Unitus Seed Fund has made its debut by investing in three start-ups in the country – Bodhicrew Services (skill development and job placement services), Hippocampus Learning Centres (affordable rural education services) and Milaap Social Ventures (microcredit financial services).

The fund has been started by Unitus Labs, a Seattle and Bangalore-based non-profit organisation, and will focus on “Indian start-up businesses with potential for large-scale poverty impact.” Unitus Labs has earlier backed ventures like Unitus Equity Fund (now part of Elevar Equity) and Unitus Capital, which have now spun out.

Unitus Seed Fund has the following investment criteria – businesses serving Indian markets; potential for scaled impact on 800 million people in India, living on less than $2 per day; strong, experienced management team; businesses developed beyond the concept stag; clearly differentiated value proposition and strategies to build effective distribution and marketing programmes.

The fund will make an initial investment of $50,000-$100,000, which may increase with additional rounds. Unitus Seed Fund will look to back start-ups serving bottom-of-the-pyramid markets like education, healthcare, energy and mobile services, among others. The fund is sourcing capital from Unitus Investment Management, the non-profit investment vehicle for Unitus Labs.

“After a decade of helping accelerate and scale the Indian microfinance industry, we are excited to launch the initiative in order to support development of new pro-poor businesses,” said Dave Richards, CEO of Unitus Labs and managing director of Unitus Seed Fund. “We are seeing a new group of highly capable and socially motivated entrepreneurs who believe that they can realise more wide-scale and sustainable poverty impact by operating as a business, rather than as a non-profit.”

Bodhicrew Services is a skills development and job placement & support company focused on the unorganised sector. Bodhicrew provides livelihood opportunities to poorly educated young adults by giving them technical training and helping them secure better-paying jobs. Currently, Bodhicrew is helping young women to get pre-screened domestic workers’ jobs (they are called ‘domestic officers’) under the brand Just Help.

Hippocampus Learning Centres (HLC) essentially focuses on the 700 million rural Indians and aims to improve the existing child education system. HLC sets up learning centres in villages, offering pre-school and after-school programmes to children aged between 3 and 10 years. The monthly fee charged for each child varies between Rs 60 and Rs 100 ($1-$2). With Unitus backing the initiative, Hippocampus plans to reach 100 villages and more than 5,000 children, and will also employ around 300 women by June 2012.

Milaap Social Ventures is an online micro-lending platform, which enables people from all over the world to lend money to the working poor in India. The loans aim to provide the poor with access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, toilets, education and renewable energy usage, as well as income-generation opportunities. So far, Milaap has raised $200,000 for borrowers in various parts of India with 100 per cent repayment rate.

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