Forty-five-year-old Venky Natarajan, Managing Partner of Lok Capital, an impact investment venture capital firm, says he quit a job in the US with Intel’s venture capital arm and returned to India because he wanted to do something more meaningful. Clearly, it was easy to be more meaningful in India than anywhere else in the world — India offers the best opportunity for impact investing, to deliver it at scale. Impact investing — putting money in ventures that target the bottom of the pyramid — is still a work in progress, says Venky.
Lok has finished investing from its first two funds, totalling $90 million, and is in the process of raising a third fund, of $100 million. Venky hopes to achieve the first close of this fund shortly.
Education: Instrumentation Engineering from Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu; Master’s in Semi-conductor Physics from Arizona State University; MBA from Cornell.
Prior experience: After graduating from Annamalai University, I worked for a year in SAIL, at the Bokaro steel plant. Then I ran my own small business, setting up databases for SMEs in India, in Madurai. I was 21 years old then and we had more clients than we could handle. We did not know how to execute. I shut it down and went to the US for higher studies. After my Master’s in Semi-conductor Physics, I worked in Intel, designing and manufacturing semi-conductors. Then I went to business school and after that joined the venture capital arm of Intel, in 2002. We were doing early-stage investments in the US. In 2006, I came back to India to be part of Lok Capital.
Sectors interested in: Financial services, healthcare and agri-business.
Investments: Ujjivan, Asirvad, Suryoday, MAS, IRCS, QED and RuralShores.
Typical working day: I come in at 8.15 am every day and am here till 7 pm. My typical working day is meeting some new entrepreneurs and those from existing portfolio companies and meetings with other stakeholders. On Tuesdays, we don’t do any external meetings; it is all within the team, reviewing the portfolio, looking at the pipeline and making decisions on investments and exits.
Hobbies: I am trying to build a drone on my own and I read quite a bit. I like to read a lot on anthropology, economic history or the history of economics. Working on the allows me to spend time with my children … 8-year-old twins. I grew up as an electronics engineer and this allows me to use that knowledge.
Gadgets: I don’t have any specific fondness for anything other than my Google Nexus phone and iPad.
Advice to entrepreneurs: I think building a business is far more important than making money out of it. If you are able to build the business successfully and well, the money will automatically come. A lot of business plans I see, there is far more interest in making money quickly. Investors can see through it easily. You want to bring in the right ingredients to build the business and make it stable before you grow it aggressively and run. If you don’t have all the ingredients fitting in right at the beginning, and try to run, it is more likely you will fail.