Through our new series ‘Make an Impact,’ we at The Better India, aim to explore the multiple facets and nuances of the social impact sector from varied perspectives—the entrepreneurs, the investors and the beneficiaries.
In this two-part article, we get an inside view of Gray Matters Capital, an impact investor headquartered in Atlanta with a presence in India and Latin America. The foundation focuses on investing in sectors like education, niche financial services, and consumer services. It also invests in funds to deepen and broaden the market.
The core idea of the foundation is to impact the lives of 100 million women by 2036 through purposeful education and skilling.
The Better India spoke to Smita Sircar, Innovations Director, edLABS and Ecosystem, Gray Matters Capital, to understand how they came to invest in Chrysalis.
“At the time we met with Chrysalis they were ‘thought leaders’ in the education space and were seeking answers to all the right questions—what should education look like for the Indian child? Can we make this affordable?” says Smita.
Asked about the main criteria for evaluating an investment, Smita mentions that the most important factor is having a strong leader at the helm. “In an early stage start-up, the leader is absolutely critical. Similarly, in a business line innovation start-up, it is important that there is a vision custodian. Chitra (the founder of Chrysalis) brings that to the table and has built a very strong team over the years.”
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Investors always look at the convergence of social impact metric and financials. With Chrysalis, Gray Matters found that.
How hands-on is Gray Matters Capital with Chrysalis?
“All investments, whether they are at an early stage or the business line innovation stage, do require some amount of handholding. After the investment is made, it is more of an advisory role that we take on. Getting them the required sector expertise and connecting them with the right people are things that we do as value-addition, beyond the capital investment that we make.”
While these inputs are necessary, they must not be intrusive at any point in time. The companies must be allowed to make their own decisions and come to their own understanding of how they would like to handle a particular situation.
How did they source Chrysalis?
Recounting the first meeting Smita had with Chitra and the team, she says, “I had travelled to Chennai early 2017 to meet them, and that meeting remains very vivid in my memory. Each team member explained what they did, and I was amazed to see the same kind of passion running through everyone—across teams and designations.”
“Chitra is the custodian of a vision, and that percolation happened to each member of the organisation. Even the person serving us tea seemed to be aligned with the vision of Chrysalis. It is truly a beautiful organisation. Also, Chitra is a very mature and level-headed person, and it helped that we had a very open and frank discussion,” she says.
Therefore, having someone so passionate about making education meaningful and accessible at the helm made it easier for Gray Matters to decide to invest in them.
The investment made into Chrysalis was made in tranches. As and when a particular milestone was met, payment was released. While this ensures that the company stays on top of things it also gives the investee a sense of how things are going.
How is the communication channel between the foundation and the investee?
Emphasising the need for constant, trustful and transparent communication, which is not restricted to monthly MIS calls or only board meetings, Smita says, “With Chrysalis there has always been a very open communication channel. Even during certain setbacks, they were more than forthcoming and willing to hear our point of view as well. That helped us tide over through every crisis, easily.”
Gray Matters Capital is a seasoned investor in India and carries the learnings and knowledge of being present in the market for nearly a decade. We wish them all the best and hope that they successfully attain their ambitious goal of achieving a financially sustainable deep impact, globally.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)