ACT Grants eyes fund to solve societal issues

ACT Grants, a non-profit alliance of more than 100 volunteers from start-ups and VCs, is raising ₹500 crore to back ideas that can help utilise the ‘start-up energy’ to solve issues related to healthcare, environment, education, and women empowerment. The alliance had come together last year to set up a ₹100-crore fund to combat the pandemic.

The alliance has funded 54 start-ups and over 100 projects to support existing medical infrastructure till now. “...individuals, companies, and the funds, all contributed...34 founders and corporate leaders and VCs as individuals and then 44 mainstream funds all contributed in the first round, or the first Rs 100 crore that we raised,” Shekhar Kirani, Partner, Accel & Investment Committee Member, ACT told The Hindu.

He added that of the total grants given, almost 80% had been deployed in areas related to COVID-19, such as training and education, oxygen therapy, testing infrastructure, ventilator infrastructure, and mental health.

Mekin Maheshwari, founder, & Investment Committee Member, ACT, added that given the success of the efforts and operation during COVID-19, the alliance had decided to do similar work in other areas such as education, environment and women empowerment.

“This continues to remain a not-for-profit or a philanthropic initiative. The thought is that we may have four-five such initiatives and start out with raising about ₹500 crore. But the key piece is how do we create leverage… some of these initiatives go on to be funded by larger foundations, larger players or governments, to create much more impact to the tune of ₹5,000 crore,” Mr. Maheshwari added.

“So, we are thinking of ourselves as the catalytic early stage funders, philanthropic in nature, but with a clear eye on impact,” he said.

Mr. Kirani said that the start-up ecosystem has a role to play in how to solve the societal problems in India. ACT can help identify a set of start-ups by giving them grants and also connect them to the government to scale. “This playbook we learned during COVID...So, why not start the same thing in other categories as well where India needs help,” he said.

Mr. Maheshwari added that currently ACT is looking at bringing in people who are passionate about a specific cause and who can contribute by helping anchor that space. For example, Mr. Maheshwari, along with Ashish Dhawan, founder and chairman, Central Square Foundation (CSF) and Ashoka University, will be co-anchoring the education vertical.

“I think in terms of the execution style we really learnt a lot from operating the way ACT did... this remains a uniform platform for people in the start-up ecosystem to engage in and then for governments, for other funders, etc. for us to partner with. So that remains consistent, but the problem spaces go from COVID to education, environment and others.”

He also added that the money is just a starting point and all volunteers work quite closely with start-ups that came up with ideas. “In some cases, we did not even fund but they were creating impact. Our whole purpose in all of this is to solve problems...we are very clear that this small amount of money is only to catalyse a little bit of change. To me, the real power of this network is the kind of capabilities and competencies that this group… how can a solution be amplified and scaled up,” he said.

Mr. Kirani added, “A lot of that can happen when founders and VCs volunteer and spend time with the start ups... I do also expect us to be able to bring in more volunteer energy in terms of product and tech capacities which might be harder for some of the people working in say core societal problems sectors to be able to find those capabilities, but those capabilities are a lot more easily accessible to the start-up ecosystem.”

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:12:12 PM |

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