Unitus 2012 Mid-Year Update

The Unitus family is partnering with a growing list of exciting, innovative young companies that share the common goal of creating opportunity for millions of people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid (BoP).

As you will see from this semi-annual update, we’ve got some very compelling work happening across the Unitus family!

As a reminder, these are the companies that comprise Unitus:

  • Unitus Labs (Seattle & Bangalore) – non-profit hub and laboratory for new ideas
  • Unitus Equity Fund (Seattle and Bangalore) – pioneering microfinance venture fund managed by Elevar Equity
  • Unitus Impact (San Francisco and Bangalore) – investing in early-stage business to improve livelihoods of millions of BoP workers
  • Unitus Capital (Bangalore, Beijing, Singapore, Sydney) – boutique investment bank raising growth capital for businesses serving BoP populations
  • Unitus Seed Fund (Seattle and Bangalore) – seed-stage investing in startups with potential to improve the lives of millions of BoP families

Unitus Capital raises capital to bring innovative eye care solution to masses in India

Healthcare delivery is one of the most serious challenges faced by India, which has only one doctor for every 2,000 people – 1/3rd the world average, and for specialties such as ophthalmology the ratio is 1:14,000. The low doctor-to-patient ratio, illiteracy, and poor rural reach of healthcare infrastructure have exacerbated the problem.

Earlier this year, Unitus Capital raised a $5 million investment for Forus Health, a Bangalore-based, affordable medical technology and solutions company.    Forus’ mission is to address the healthcare delivery issues in the developing world through innovative and inclusive product design and service deployment. Its flagship product is 3nethra, a portable, low-cost, pre-screening ophthalmology solution.

Forus Health 3nethra product introduction

3nethra can detect cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retina, refraction and cornea problems – diseases that contribute to 90% of avoidable blindness in India.  This additional capital will enable Forus to scale-up the production and distribution of 3nethra, as well as to develop other affordable medical technologies. Technologies such as 3nethra have the potential to bridge the massive healthcare divide by reducing the cost of healthcare delivery. The immense business potential, strong leadership and strong research capability collectively contribute to Forus’ potential to prevent millions of people from becoming unnecessarily blind.

Unitus Capital continues to solidify its position as the leading financial advisor to social businesses in 2012, working with clients in sectors including healthcare, renewable energy, microfinance and more to raise the strategic, early stage growth capital they need to deliver high-quality products and services to BoP populations.  Since 2008, Unitus Capital has helped raise more than $750 million for various social businesses operating in Asia.

Unitus Seed Fund is graduating from a Unitus Labs experiment to an independent organization

Late in 2011, Unitus Labs launched a new pilot initiative called Unitus Seed Fund (USF) to research the opportunity for Unitus to play a new catalytic role in seed-stage investing for promising startups with potential for delivering opportunity to millions of people living at the base of the economic pyramid. So far this year, Unitus Seed Fund has made 4 investments in India and has completed significant market research.

Villgro Innovation Marketing sales person explaining product to a small farmer client in India

One example: Villgro Innovation Marketing (VIM). VIM delivers quality, affordable agriculture and dairy input products to small and marginal farmers in India resulting in increased yield and therefore income for these farmers. VIM hires entrepreneurial local farmers as their agents who earn additional income by selling and delivering products in an efficient manner to farmers in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Last month, Unitus Labs announced that Unitus Seed Fund is graduating from its incubation with Unitus Labs into a new, standalone, for-profit impact investment management firm and investment fund. USF plans to make seed investments in 30-40 startups over the next few years, with a focus on India.

Unitus Seed Fund is led by 3 senior investment partners, Dave Richards, Will Poole and Srikrishna Ramamoorthy with offices in Seattle & Bangalore.

Read more about Unitus Seed Fund announcement >

Unitus Impact investee Ruma accelerates impact through partnership with Kiva microfinance

Since its launch in early 2011, Unitus Impact (UI) has built a portfolio of four innovative livelihood ventures in India, Southeast Asia, and China. While UI’s investments are not limited to certain industries, current investments focus on supply chain solutions, agribusiness, microenterprise financing tools, and microfranchising opportunities. UI has established a robust pipeline of future investments, is working with a set of high potential entrepreneurs to refine their business models, and is working closely with the management of existing portfolio companies to help them succeed.

Ruma village agent interacting with client

As an update, Ruma, a UI portfolio company based in Jakarta, Indonesia, that is focused on “increas[ing] dignity, income, and access for the poor through technology” has grown quickly since UI’s investment earlier this year. Ruma enables its agent network, comprised of thousands of small rural shopkeepers, to increase their incomes through the sale of digitally distributable products (e.g., mobile top-up minutes and prepaid electricity vouchers) and the opportunity to conduct low-income consumer surveys for large companies looking to more effectively serve rural and low-income populations.

Until now, Ruma’s products and services were not easily accessible to consumers in rural areas and were not a regular part of the inventory of small low-income shopkeepers. Increasing the availability of such digital products in rural areas directly addresses multiple pain points of rural consumers, who now save time and money by transacting with the Ruma agent as opposed to traveling to more urban areas for their needs. As such, Ruma’s management team is building a valuable business that has an inherent impact on the livelihoods of the poor and is working closely with well-known companies to develop and offer additional innovative products and services to Ruma”s agent network and rural consumers.

To further deepen Ruma’s livelihood impact, Ruma and microlender Kiva recently established a strategic partnership where Kiva’s lenders can provide microloans to the agents in Ruma’s network. These Kiva loans have already begun to enable Ruma’s low-income agents to purchase and maintain an ample inventory of mobile top-up minutes and electricity vouchers, helping the agents achieve higher sales, manage cash flows more effectively, and build their credit history. In recognition of the tremendous efforts by Ruma’s founder and CEO Aldi Haryopratomo and his team, the World Economic Forum recently named Aldi as a Young Global Leader. Unitus Impact offers its congratulations to Aldi on this well-deserved accolade and is excited to be a part of Ruma’s exciting future!

Unitus Equity Fund MFI investee wins recognition and raises more growth capital

 

Women enjoying role-playing exercise while learning financial literacy from Ujjivan

Unitus Equity Fund (UEF) investee Ujjivan, a Bangalore-based MFI, was recognized as the 2nd best company to work for in India’s financial services sector in the 2012 survey conducted by Great Place to Work Institute (India.) Ujjivan continues to be among India’s 25 Best Companies to Work for, across industries. This year, it also ranks 3rd in the leadership development category.  This is a significant accomplishment for such a young company and indicates the long-term, healthy corporate culture building approach facilitated by Founder & CEO, Samit Ghosh.

Earlier this year, Ujjivan closed a $25 million round of equity financing. The Series D round was led by Wolfensohn Capital Partners and by FMO (Netherlands Development Finance Company).  UEF also participated in the round, highlighting its continued support for the company.  Simultaneously, Ujjivan secured $25 million of credit commitments to further bolster its micro-lending capability.  We believe that Ujjivan is now the best capitalized MFI in India as measured by debt coverage ratios and the strength and diversity of its shareholder base.  This transaction should be viewed as a turning point in the recovery of the Indian MFI sector and underscores that a long-term, customer focused approach is the superior strategy. This past six months, Ujjivan has shown improving results and positive operating momentum.

Like what we’re doing?

If what we are doing resonates with you, we’d love your help to accelerate and expand our impact.  Please contact us to let us know that you’re interested and ways that you’d like to consider getting more involved.

Sincerely,

Unitus Labs Board

Joseph Grenny, Board Chair
Mike Murray, Director
Bob Gay, Director
Tim Stay, Director
Dave Richards, CEO

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