India has seen rapid technological transformation in the past few years, resulting in hundreds of millions of first-time users of the internet and other digital platforms—a segment we call the Next Half Billion. This presents tremendous new potential to bridge the access gap to much needed services for people in need. Access to services in India has historically been inadequate for several reasons, including varying state capacity, inadequate depth of market, inaccessible geography, and lack of appropriate business models. Now, new “digital rails” of greater mobile phone penetration, reduced data service costs, and digital identity-linked APIs—collectively known as the India Stack—provide new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. The rapidly declining cost of data, for example, has allowed businesses to reach formerly underserved individuals in a cost-effective manner.
Omidyar Network is committed to backing entrepreneurs who are empowering the Next Half Billion with cost-effective, secure, and privacy-protecting business models that foster trust and confidence. While looking for such innovations for this segment, we observed that business models are not always obvious. Servicing this segment in a sustainable way will require a lot of experimentation and innovation. This calls for a combination of grant capital to foster innovation and test out models. It also requires early-stage venture capital, with a particular focus on business models that are customised for this segment. That’s why we invested in the Bharat Inclusion Initiative, in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Bharat Inclusion Initiative, is being launched as a new program within IIM-Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE). IIM-Ahmedabad has a distinguished history of academic rigour, public policy involvement, and service to the nation. The initiative will back game-changing start-ups that are leveraging the ongoing digital transformation in India to create access to services that were previously inaccessible for many Indians, in areas including financial inclusion, livelihood, education, and health.
The Bharat Inclusion Initiative will include a wide array of activities, including seed-stage funding of innovative start-ups focused on inclusion, research, seminars, incubation, acceleration, hackathons, and grants. This holistic approach will deploy flexible capital to support entrepreneurs in ways that are most meaningful and impactful for the individuals they serve. For example, an innovator looking to test out a new product idea that can lead to greater inclusion can access the incubator and grants, whereas a start-up that is ready to be commercially deployed can access seed-stage capital from the fund. To enhance the learning of the entire ecosystem, all research, insights, knowledge, and publications created under the program will be widely disseminated.
Within this initiative, Omidyar Network is investing in the Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund, which will provide seed-stage capital to start-ups that are using these technologies to reach the Next Half Billion. We anticipate that the investees will come from different geographies and sectors. While the fund itself will invest in seed-stage and pre-series A start-ups most likely to reach underserved populations, the wider program will organize events such as open houses that will be accessible to all interested innovators. This, we hope, will quicken the pace of inclusion in the country.
Learn more and get involved here.