Philanthropic investment co Omidyar sharpens focus on vernacular platforms

Philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network is betting big on local language platforms sensing huge opportunities in this space as the country is expected to add the next 500 million internet users mostly from rural areas owing to increase in smartphone penetration.

Of the $250 million it has invested in India so far, the firm has already funded an array of multilingual portals such as Healofy, DailyHunt, Doubtnut, Pratilipi and Indus Os. 

“The kind of mental models you had when you built businesses like Flipkart or Swiggy needs to be changed for the next half a million people who will be coming online as their social and cultural context is very different from the first generation of internet users. You have to reimagine the customer experience for this next half billion,” Roopa Kudva, Partner and Managing Director at Omidyar Network, told Business Standard.

The firm is looking to invest $50-60 million annually in India in the next few years. “However, we do not have a target for investment amount,” Kudva added.

Omidyar Network, which has made 90 investments in India so far including few non-profit organization, is scouting for more start-ups and entrepreneurs who are trying to solve the problems of underserved populations in areas like financial services, education, property rights, digital health, and transportation. Of the $250 million investments in India, about 70 per cent is equity investments and 30 per cent is by way grants. 

In March this year, the fund had invested $1 million in Healofy, a multilingual parenting start-up because it felt women as a demographic are severely under-represented amongst Indian internet users. Apart from investing in local language app DailyHunt, Omidyar Network also led a funding round of $4.3 million in Bengaluru-based self-publishing e-platform Pratilipi earlier this year.

It has also tied up with venture development fund Village Capital to come up with India’s first civic tech accelerator programme in which around 12 civic engagement start-ups will be mentored. This programme will run for six months and help start-ups to develop solutions that solve the country’s civic problems using technology.

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