Rohinton (better known as Ronnie) Screwvala is on a high these days. Even as a Google app on his mobile phone frequently takes him to a few districts in Maharashtra where his “dream project” is taking shape, the 56-year-old says the second innings of his life is like going back to his entrepreneurial roots.
But there is a vital difference. When he started his entrepreneurial journey over 30 years ago with a cable service venture called Network, his bank balance was virtually zero. This time around, he is resuming the journey with a neat cash pile of Rs 900 crore — the money he got after selling 19 per cent stake in UTV Software Communications to Walt Disney last year. Screwvala continues to be the MD of Disney India. So, what is his dream project like? Screwvala hastens to say it has nothing to do with media & entertainment, something he has been involved with for 30 years and an area too crowded already. This time, he has chosen agriculture, health care and education.
He has done two things. First, he has launched a private equity fund (Unilazer Ventures) with a corpus of Rs 300-400 crore, which would provide seed capital to companies in these areas. “I want to look at scale, build brands and change the perception about these three sensational areas,” he says.
To begin with, the company has already invested about Rs 20 crore in INI Farms, involved in pomegranate plantations on over 1,000 acres across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The project involves doubling productivity and increasing the export content from 40 per cent of the total production now to over 70 per cent with the help of modern farming and post-harvest technologies. The idea is to create a pomegranate brand.
“There are huge opportunities in agriculture and health care. Nobody has positioned these sectors as an exciting opportunity when it comes to business, even though the margins are as high as 45-70 per cent. If two or three people start glamorising the industry over the next two-three years, we’ll be able to look at scale and brand building for such sectors,” he adds.
Screwvala is also looking at opportunities in rural health care, a sunshine industry that remains neglected. “That’s the opportunity. Chances are you are going to be the only guy in this business. It’s true there is a shortage of qualified doctors, but basic amenities in health care like pathology labs don’t need MBBS doctors,” he says.
The second part of his dream project, for which he has himself committed Rs 250 crore over the next five years, is even more ambitious. His foundation called Share has finalised a blueprint to “improve the livelihood and empower people” in seven villages of Maharashtra, covering a million people across eight talukas and five districts.
“Our idea is not to donate money but to help the villagers become independent enough to earn their livelihood. We want to have an exit strategy where we help them for the first two years by giving them enough push. Then, they take it over themselves,” he adds.
Screwvala is now looking to raise another Rs 250 crore from other donors. “If I could hold roadshows for UTV during its IPO, I think I can do it for a good cause as well. We need to have a corporate mindset in social responsibility kind of work,” he says.