Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is looking to invest in businesses built around the country’s biometric identification programme, Aadhaar, and the public utilities that the technology stack spawned, such as digital Know Your Customer (KYC) verification, e-signature protocols, digital document lockers, and universal payment services, among others.
To be anchored out of India, Digital Identity, the newly-launched global investment vertical for Omidyar, would look at investing in businesses that are based on replicating the construct of the Aadhaar model in other countries. Investment partner C V Madhukar, who heads governance and citizen engagement investments at Omidyar India, will lead the new vertical.
“We believe there is a potential for a new wave of entrepreneurs to come up using elements of India stack,” said Roopa Kudva, managing director, Omidyar Network India Advisors.
The target would be any business that uses any element of India stack, she added. A technology stack is an innovative idea layering several underlying platforms that complement each other to create something new. Businesses that facilitate verification, investments, payments, digital storage, etc. using the Aadhaar platform are potential targets for investment. For instance, Omidyar in September last year invested $1 million in UK-based start-up digi.me, that makes it easy for people to store, access or sell their personal data related to health, financial or shopping habits.
Kudva said through the new investment vertical the focus of the impact fund is to take its work in India to the next level. It also opened a 10,000-sq ft office in Bengaluru — its second in India after Mumbai — that will also act as a hub for entrepreneurs. “An entrepreneur-in-residence programme will offer financial and intellectual support for ideation,” she said.
Omidyar will continue to follow a two-cheque book model — a mix of grant and for-profit — for funding ventures under the digital identity vertical. Omidyar Network has invested around $200 million in around 70 companies in India.
Globally, the philanthropic-cum- impact investment fund has deployed funds worth up to $1billion, through a mix of non-profit grants and for-profit investments. The other investment verticals for Omidyar includes emerging technology, financial inclusion, and property rights.
A recent study by McKinsey & Co found that India is poised to emerge as one of the top markets for impact investing in the world.