“The 9Unicorn Fund will identify high potential early stage businesses across sectors including agritech, fintech, electric vehicles, mobility, augmented reality, VR, AI, retail and FMCG startups,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in an interview.
9Unicorn is an early-stage financing company and its co-founder and managing director, Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, is a seasoned veteran in the startup sector and a serial investor. “The 9Unicorn Fund will identify high potential early stage businesses across sectors including agritech, fintech, electric vehicles, mobility, augmented reality, VR, AI, retail and FMCG startups,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in an interview. Excerpts:
From being an entrepreneur to an investor, how has your journey been so far?
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It has been a phenomenal journey. I was just a young graduate from Harcourt Butler Technical University in Kanpur when I went to Europe on a placement opportunity. That was when I got acquainted with the concept of angel investing. Soon after returning to India, I set up my first incubator, for which I received the ‘Best Incubator Award’ from the then-president APJ Abdul Kalam. Following this, I served as the vice-president of India Angel Network.
However, I wanted to democratise the angel investing space in India and opened my first startup accelerator VentureNursery in 2012. Over the next few years, I assisted several high-potential startups, including OYO Rooms, which has now evolved into India’s largest hospitality chain. Then in 2016, I co-founded Venture Catalysts (VCats). It is the first and largest early-stage incubator programme, with a pan-India presence. It provides funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities to budding ventures across the country.
How successful do you think 9Unicorn Fund will be in providing a one-stop platform for emerging businesses?
While India is among the top three startup hubs in the world, there are hardly any dedicated accelerators. With 9Unicorn, we are closing this gap by providing emerging businesses with access to capital and an ecosystem of seasoned entrepreneurs and investors alike. Startups under the fund will also have VCats as a facilitator, which will ensure a smooth runway of up to 18 months for the business. Post this, they will also be able to secure more significant funding amounts for Series A+ rounds from seed-stage investors.
While the the startup ecosystem is growing fast, raising funds remains a significant challenge for emerging businesses across verticals, which leads to higher mortality rates. Industry estimates suggest that a large percentage of home-grown start-ups die an untimely death due to funding shortage. We created 9Unciron to ensure these startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs not only receive the funding support but also understand how to build sustainable and scalable business models.
What makes 9Unicorn Fund unique and what value addition will it do to facilitate emerging businesses?
According to industry data, in 2018, the total amount of Series A funding by venture capitalists in India was 20x less than that of the US. We want to address this colossal disparity and help India become a real startup nation. The USP of 9Unicorn Fund lies in its comprehensive approach to early-stage startup investing, serving as a one-stop mentoring, networking, and growth facilitation platform for emerging businesses to help augment their journey. Unlike other players in the market, it offers full financial support to startups in their initial phase of growth, helps build the core team and enables them to access Venture Catalysts’ extensive network of business angels and corporate honchos within India and across the globe.
What is the current roadmap? Any particular targets for this year?
9Unicorn Fund has a dedicated fund allocation of Rs 300 crore, which is offered by Venture Catalysts. We plan to invest in 100+ companies every year, providing a standard deal of Rs 60 lakh for 5% equity in addition to a further scope to invest Rs 3-5 crore more during subsequent funding rounds for startups that maintain sustained growth over some time. The fund aims to identify budding businesses with terrific possibilities. The fund targets to enable one million startups in India in the next five years.