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Prashanth Prakash is one of the senior professionals who teamed up with other venture capitalists, private equity investors and startup executives to form the ACT Grants, a ₹100 crore Covid-19 relief fund centred around new-age technological innovations. It provided financial support to fledgling startups working on products and services to combat the pandemic, and gave grants ranging from ₹20 lakh to ₹1 crore.
The investors did not pick up a stake in the selected ventures. “Many people in the VC ecosystem were doing philanthropic work individually, so we thought that if we could pool in all our resources and expertise under one umbrella, it will help us be much more impactful,” says Prakash, founding partner, Accel India.
The focus of the grants was on sustenance and saving lives, he explains, adding that adapting to new challenges helped them fund scalable solutions that tackled changing situations on the ground. “We could go to the market fast because we were leveraging technology,” he says, explaining that at one point about 70 to 100 volunteers from these VC firms were actively looking at various proposals probono to carry out diligence and present it to the investment committee that met almost every day.
A few small grants were made to portfolio companies for retooling their existing off erings to cater to urgent health care requirements of the pandemic. For example, with a grant of ₹30 lakh, home health care provider Portea Medical came up with a techenabled remote patient health and monitoring system in coordination with state governments. ACT Grants provided funds of ₹86 crore to 54 companies working in 24 states between April and September, and was looking to disburse another ₹14 crore by December.
In 16 priority states, ACT members are working directly with individual state and district-level governments. The approach ACT took refl ected some of the key learnings from Prakash’s personal philanthropic journey, in which he has supported education and environment conservation causes for over a decade. He says, “We have to bring key aspects of business into philanthropy, like ROI [return on investment], deeper scrutiny of systems, and setting up metrics for results instead of being content with just making donations.”