Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture firm addressing poverty in South Asia and East Africa, last week announced Meghna Rao as its new Acumen Fund India Director. Ms. Rao comes to Acumen Fund with strong experience in venture capital, technology and manufacturing operations and will oversee the expansion of Acumen Fund’s work in India. Acumen Fund intends to grow its current portfolio in health, water, energy and agriculture to $50M invested by 2015 as well as build a strong community of local entrepreneurs, donors and advisors.
The portfolio growth will allow investment in 15-20 additional businesses that bring services to millions. Acumen Fund’s investments in India reflect the country’s global significance as a laboratory of innovation, both for individual enterprises and the impact investing field. Coinciding with Ms. Rao’s arrival, the Indian office of Acumen Fund has moved to Mumbai, an epicenter for finance and enterprise.
“Through an extensive search with support from our wide-spread community, including our partners, advisors and team within India and globally, Ms. Rao quickly became the top candidate for Acumen Fund India Director, not only because her personal values are so well-aligned with Acumen Fund’s, but also because of her attractive mix of operational and investing experience,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund. “Ms. Rao brings the combination of leadership, operational skills and values that will complement our strong team in India as we continue to grow our portfolio of businesses in the country providing critical goods and services to the poor.”
“I am deeply honored to join such a dynamic and groundbreaking organization,” said Ms. Rao, India Director, Acumen Fund. “Acumen Fund continues to forge new paths in creating opportunity for entrepreneurs and the low-income customers they serve through patient capital investment. I look forward to building upon Acumen Fund’s success and taking Acumen Fund India to the next level.”
Ms. Rao holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.S. in economics with a concentration in finance from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently serves as the president of the Harvard Business School Alumni Club of India and was recently named as a fellow of the Aspen India Leadership Initiative.
Prior to joining Acumen Fund, Ms. Rao served as the Managing Director of Pluspak Containers Pvt Ltd, a mid-sized packaging manufacturing company based in Maharashtra where she increased productivity threefold. Prior to Pluspak Containers, she spent four years at Microsoft in India and the United States, where her primary focus was driving the adoption of Microsoft’s offerings among small businesses in India. She also worked in the mergers and acquisitions investment banking department at Goldman Sachs in New York and in venture capital at JH Whitney in Connecticut.
Since 2001, Acumen Fund has invested US$21.8 million in patient capital in India in companies serving the poor, demonstrating the potential for patient capital investments to build businesses that serve low-income communities and bring forth viable models for enabling individuals to solve their own problems and make their own decisions.
Acumen Fund India has established its presence by being a first investor in several market-creating enterprises that touch hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of lives. One such enterprise is Global Easy Water Products (GEWP), which distributes affordable drip irrigation solutions to smallholder farmers. More than 350,000 are benefiting from increased crop yields and income due to GEWP’s products, and the company projects sales from 2010-11 to be nearly triple that of the previous two-year period.
Another Acumen Fund investee, Husk Power Systems, provides electricity to rural villages in Bihar declared “economically impossible” to reach via conventional means. By using biomass gasification technology to convert waste rice husks into decentralized electrical power, Husk Power Systems is already serving more than 100,000 customers, making it one of the largest micro-utility providers in India. Under Ms. Rao’s leadership, Acumen Fund will continue to invest in cutting-edge entrepreneurs transforming the lives of India’s rural and urban poor.