees [$2.50] a month on kerosene alone,” says K Kanimuri, a fisherman’s wife, who also uses the MightyLight in her makeshift kitchen. With her savings, she now makes and sells candles…
…MightyLight is the brainchild of New Delhi-based Cosmos Ignite Innovations, a Stanford University-incubated startup by Matthew Scott and Amit Chugh that aims to provide simple products for the world’s poorest people. And Cosmos got its start with backing from Vinod Khosla, a veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Now Cosmos is in talks with other groups, including London-based 3i Group (TIGRF) and eBay (EBAY) founder Pierre Omidyar, for a second round of funding. “For us, it’s not just the light, but using a sustainable model to affect social change,” says Scott, chief executive of Cosmos.
…”The base of the pyramid is often ignored, but offers a tremendous opportunity,” says Katie Hill, the India representative of Acumen Fund, an $8 million fund backed by the Cisco Systems (CSCO) Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Acumen has put $1.5 million into Ziqitza, a Mumbai-based ambulance company that offers deep discounts on its service for residents of the city’s vast slums. Shafi Matther, the founder of Ziqitza, says the funds will be used to stretch the company’s ambulance fleet of two dozen vehicles to 70 in the next two years, and roll out service across India. It is already operational in the south Indian state of Kerala.
…Or take IT-rural, set up by a group of software engineers from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A clutch of U.S.-based VCs are circling the startup technology venture, which develops solutions for rural India. The company doesn’t just provide a bunch of computers and conduct basic-training classes, but has a Web site to educate farmers, giving them information about crop patterns, nature of soil, crop diseases, and remedies. IT-rural also has established backward and forward linkages, from buying the seeds to branding and retailing products.”
I am hoping to meet some of these guys during one of my future visits.