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Dalits get their own VC fund

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Parliament Street in New Delhi leads to some of the biggest banks in India — the Reserve Bank of India, the State Bank of India and the Standard Chartered Bank. Tomorrow, this road will be open to a new set of faces.

Under the canopy of the leafy trees, 121 smartly dressed Dalit entrepreneurs will cut a 121-kg birthday cake in honour of B R Ambedkar, the community’s icon, to mark his 121st birth anniversary. And, announce a Dalit venture-capital (VC) fund.

The idea of a VC fund to support Dalit entrepreneurs was first discussed in January 2011, at a meeting between the Planning Commission’s deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and 35 Dalit entrepreneurs led by Milind Kamble, an engineer and one of the leading lights of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI). Ahluwalia mooted the idea of such a fund and put the offer on the table: for every rupee DICCI put in, the government would match it with Rs 3.

The fund was envisaged as a way to finance the expansion and modernisation of Dalit-run businesses and also fund prospective Dalit entrepreneurs. What grabbed the Dalit entrepreneurs’ attention was a new principle. Under existing schemes for scheduled castes and tribes, the state has been the giver and the community the recipient. But via the VC fund, the state will become a partner by buying stakes in Dalit-owned companies and will have a share in the profits.

The fund will be in addition to the Planning Commission’s schemes already in place to help develop Dalit entrepreneurship.

Launching the fund was not easy. DICCI needed to create a new business entity to get certification from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).

To fulfill that requirement, it set up an independent company called DICCI Venture Capital Fund (DVCF). To qualify, DVCF needed to have a pledged fund amounting to Rs 5 crore. It managed to raise this money and is now entitled to raise Rs 100 crore from the market. This means the government will now be required to put in Rs 300 crore. An entity called Varhad Capital Pvt Ltd will structure, raise and manage DVCF. “Now, DVCF is ready to be registered with Sebi. Thereafter, DVCF will be entitled to raise money from financial institutions, both private and government,” said Chandrabhan Prasad, mentor of DICCI.

“This is the Dalits’ greatest tribute to Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar on his 121st birth anniversary,” says Kamble.

DICCI Delhi unit president N K Chandan (who will provide the birthday cake), says, “Now, Dalit entrepreneurs need not worry about collateral and make rounds of banks, as we have our own venture fund.”

“With DVCF turning into a reality, the Dalit movement has stepped into a new future,” said Chandrabhan Prasad.

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First Published: Sat, April 14 2012. 00:26 IST