Mumbai-headquartered Aakar Innovations Pvt Ltd, a social enterprise focusing on providing sanitary napkins for rural Indian women, has secured an undisclosed amount in funding led by IIM Ahmedabad's incubator, Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE). The round also saw participations from Artha Platform, a philanthropy community in India, besides a group of unnamed impact investors and alumni of IIMs & IITs.
"Raising impact investment is a difficult and laborious process in India. As an impact first company, our need was to get investors who are willing to contribute to the impact that we are striving to generate," said Sombodhi Ghosh, co-founder and director of Aakar.
"CIIE's 'ACT for Impact' programme helped us find such investors. We are seeing significant interest from partners internationally, and are already working with several African organisations. We are planning to commence these operations in partnership with local organisations in Kenya and Uganda in the next few months," he added.
The company was founded in 2010 by Jaydeep Mandal (MD) and Ghosh. An alumnus of Indus World School of Business (Noida), Mandal earlier co-founded Renaissance Consulting. An alumnus of Calcutta University, Ghosh earlier worked at iWeekend.
Aakar, an incubatee of CIIE, is a hybrid social enterprise that manufactures compostable and hygienic sanitary pads, which are priced below other branded, competitive products. These pads are produced and sold by women entrepreneurs in their own villages. The company's not-for-profit arm trains rural women to run manufacturing units and create awareness about menstrual hygiene.
The firm has so far sold 22 machines across India, of which 15 units are operational and the rest seven will be functional by mid-December. These machines, which are usually set up in rural villages and urban-slum areas, have led to the direct employment of over 200 women.
"CIIE is excited to be partnering with IIM-A alums driven by a strong desire to create social impact along with generating financial returns. These angels bring a diverse set of expertise and shall bring enormous non-monetary value to the company," said Vipul Patel, senior manager, CIIE Initiatives.
"Both at a personal and professional level, I have been amazed at the power of the market in trying to bridge inequalities in access, quality and income levels. If delivered in a responsible manner, such products and services can have tremendous social impact that can both scale and sustain itself," said Geeta Goel, director (mission investing) at Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
"In that respect, Aakar is a great example of a responsible, customer centric, cost effective solution to the issue of women's hygiene in rural and low-income areas, a problem that has plagued us for several generations and is at the core of poor health of millions of women," she added.
ACT for Impact programme focuses on using alumni connections to bring more angel capital into the ecosystem. The programme is supported by eminent philanthropic foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, Omidyar Network and Dasra.
Aakar was one of the winners of the Artha Venture Challenge in 2013.