In Mid-April, we launched our 18th Village Capital program, “Tech for Impact,” in partnership with CIIE (the Center for Incubation, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship) at IIM-Ahmedabad. We received about 400 applications from across India from entrepreneurs building technologies that provide affordable basic services to the poor, and have high growth.
One of the best things about Village Capital’s global, high-level perspective is the ability to see a huge volume of enterprises and identify trends in disruptive innovation—and as we introduce the cohort, I want to identify some themes we’re seeing from the top innovators in India.
Tech-enabled health diagnostics
Health care in India is a massive problem. While, in theory, the poor have free access to health care, in practice, the poor can rarely have time in front of a doctor, and preventative care is almost nonexistent. 50% of Indians living in rural areas have no access to health care providers at all, and a medical emergency can bankrupt a family.
In a phrase, most innovators in Indian health care are following the theme, “an ounce of prevention is worth a point of cure.” Some of our most innovative ventures are focused on solving this problem—providing basic preventative care to the poor at a price they can afford out of their pocket.
Affordable learning solutions
An estimated 20 million students in India—approximately the entire primary school-going population in the US—live below the poverty line and attend private school. Up to 30% of low-income Indian parents’ budget—in some houses, more than any other line-item—goes to education. Tremendous innovation is happening across the education sector, particularly through business models serving the poor, and we’re excited to have education as a track focus for Village Capital-CIIE.
India-based invention—designing for cost
Most market-based initiatives to serve the poor in India fail at price point. Western companies develop inventions that seem like they would fit great in India—but the cost structure of the innovation is too expensive for the poor to afford.
Fortunately, India is a land of inventors. A high degree of engineering/technology talent, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, means that our Village Capital cohort is full of potentially disruptive innovations developed and implemented in India. Our entrepreneurs are price-point sensitive as well—starting with an end price in mind, and designing a product to fit affordability, rather than charging developed-world prices for emerging-market budgets.
India’s population is growing by 10 million per year, and 65% of the population is under the age of 35. At the same time, an unprecedented number of Indians are in the labor market and educational system—over 900 million Indians use a mobile phone, and an estimated 150 million are expected extreme poverty to subsistence in the next decade. The outcome is a heavily under-employed, largely-informal labor market, as well as a chaotic economic system that, to date, is ill-served by innovation (microfinance, the largest financial services innovation in the world, still only serves a fraction of the Indian population). We’ve seen a significant number of ventures providing innovative solutions to both labor and financial services.