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Despite his technology background as a founder partner of JP Mobile that delivered the first automated solution for two-way wireless messaging to enable quicker transactions on the floor of New York Stock Exchange, Ananth Rao's heart now lies elsewhere.
Focus Ventures, which he started in 2009 to primarily channelise his personal investments into early stage companies, is focusing more on healthcare, education and hospitality after making its first investment in an internet portal. For Rao, the shift is in line with the growth and investment opportunities that are available across these sectors.
The first two years were a slow starter for him and Rao spent most of his time in studying the market and working closely with companies he invested in — close to Rs 30 crore. These include 3-4 early stage candidates, including Hyderabad-based dialysis chain Nephroplus. “I am not a typical angel investor. I consider myself a semi entrepreneur or a CEO kind of a person, spending a lot more time in the field,” Rao, who is also managing director of the firm, says.
Future Ventures is in the process of acquiring an education company, which is primarily into conducting job-oriented vocational training and has trained about 20,000 students, this year. Besides acquiring a majority stake in the firm, Rao is also working as an acting CEO in a bid to quickly scale up its operations to be able to churn out some 40,000 trained candidates having a class 10 and class 12 background with guaranteed placement under corporate contracts from major retail chains.
Future Ventures is also set to acquire a technology company that will automate admissions and placements and ensure quality training with standardised material in electronic format.
The investment in the education company is close to the upper band of Focus Ventures' typical investment range of between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 10 crore, he says.
Rao's sizable investment, however, is going into a hospitality company that is building three hotels at three different locations at a total project cost of over Rs 180 crore. "We did an early stage investment of close to Rs 20 crore and we will continue to invest in the project," he says without disclosing the specifics of the investee company.
Though he still believes in the technology story, Rao says the new wave of investments is centered around product companies. Rao, along with his partners had started JP Mobile in 1995 in Dallas and ran the firm for 10 years.
The firm was first taken over by Good Technology, which was subsequently acquired by Motorola. Rao stayed for a year until the end of 2008 at Motorola as vice president and head of Asia Pacific operations before deciding to become a venture capitalist.
While it takes a year or two to execute a successful idea in a technology company, one has to wait a bit longer for project execution as well as for exit opportunity when it comes to healthcare or hospitality sectors. Rao is ready to wait.