India as an impact investment destination holds great promise. It is a country with an aspirational, young population (86% of the population is younger than 55 years) focused on enriching their lives through hard work and entrepreneurship. At the same time, the country faces serious challenges like inequality (gender, education, family wealth) and a lack of technology, organised supply chains, and access to capital. Although 65% of India’s population lives in rural areas, private equity investments have largely focused on urban companies. As a result, many budding entrepreneurs fail to realise their full potential.
The Incofin India Progress Fund (IPF), wants to change this and supports these promising entrepreneurs to increase their chances of success through patient capital, mentoring and access to a global network. IPF will focus on two sectors which make the deepest social impact in the Indian context – financial inclusion and the agri-food value chain.
The committed capital comes from a diverse set of private and institutional investors including Korys, CDC, Proparco, the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO), the SDG Frontier Fund, the King Baudouin Foundation and several Belgian family offices.
Agri Food Value Chain
Today, vegetables or grains often have to go through many intermediaries before they get from the producer to the store shelves. The long food chain leads to higher costs and generates significant food waste. There are plenty small agro-tech companies that can shorten the supply chain but they have difficulty accessing capital. The Incofin India Progress Fund intends to fill the gap. A more efficient supply chain with fewer handling points will also lead to more transparency and a reduction in food wastages.
The fund has made its first two investments in the young agro-technology companies Unnati (https://www.unnatiagri.com/) and SuperZop (http://www.superzop.com/).
Unnati is Hindi for “progress”. The company, founded in 2010, lives up to that name by guiding farmers through the entire agricultural process more easily using digital means.
This can range from providing quality seeds and other agricultural inputs at cheap prices, to advice on which inputs to use at a particular time, to how to protect their plants and maximize the production.
Through the uStore app, the farmer has access to a network of more than 11,000 points of sale – one of the largest networks of its kind in India. In this way, 4 million farmers find a market for sugar cane, maize , wheat, cotton, mustard and pulses.
According to the World Bank, in 2017, India still had some 190 million adults who did not even have a bank account. The only country with more people without access to financial services is China. India has made good progress in this area in recent years, but it is mainly entrepreneurs in rural areas who are finding themselves closed to reliable capital sources and financial services.
Entrepreneurs therefore often fall back on informal sources of credit, which greatly increases the cost and risk of financing. In rural India, 84% of the credit needs of independent traders and SMEs are met informally. Traditional banks are more interested in large loans and are not very keen on doing business with rural customers. Using their services in rural India is much more complex and expensive than in cities: in an environment where business is often done informally, it is not easy to be able to produce formal documents.
Namdev Finvest is the first entity in which the fund has invested to increase financial inclusion.