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January 3, 2013 at 10:37 AM

Seattle fund raises $8 mil for Indian startups

Two former tech adversaries have raised $8 million for an investment group funding startups serving poor consumers in India.

The group, called Unitus Seed Fund, was founded six months ago by Will Poole, former head of Microsoft’s digital media group, and Dave Richards, who battled with Poole as vice president of RealNetworks’ consumer business.

Today the group is announcing that it raised more than $8 million to fund new ventures in India. It backed four companies last year – including an operator of rural education centers – and plans to back ten this year. The plan is to support 30 to 40 companies over the next four years.

“We are delighted that leading investors share Unitus Seed Fund’s conviction that serving low-income customers with free-market principles and business discipline can sustainably improve the lives of those living on under $4 (per) day and make good money at the same time,” Richards said in the release. “Our investees will do this by bringing products, services and income-generating enterprises directly to their

communities.”

The fund will invest in “for-profit scalable companies that will

provide economic self-reliance, education, and basic necessities to millions of low-income people living at the base of the economic pyramid,” the release said.

Backers include Mike Murray, co-founder of microfinance venture Unitus Labs; Jeff Clark; Vinod Khosla, 500 Startups and Bain Capital veteran Bob Gay. India-based investors include Mohandas Pai, chairman of Aarin Capital Partners, and Ranjan Pai, chief executive of Manipal Education and Medical Group.

Murray – another Microsoft veteran – said the new group is the fourth affiliate of Unitus Labs, which was started 12 years ago “to improve the livelihoods of millions of people by pushing the limits on current systems and conventional thinking.”

“Our first mission was to help massively expand the microfinance industry across the globe,” he said in the release. “Our next effort is to demonstrate the efficacy of using equity investing in scalable for-profit companies that serve the same low-income customers.”

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