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The Prolific Investor Anjali Bansal is passionately nurturing startups in tech, climate action, innovation and sustainability

By Deepa Vaidya

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Avaana Capital
Anjali Bansal, Founder, Avaana Capital

Anjali Bansal, founder Avaana Capital, is passionate about supporting entrepreneurs who are catalysing climate action and sustainability, while delivering exponential returns. Anjali trained as an engineer, and started her business career at McKinsey (New York) after a Masters at Columbia. After more than a decade in the U.S, Anjali returned to India. She has served on the boards of top companies including Tata Power, Piramal and Voltas, and is an early investor in unicorns like Nykaa, Urban Company, Delhivery and Darwinbox.

Speaking about what led her to start Avaana in 2018, after having helmed top positions, the Most Powerful Women 2021 awardee (Fortune India and Business Today) says, "Avaana Capital really brings together a lot of things I have done in the past. I started my career journey as an engineer, have always been very focused on the use of science and technology. I joined finance and management consulting, then was an entrepreneur and ran a consulting firm for a while. Finally, at TPG, I got into investing, and then was chairperson of Dena Bank. So, starting an entrepreneurial platform myself really brings the whole thing full circle."

Reflecting back on her time at Dena Bank, when she was brought in to guide the resolution of the Bank, Bansal says, "At Dena Bank, I was appointed by the government, when the bank was under stress. I was the first woman non-executive chairperson. We worked closely at bringing down the NPAs and eventually led the first-of-its-kind, three-way merger of large public sector banks."

Anjali takes pride in being a strategic growth driver for technology and innovation-led value-creators. "Our thesis behind Avaana is, taking what is happening in the world of technology and innovation, applying capital, helping great founders scale and generating outsized returns, while helping solve large problems."

Avaana's portfolio companies have employed over 9000 people directly and indirectly and have touched over 2.8+ million lives over the last year alone.

What does she attribute her illustrious career to?

"I was the first woman to be a non-executive chairperson of a PSB, and the President of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. All of those things are good, but they happen because you have earned the right and people believe in you. I am not just thinking about what other people expect of you, but rather what you expect of yourself. I was very fortunate to have been raised in a family where there was complete expectation that you will fulfil your potential."

Hence, terms like "breaking barriers" and "shattering the glass ceiling", sound somewhat cliched to her. She says, "We all do it. Men do it too. Anyone who arrives at a level of achievement or leadership has had to do things differently in their own way. I suppose women probably face more challenges when it comes to social constructs and expectations. And obviously, they go through their childbearing years and to have to kind of build the right infrastructure, at work and at home."

On what keeps her motivated, Bansal says, "If our focus is on outcomes, and getting good work done in a high integrity, authentic way, then some of the barriers don't quite seem like barriers. And you have to have your coalition of a great team at work, supportive family, supportive mentors and champions."

The Covid-19 episode, besides widening the investment horizon at Avaana Capital, also saw the birth of two large public digital assets, that Anjali has been deeply involved with - Unnati, a jobs livelihood platform and Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC).

Says Bansal, "We saw a lot more people becoming entrepreneurs, very strong talent, digital rails getting built. So, we accelerated our investment base, and particularly at Avaana we started going in earlier. We created a seed program to come in very early into start-ups and support founders right from the start."

On her focus investment areas, she says "There are ample opportunities in agritech, mobility and supply chain, the digitisation of supply chains using industry 4.0 efficiencies, lending and insurance. And now with our new climate fund, we will also look at resources, including energy transition, water, waste, air and land usage."

She is also particularly upbeat about Web 3.0. She adds, "Lots of development of the Web 3.0, which will also eventually intersect with sustainability: How do we use Web 3.0 tools to reduce our energy footprint and create more efficient lifestyles and sustainable lifestyles?"

Sharing her future plans for Avaana, Bansal says, "We will be launching the Avaana Climate and Sustainability Fund. Our team has grown, our portfolio has grown. We are looking at climate as the next opportunity area. Climate action and Sustainability will be for the next 20 years what digitisation has been for the last 20."

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