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“Agritech And Deep-tech Companies Continue To Remain Our Focus”

Ritu Verma, Co-founder, Ankur Capital, in an interaction with BW Businessworld, talks about the art of creating products, bringing early-stage technology innovations to market, deploying investments across 14 companies from her firm’s Fund-I, besides fintech, FDI influx and more

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A venture capital firm focused on agritech and healthcare sectors, Ankur Capital boasts a portfolio made up of several successful startups including Niramai, Karma Healthcare, CropIn, Jiny, BigHaat, and Health Sutra. Ritu Verma, who co-founded Ankur Capital in 2013 after holding leadership positions at Unilever and Philips, says she was led to start the firm for two reasons. "My heart lay in actually getting products to market and looking at disruptive technology for markets,” she says.

Before starting out with Ankur Capital, you led the advisory board at Truman. Can you tell us about the areas of practices at Truman and what led you to start out through it?  

Truman was about going back to what I really wanted to do which is working on investments in early-stage technologies and getting them to market. I worked with CVCs in an advisory capacity looking at technologies globally. The mandates were quite broad—biotech to material tech. I ended up working on battery technologies and that was a global focus because one of the CVCs was interested in it. I did this from about 2007-09. Then I quit and moved back to India. I ended up working with startups and meeting my partner Rama. One thing led to another and we ultimately set up Ankur Capital. 

What are the learnings from Truman that you incorporated while starting Ankur Capital? 

At Truman, it was called advisory because Truman was not making the investments, it was advising on them. The corporate venture capital arm that I was working with was making the investments. It is much like Ankur Capital -- it is a fund and there is an advisor. So, I was working with the teams at these corporate venture capital houses on making these investments.

Is the fund currently looking at any specific sectors for investments?

We’re sector agnostic. We’re deploying out of our second fund. The first fund was deployed across 14 companies and our thesis was to say that technology is creating new opportunities. We ended up having a large exposure to agtech and food, a bunch of deeptech companies. That continues to remain our focus for our second fund. 

What are the key factors that a venture capitalist looks at while investing in a startup? 

I think there are three critical things, as I speak from the position where we sit as an early-stage VC firm. One is the team because at the end it’s the team that takes it through the journey. The second part is the market and size of the market that the venture is getting created in. The third is what is innovative, disruptive and the business model is being approached. 

Can you tell us about the impact of technology in agricultural value chains in recent years?

There are a lot of inefficiencies in these chains. It’s fragmented from both the farming side to the supply chain part. In order for anybody to have visibility, to bring in efficiencies, to connect demand and supply, there’s a huge role for technology to play. 

The pandemic was an event that none of us predicted. When people get hit in bad situations, the thing that stays is food because at the end of the day we still have to eat. This became very important—digitally being able to manage food supply chains. We always saw it as a customer but if you look at the buyers and traders, they had similar problems and so they had to adopt technology. That definitely accelerated the adoption of technology. 

What are your thoughts on the growth of edtech in the country in the upcoming years?

I think edtech is here to stay and technology-enabled education holds value in a student’s life. The question in our minds is that the balance settles somewhere else. What’s been clear from the pandemic is that in certain areas, pure digital online works great but in other areas, there is need for physical as well. I believe this will all become hybrid. Technology will become a much larger part of education than it was pre-pandemic but it won’t be the only mode of delivery. 

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Magazine 30 July 2022