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Bharti Airtel Ltd is entering the seed fund bandwagon. The India's leading telecom services provider has today announced the launch of the Airtel Innovation Fund which will promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the telecommunications space. The Fund will have an initial corpus of Rs 200 crore ($44.5 million) and will be led and administered by Bharti Airtel.

A release said: "The Airtel Innovation Fund's intent is to provide seed money to entrepreneurs who may not otherwise be able to access funds, and to serve as a vehicle to promote developments in technology, content and software applications in the area of telecommunications.

Bharti is following in the steps of global telecom companies who also have venture capital arms. Deutsche Telekom has T-Mobile Ventures; Nokia has Nokia Growth Partners, while Japanese telecom giant DoCoMoo has a venture fund in partnership with KTF; Cisco, Motorola, Research in Motion, Qualcomm, Vodafone and AT&T also have venture capital arms. 

This is the first innovation fund in India specifically for the telecom sector. Very few Indian corporates have supported startup initiatives. FMCG company Nirma Ltd has an incubation facility in partnership with IIM Ahemdabad. Another fund is NASSCOM - ICICI Knowledge Park Fund, which has a Rs 100 crore corpus. Bharti Airtel was among the anchor investors in this fund, along with ICICI and TCS.

Then there are companies like Infosys and Satyam who have supported intrapreneurship programmes for their own staff members. However, Bharti's fund is targeted at innovations outside the company.

According to a release from Bharti, "the objective of the fund is to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs with a vision to build businesses based on innovative ideas". Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharti Airtel said, "Bharti Airtel has demonstrated that Indian entrepreneurship can create world-class companies. Innovation has always been at the core of our DNA – be it our unique outsourcing model or world-class products and services."

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