Three female investors in Bangalore are preparing to launch the country’s first women-focused seed capital fund, Venture Bean. The fund, which expects regulatory approval by mid-2007, will have a corpus of up to Rs 20 crore.
Anjana Vivek, venture advisor, Venture Bean, and on the visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, says women entrepreneurs lead 40 % of the start-ups that approach her fund for mentoring services. This influenced Vivek and her two partners — chartered accountant Shubha Ganesh and Manjula Sridhar, a wireless technology expert who worked with Lucent Technologies for a decade—to seek out business plans from women.
“We will not be closed to funding good business plans from male entrepreneurs,” Vivek told Mint in an interview. “But, the idea really is to encourage women entrepreneurs to approach us.”
From mid-2007 onwards when the fund is formally registered, Venture Bean expects to make direct investments in start-ups with deal sizes ranging from Rs10 lakh up to Rs3 crore.
The corpus of the fund will find contributions from large venture funds operating in India as well as individual investors working in the technology industry in the US.
For now, it is mentoring companies such as Learning Unbound, an e-learning company; Brain League, which offers know-how on filing patents, protecting and commercializing intellectual property assets; and Esqube Communications, a wireless technology company.
Learning Unbound is promoted by Madhumita Saha, a veteran with stints at IBM and NIIT, and Bhooma Krishnan, a teacher before her current job.
Saha looked for sensitivity to work-life balance and gender specific mentoring when she approached a women-centric fund. Learning Unbound, which has received angel investment from Vivek, is now in discussions for first-round funding of up to Rs5 crore to expand.“Building professional networks is vital for a start-up entrepreneur but when these networks are forged primarily during after-hours drinks or on the golf course, it leaves women professionals at a disadvantage,” Saha said. ”One can network just as effectively over a business lunch.”
Pavita Chalam, a film maker who approached Venture Bean to see if the fund would finance a film, said she learnt how to build a business plan from Vivek and her colleagues, and look at the possibility of a production company.
Venture Bean is searching for investors to fund Chalam’s start-up. Countries with a mature funding environment, such as the US, have support groups for women entrepreneurs such as San Francisco’s Women’s Technology Cluster and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs in Palo Alto.
Women entrepreneurs are in need for mentoring more than capital to kick-start their business ideas, a funder said. “Women who have arrived are not in danger of having the gate shut on them,” Vani Kola, founder and managing director, NEA-Indo-US Ventures, said. “Mentoring and support is needed by women entrepreneurs who are yet to reach the gate,” she said.