Saha Fund: A peek at the VC fund for Her by Her

As a budding angel investor, Ankita Vashistha disliked being the only lady in the boardroom. While male investors were at their attentive best for men’s presentations, they seldom gave women entrepreneurs the same regard. “Most tech conferences and investor pitch sessions are male-dominated. Many of them neither take woman entrepreneurs seriously nor do they understand women-centric products,” Ankita, who used to be part of an angel group, said. She failed to comprehend why woman-led startups were valued lower than the men-run ones in the same space. That’s why the 30-year-old, who previously managed Tholons Capital, decided to rewrite the rules of the game. She joined hands with fellow entrepreneur Usha Amin to float Saha Fund, India’s first investment vehicle focused on women entrepreneurs and women-specific ideas. With a corpus of INR 100 crore (US$15.12 million approx), the fund also backs ventures that have a sizable female workforce. Saha’s a return-chasing fund with 10 portfolio firms and 5-6 more investments lined up this year.
“We are a tech-focused fund that wants to give handsome returns to investors. We are very much for-profit,” Ankita added.
For 2017, Ankita has clear dos and don’ts- embrace noteworthy startups in healthcare, artificial intelligence and fintech domain. And stay away from e-commerce and e-fashion investments. Since women are wired for multitasking, Ankita believes that they are naturally suited for the startup world. With the right guidance and support system, they can build sustainable companies. “Women outperform their male counterparts when it comes to attributes such as attention to detail, multi-tasking and empathy for others. I would say woman-led startups are more resilient in tough times,” says Ankita. The numbers bear Ankita out, albeit partially. Data from Nucleus 42 shows that about 100 Indian startups shut shop in the last 24 months. Our analysis shows that only 12 of these firms had a woman co-founder. Just four had women in the corner office. But that’s not to say that women have had a disproportionate share in the success stories. Out of the 10 Indian unicorns, e-tailer Shopclues (Radhika Aggarwal) is the sole company co-founded by a woman. Indeed, less than 10 per cent of all Indian startups are shepherded by women. In comparison, women launch more than half of all new internet companies in China. That’s also because about 17 percent of Chinese investing partners are female. In India, there is a real dearth of women investors, laments Ankita. Vani Kola of Kalaari Capital and Renuka Ramnath of Multiples Equity are among the few luminous ones. Going by the Chinese example, more representation in investor circles does have a direct correlation with women entrepreneurship. Team Saha’s other mission is to inculcate gender sensitivity in investee firms. It means encouraging ventures to provide benefits such as flexi-working hours, pick up and drops and crèche facility, besides others, for female employees. More importantly, create a work environment that respects women and upholds their dignity. Again, this is not just about promoting virtues at the workplace. Multiple studies show that companies that value gender balance and inclusiveness are more productive. As Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund recently pointed out, “the moral case for greater gender equity is clear, and so is the economic case.” Remember, productivity and profitability will be key themes for startups this year. The valuation woes facing Flipkart and Snapdeal have had a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem. Last year, the pressure was on Series A, B and C type transactions while early-stage funding deals were aplenty. But this year, fewer pre-Series A deals are being closed, says Ankita. Recent data from Venture Intelligence shows VC investments touched a 5-month low while angel investments hit a 14 month low in February. The verdict is clear: bloodshed on deal-street will lead to more startup deaths this year. Saha wants to insulate its startups, which include the likes of fitness discovery platform Fitternity and product customization platform Gingercrush besides others, from the vagaries of a tumultuous market. One way is to control fixed costs. The team is toying with the idea of creating an in-house shared services unit that could render services around finance & accounting, compliance and HR to portfolio firms. That’s because smaller ventures find it difficult to attract talent in these areas. The fund, which intends to empanel specialist partners, has already began providing legal service to investees. The message is clear: focus on the core business and leave the allied functions to specialists. By all indications, 2017 will be a watershed year for Saha. Come Q3, Usha and Ankita will prepare the groundwork for Saha’s second VC fund. Investors from the US and UK are evincing interest in the Saha Model, giving Ankita the confidence of planning for a larger fund. Though Saha has traditionally cut pre-Series A cheques, it now wants to widen the net.
“We are willing to work with entrepreneurs who have nothing more than an idea. We will do it through partnerships with accelerators and incubators,” she said.
Also on the cards is a co-working space that allows best practices to be shared from the outset. Ask Ankita her long term vision and pat comes the reply: “Be in business till the need for a woman-specific fund dies.” The article has been republished with permission, and was originally published here.

Adith Charlie

A Business Journalist, Researcher and Writer on International Trade, Adith Charlie is Tech Editor @ LinkedIn <!--more--> A Business Journalist, Researcher and Writer on International Trade, Adith Cha

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