Archana Srivatsan, head of South Asia VC at the Gates Foundation Strategic Investment Fund, is one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in our 2024 Powerlist.

Archana Srivatsan joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 10 years ago, before moving to its strategic investments team in 2017, focusing on building investment activity in South and Southeast Asia.

India and other South Asian regions were a key focus for the Gates Foundation’s philanthropic programmes, but the team had made only a few venture investments in the region when she started. Srivatsan spent the first year studying and getting to know the innovation and investing ecosystem.

“I spent a lot of time on the ground across different cities in India. People are familiar with the Gates Foundation but they did not necessarily know us as a venture investor. We had to introduce ourselves, to understand how different investors think, what their portfolios were and what tech innovation trends were emerging. That took a lot of groundwork.”

“We had to introduce ourselves, to understand how different investors think, what their portfolios were and what tech innovation trends were emerging. That took a lot of groundwork.”

So far, five startup investments in India have followed, in agritech, fintech and healthcare, alongside two in Indonesia and one in Pakistan. Srivatsan expects to do around two or three deals per year in the region.

The Gates Foundation is a US headquartered non-profit organisation known for its work in global health and poverty alleviation. What many people may not know is that the foundation has a $2.5bn strategic investment fund, which invests in innovative companies that are building critical solutions in sectors that the Gates Foundation’s programmes focus on.

“Our goal is to invest in private sector innovation to accelerate sustainable impact  and by taking risks that others cannot or will not,” says Srivatsan. “The primary focus of an investment is the groundbreaking impact towards the foundation’s programmatic goals that we are trying to accomplish together.” However, she says, the investments are made with the same rigour as any VC,  and alongside both commercial and impact-focused investors, because the team wants to back viable business models that will last.

“We are looking for scalable, sustainable solutions that can long outlive us and continue to create impact even when we are not at the table,” says Srivatsan. Exits from investments are recycled back into the Gates Foundation’s vehicle for continued investments.

Notable investments from the team’s 15-year-history include BioNTech, the German biotechnology company that became famous during the covid-19 pandemic for its work on mRNA vaccines; bKash, the mobile payments in Bangladesh; Kaleidofin, an alternative credit scoring fintech in India; and Avanti Finance, a fully-digital non-banking lender that has reached more than 650,000 underserved households in India.

The venture team has 13 investment professionals based in Seattle and London. The investors specialise in either particular regions or specific domains. Srivatsan is a partner in the fund and her work in bringing the South Asian investment markets into the team’s remit has had a big impact. She was made head of South and Southeast Asia VC in 2022.

“I see this role as being the innovation engine for the foundation in South and Southeast Asia, able to experiment and partner with cutting-edge innovations, take bolder bets and adopt a portfolio approach for impact. As innovations evolve, we do not know exactly what might work, so we need a portfolio that can help advance our goals,” she says.

Srivatsan says she is interested in finding more investable startups in areas such as women’s economic empowerment, credit innovations for rural businesses and smallholder farmers, as well as improving healthcare for underserved people.

“From auditing to management consulting to non-profit strategy and finally corporate venture, I have had a non-linear career path into venture investing and driving tech-for-impact. I have followed my heart into opportunities to innovate and learn,” says Srivatsan. She is keen to work and co-invest with other corporate venture units on startup deals.

Srivatsan is a chartered accountant and holds a master’s degree in management from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Powerlist cover

The Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist represents the 100
individuals spearheading the future of the corporate venturing industry.

These individuals excel in terms of their venturing approach and structure, number and quality of portfolio companies and in their contributions to the corporate venturing profession.

See the full 2024 Powerlist here.