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Podcast Episode 8: Manoj Kumar, Social Alpha, India Health Fund “Enabling Lab2Market”

Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa

In Episode 8, Nishant talks with Mr Manoj Kumar, Founder of Social Alpha and CEO India Health Fund. In Episode 8Mr Manoj Kumar chats about his work at Social Alpha, a leading social entrepreneurship enabler in India in Science & Technology sector and model of India Health Fund. Manoj is a senior advisor at the prestigious Tata Trusts, where he is responsible for managing the innovation portfolio, promoting entrepreneurship and nurturing the academic/R&D relationships globally. An alumnus of Harvard Business School, he is also the founding trustee of Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) and serves on the board of advisory for multiple organizations. Manoj has worn many hats professionally with stints in investment banking, financial technology, startups and social sector with a penchant for social innovation. Manoj also manages the India Health Fund, a collaborative venture between Tata Trusts and the Global Fund to fights AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The fund aims to catalyze all the resources within the global ecosystem to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) by 2025 and malaria by 2030 from India. In this podcast, Manoj discusses how they are collaborating with partners to address and fill in the gap for catalyzing a positive change. Listen to the podcast here

In the parlance of investment management, Alpha is a measure of active returns of a portfolio compared to its benchmark index. It is used in conjunction with the beta to understand the fund management skills of a fund manager. A higher alpha for asset managers with comparable beta generally indicates better peer fund management if it’s consistent over time. Alpha is a type of risk-adjusted return typically used for performances following a normalized return. Taking a cue from the financial risk ratio, Social Alpha is living up to its potential as a world-class social ecosystem out-performer for Science & Technology startups.

Social Alpha, a nonprofit, has a unique Lab2Market collaborative approach leveraging partnerships to enhance social entrepreneurship culture. It focuses on the Foundation for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (FISE), backed by the Government of India and Tata Trust, further supported by multiple foundations including the prestigious Gates Foundation and India’s leading think tank Niti Aayog. In a short period, Social Alpha has already made an indelible effect within the social ecosystem. Since its inception in 2016, Social Alpha has successfully incubated 60 startups and funded about 35 startups. It follows a three-step approach to invigorate social entrepreneurship in deep-science and technology. First, Social Alpha identifies and incubates high potential startups. Second, provides world-class assistance to incubatees guiding them from Lab2Market through their deep network of partners, including the government, academicians, subject matter experts, laboratories access through an incubator, seed and accelerators programs. Finally, the nonprofit invests patient capital in curated startups nurturing hidden gems within the startup ecosystem. In a nutshell, Social Alpha is correcting inherent market failures embedded within the system through promoting equity for ventures addressing the most pressing needs in underserved markets for less privileged and marginalized people. Further, it’s strengthening the development sector through innovative sustainable finance solutions and advisory. 

Manoj discusses the philosophy of driving patient capital concept within the Indian social ecosystem as Social Alpha’s core investment philosophy. I welcome Manoj’s take on overlooking market return as a major component for driving risk adjusted return within the social ecosystem.

“Manoj looks for the following qualities in entrepreneurs. Motivation, empathy, skin in the game, persistence and an early product-market fit.”

As a fundamental rule, Social Alpha serves underserved markets which have few investors with a philosophy to cater to fill the gap existing within the Indian startup diaspora. The nonprofit usually invests as the lead investor and avoids themes including financial inclusion, due to the presence of a multitude of micro-lending organizations serving the market. Amply supported and funded by Government of India, foundations, charitable organizations and corporates, the incubator also takes equity ranging between 10 to 20% of the capital to become self-sustainable.

Tactopus, an incubatee is creating multi-sensory, tech-enabled experiences for people with visual disabilities.

The conversation further delves into how to measure social impact citing examples from affordable healthcare etc. Social Alpha has been ahead of the curve in scouting out for wannabe entrepreneurs through its periodic competitions for a year-long immersive program to mentor and coach some of the best talents in the country. 

The startup follows a flat hierarchy, and we discussed corporates influences, including books like Maverick by Ricardo Semler and Netflix. The podcast is a deep dive in sharing an insightful insight into the evolving social sector not only in India but also globally. 

Listen to the podcast here.

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