Impact investor Acumen to launch India-dedicated fund

Acumen started its India office in 2006, and the region is already the biggest geography for the firm in terms of capital invested


So far, Acumen has raised all of its capital in the US.
So far, Acumen has raised all of its capital in the US.

Global impact investor Acumen is planning to launch an India-dedicated fund, as the investor looks to double down on its most significant geography, said a senior executive of the firm.

“We are going to become more and more focused on India. We have been focused on investing India, but we will get much deeper in connecting with the right set of people who can further the opportunities for our companies. So we will look at corporate partnerships and raising funds in India,” said Ajit Mahadevan, India director at Acumen.

So far, Acumen has raised all of its capital in the US.

“We have got a good track record of 27 firms. We have got a bunch of success stories. So we will raise an India fund. We will start working on it this fiscal,” Mahadevan added.

Acumen started its India office in 2006, and the region is already the biggest geography for the firm in terms of capital invested.

Acumen was incorporated in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz, with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation and individual philanthropists. Acumen’s work in India spans four sectors—healthcare, education, clean energy and agriculture.

“Acumen has invested over $100 million globally and the largest country is India. About a third of that has been invested in India, around $32 million, making us the largest non-microfinance investor in our sectors,” said Mahadevan.

Acumen has invested in businesses such as emergency medical services provider Ziqitza Health Care Ltd, affordable housing firm Aarusha Homes, chain of primary healthcare centres Our Family Clinic and in Labournet, which provides training for informal sector workers.

The plan to raise a dedicated India fund is part of the firm’s evolution in India, which has seen Acumen significantly up its game in terms of investments, while also focusing its resources on a few key areas.

“In the past three years, there has been a focus on doing more investments. We have done 11 investments in the past three years. We have also focused down. We have created clear strategies in each sector,” said Mahadevan.

The past three years have also seen the impact investor seek partners to further its agenda. “Earlier, we did not connect with the Indian corporate system as much as we should have. Today, we realize that many of our companies, through corporate partnerships, can benefit hugely. We now have corporate partnerships with banks and technology firms,” said Mahadevan.

Acumen’s impact assessment goes well beyond the “number of lives impacted”, the most common metric in the industry.

“We measure three things—depth, breadth and poverty focus. Breadth is what people generally measure, which is number of lives impacted. For example, for our portfolio company Ignis Careers, which is into English curriculum education and teacher training for affordable schools, it is not enough to say that trained, say around 5,000 students. That’s breadth. So, we conduct studies to understand the improvement of English skills pre and post training,” said Mahadevan.

By only looking at breadth, one cannot judge if their intervention has helped people and how it has helped them, he added. Acumen employs a team of 10 people which conducts in-depth studies to measure impact across these three parameters.

The impact investors’ increased focus on the Indian market, will also see Acumen focus on themes such as technology and financing.

“Across the four sectors we work in, we will look at these two enabling themes, because on the back of that you can create accelerated impact. All our education companies have a technology element. In agriculture, the focus is on access to markets using technology,” said Mahadevan.

The impact investor is exploring new avenues such as student and school financing, health insurance and MSME debt financing.

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