Why this Harvard Business School alum decided to start an early-stage investment fund
In a conversation with HerStory, VC firm SUNiCON’s founding partner Saloni Jain talks about the fund’s vision.
As an angel investor, Saloni Jain has invested in a diverse portfolio of companies, including AjnaLens, The Hosteller Hospitality Pvt Ltd (where she is also a board member), Neeman's, CultYvate, and Saarthi Pedology.
Bringing her experience as an angel investor, Saloni decided to startin 2018 to invest in early-stage startups. She has a three-fold vision for the Mumbai-headquartered fund–work with passionate founders, create a positive impact, and build a versatile ecosystem.
Saloni is a believer in continuous learning. Before entering the financial realm, the Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics graduate did chartered accountancy, and recently completed her certification in negotiation strategy from Harvard Business School–an education that is aimed at realising her vision.
The SUNiCON team also includes Suresh Jain, who is a General Partner. He was the founder of Networth Stock Broking Ltd, Sun Capital Advisory Services, Sun Global, and SUNiCON. He has invested and scaled over 50 companies in value over his career. He places importance on creating impact and runs social impact institutions, including Vishwakarma Kaushal Kendra and Vidya Ghar.
Saurabh Shaw, a graduate of Pune University, is also a General Partner. He is the founder of MAKS Group, a multi-business company focused on energy and automobiles, and also was an early investor in Bira. Saloni says his strength lies in building business by bringing in the right culture and SOPs in business operations.
UR Bhat, Venture Partner and Advisor at SUNiCON, has more than 45 years of experience working in financial institutions. He previously headed Dalton Group, JP Morgan Asset Management in India, and has been on the boards of Axis Asset Management and Edelweiss Asset Management.
In a conversation with HerStory, Saloni talks about the fund’s vision and its plans.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
HerStory (HS): Tell us everything about the size of the fund and what kind of startups, sectors, and stages do you invest in?
Saloni Jain (SJ): SUNiCON Ventures is an early-stage sector-agnostic fund with a keen focus on Web3 and consumer products. We invest in select companies and work along their growth journey. We are a SEBI registered category II fund.
This is our first fund and we have allocated $20 million, with an average investment of $300,000 per startup. We act as an incubator as well, and have already made our first close as well as started deploying.
HS: Why did you set up the fund? What were the core aims and purposes?
SJ: It’s the pure joy of building great companies alongside amazing founders that drives and energises us. Our founding team has been in the investing space for 30 years now—way before the word startup was even coined. We always get involved with our founders and help them grow faster. We plan to do this in a more impactful manner with the fund structure.
HS: How did you build the core team? How did you meet, and how did everyone align with the idea?
SJ: The core team of six members has been investing in early-stage companies for four years now. We resonate with each other’s thoughts when it comes to selecting portfolio companies. The team is a strong believer in using its experience and network to grow the portfolio companies. Our analyst team has also been working along with us for the last 12 months, and has been trained in the working culture before the fund's launch.
HS: Tell us about some of the investments and why did you choose them?
SJ: Some of our previous investments are:
- Dimension NXG - Ajna lens - to encourage deep technology and hardware development from India.
- The Hosteller - to build a backpacking community in India which is lacking.
- Neeman's - encourage sustainable and comfortable brand
- CultYvate - to bring automation in irrigation, leading to saving water, electricity, and increasing the crop quality
- Rubix – to develop a level 1 blockchain for India and bring real-world utility to blockchain technology
- Sportzchain - support fans and bring fan engagement as a concept in Asia.
HS: Tell us what sectors you are looking closely at and why?
SJ: We are closing looking at Web3 because it is a breakthrough technology which will have a significant impact on all sectors. Our vision is to build an ecosystem to thrive Web3 companies out of India.
We also look at consumer products because India is a growing consumer market, and there are a lot of innovative products yet to explode. We also like edutech, AI/ML, and consumer service
HS: What do you look for in the founding team and the company before investing?
SJ: Since we entered early, we give a lot of emphasis on the quality of founders ….We try to understand if they have the capability and vision to pull off a fast-growth story.
HS: What should founders keep in mind while pitching? And what advice would you give?
SJ: Be true to your story and 100 percent committed. Make a simple pitch deck and put important data points upfront …Don't try to hide info, hoping investors won't ask because investors will not miss any data …In fact, they will first ask what is missing in the deck.
Edited by Kanishk Singh