Padmaja Ruparel has a simple philosophy in life. She calls it playing the game: "It is not what one gains; it is what one creates."
Ruparel has built institutions, and seen the gains flow. She involved herself with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) around 1999, when "people made errors spelling 'entrepreneurship'; she co-founded the Indian Angel Network (IAN) in 2006, when high net worth individuals typically asked what was "religious" about angel investing.
IAN is today the world's largest business angel network with 450 investors. It has invested in 135 companies and cites an internal rate of return of 32 per cent. There have been more than 20 exits. The companies that have given handsome returns include WebEngage (6x in 15 months), Druva (289x over seven years), Box8 (3x over four years), and Consure (10x over 40 months).
Ruparel, in many ways, has been able to establish start-ups as an asset class among high net worth individuals in India while creating an institutional model of investing. While this was a decade-long process, the co-founder and president of IAN features in this year's Most Powerful Women in Business list because of another move that could change the start-up world further. For the better.
Sometime in 2016, Ruparel started flirting with the idea of an IAN Fund. The reason was simple. Angels would write small cheques to help start-ups get off the ground. But the next round was the problem. "When we started IAN, the gap in the market for the entrepreneur was Rs2-3 crore. Today, they are able to raise that money, but the difficulty is the next round - $1-4 million. The company is still at a risky stage and the founders still need hand holding," she says. Venture capital firms were not investing less than $8-9 million and so many start-ups were falling off the cliff. The IAN Fund seeks to plug this gap. "The conceptualisation, architecture, and getting investors has been my big achievement," says Ruparel. The fund's advisory board has Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-Founder of Infosys, Sunil Munjal, Chairman, HERO Corporate Service, and Dr. Devi Shetty, Chairman, Narayan Hrudalaya.
IAN announced the fund in April - it will be a Rs450 crore sector agnostic fund, raised domestically. "We have raised Rs210 crore. We are moving rapidly. We have already committed to funding about five companies," she says. "We are investing in non-IAN companies as well."
Ruparel loves scale. IAN's press release during the announcement of the fund stated that "together, IAN and the IAN Fund (plus co-investors) would invest approx Rs1,500 crore in 160-odd companies over the next four years". Ruparel says her vision is to mobilise Rs5,000 crore (across multiple funds) in 10 years and deploy in 500 companies. If she can manage that, the start-up ecosystem in India will take giant strides. "Any entrepreneur worth his salt should come to us," she quips before rushing off to another meeting. "We are working towards creating India's largest horizontal platform for seed and early stage investing."