Vinod Khosla’s startup incubator Khosla Labs is partnering with the impact investment fund Unitus Seed Fund to incubate and fund Aadhaar-based startups. It’s worth noting that Khosla had invested in Unitus Seed Fund last month and in January last year.
The details on this initiative is sketchy at the moment, however Khosla Labs CEO Srikanth Nadhamuni said that they will be incubating 4-6 startups through this initiative. Khosla Labs is also organizing an Aadhaar Hackathon next month, wherein the incubator will conduct tutorials on building Aadhaar verification apps for Android and provide developers with requisite biometric devices & SDKs to build apps for the Aadhaar platform. Note that Nadhamuni was earlier the technology head of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) before joining Khosla Labs in October 2012.
There is no specific information on what sectors the incubator is looking at, although there are some indicators. At a recent press interaction, Khosla said their impact efforts are more focused on “services and goods that people at the bottom of the pyramid can use”, since most of the investments “go after the people who have money, which leaves out the bottom three billion people on this planet”.
Khosla Labs had also incubated a mobile payments solution provider called Novopay Solutions earlier this year. The company offers Android-based mobile payment solutions to Kirana stores, but what’s interesting is that it uses Aadhaar-based biometric scanners to allow consumers conduct banking transactions, money transfer and mobile payments among others.
Novopay is currently operational in select locations in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore and is headed by Sridhar Rao, who was the CEO of Vodafone India’s mobile payment service M-Pesa until November 2012.
Others in the team include Novopay CTO Sanjay Jain who was UIDAI’s chief product manager until June 2012 and Novopay COO Gautam Bandyopadhyay who was previously the head of Infosys’s Finacle innovation hub wherein he was involved in projects like Airtel Money and India Post among others.
That being said, Khosla Ventures currently has no plans to setup a India-specific fund. Khosla said –
We tend not to do separate funds but our investment in KV Labs (Khosla Ventures Labs) is an example of that. We are doing more and more at KV Labs but I don’t expect we’ll setup an India fund.
On reliability of Aadhaar:
Khosla believes that Aadhaar has way more benefits than harm, and the problems like people having multiple cards (or the bizarre situation of Aadhaar card being issued to Coriander) will reduce over time. He said –
Any technology which starts out has some problems. The key question is does it have more benefits than harm. I have no questions that Aadhaar has way more benefits than harm. Can some people get multiple Aadhaar numbers? Yes. But if you can save 10%, 20% or 30% of government programs, because there is less corruption, less laws or more efficiency, then is it worth putting up with the problem? Once the problem is identified, it almost certainly can be solved.
I consider Aadhaar as important infrastructure as say roads, airports and ports. When you build a new road, some people will have car accidents on it, but you learn how to reduce it by putting a median on the road. You solve problems one step at a time.
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