AngelList India head Utsav Somani launches micro VC fund to back 30 early-stage startups

As investors get cautious about writing new checks to early-stage startups in India amid the coronavirus outbreak, AngelList’s head in India is betting that this is the right time to back young firms.

On Wednesday, Utsav Somani announced iSeed, a micro VC fund to back at least 30 startups over the course of two years. iSeed, which is not affiliated with AngelList, is Somani’s maiden venture fund.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Somani said he would write checks of $150,000 each to up to 35 early-stage startups in any tech category and enable his portfolio firms’ access to global investors and their knowledge pool. The fund will not participate in a startup’s follow-on rounds.

iSeed counts a range of high-profile investors, including Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi, co-founders of AngelList, who are some of the biggest backers of the fund.

Others include founders of Xiaomi, Jake Zeller, a partner at AngelList and Spearhead, Sheel Mohnot, general partner at 500 Fintech, Brian Tubergen of CoinList and Kavin Bharti Mittal of Hike.

AngelList launched syndicates program in India in 2018. The platform has been used for 140 investments in India since, including over 20 follow-ons in which firms such as Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital and Ribbit Capital participated.

Somani has also been an angel investor in more than a dozen startups including BharatPe, a firm that is helping small businesses accept online payments and access working capital, and Jupiter, a neobank.

“I like the work AngelList India and Utsav have done since the launch. He brings energy, access and judgement to the table — the things to look for in a first-time fund manager,” said Ravikant in a statement.

Micro VC is becoming a popular trend in the United States. Ryan Hoover of ProductHunt, for instance, maintains Weekend Fund. Somani said he has appreciated how others have been able to institutionalize the angel investing practice. According to Crunchbase, U.S. investors raised 148 sub-$100 million VC funds in 2018.

Running a microfund by leveraging AngelList’s infrastructure has also eased the burden starting such a venture creates for an investor, he said.

Indian startups could use any fund that backs early startups. Early-stage firms have consistently struggled to find enough backers in India, according to data from research firm Tracxn .

And that struggle is now common across the industry. More than two-thirds of startups in the country today are on the verge of running out of all their money in less than three months, according to a survey conducted by industry body Nasscom.

Somani said he is optimistic that great companies will continue to be born out of tough times. He said even his investors were aware of the pandemic and still stood by the fund. “If you look at the market, we are seeing a number of layoffs. These are the people who would be creating jobs for others in the years to come. Entrepreneurship might be the only option for them.”