From starting off with just a little over $2,000 in 2002 to managing over $800 million in assets today, the Aavishkaar-Intellecap Group, a financial services player with a razor-sharp focus on ‘impact investing’, has come a long way. So long, in fact, that its founder, Vineet Rai, calls himself a marathon runner.

“I am the marathon runner but there were people at various spots giving me water,” Rai says, in a candid chat with Fortune India. “The Aavishkaar story is not Vineet Rai’s story. There are others who played important roles,” he adds.

Aavishkaar’s journey has been a fascinating one, culminating in its latest achievement of receiving an investment of $32 million at the group level from Nuveen, the investment management business of US-based asset manager Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA). Rai says the funds will go towards strengthening the group’s position in microfinance, SME lending, fintech, and expansion in geographies such as southeast Asia and Africa.

However, according to Rai, the real prize isn’t the money but the expertise that Nuveen CEO Vijay Advani brings to the table as a board member. “I was very keen to bring in a very influential person from TIAA on the board. I just wrote to the CEO who happens to be an Indian asking if I could meet him. To my surprise, I got a positive response,” Rai says, adding that bringing Advani to the board has been the real coup.

Vineet Rai
Vineet Rai
Image : Aavishkaar-Intellecap Group
The Aavishkaar story is not Vineet Rai’s story. There are others who played important roles.
Vineet Rai

The group is in process of setting up a $150 million fund for investing in Africa, with a full-team already in place in Nairobi. Aavishkaar is also exploring a fund for Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

However, Rai did not always know that impact investing was his calling and how it all began is an interesting story.

“I was a forester in Odisha and was quite happy living in a forest there. The only path-breaking thing I had achieved by then was marrying my wife, Swati,” he says. Rai was around 25 at the time.

“We had cobras and other animals at the house there. There was no electricity, or running water. It was an adventurous life, perhaps too adventurous for a city girl,” Rai narrates, adding that his wife gave him an ultimatum to look for a job which did not involve “chasing elephants” when they were expecting their child.

Rai then became CEO of an incubator launched by the government of Gujarat and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, which is where he discovered his passion for finding game-changing innovations at the grass-root levels and helping entrepreneurs scale their ideas up to sustainable businesses.

Today, the Aavishkaar-Intellecap Group comprises equity investment business Aavishkaar; advisory services firm Intellecap, debt-funding vehicles IntelleCash, Arohan and IntelleGrow; and fintech company Tribe.

Going forward, Rai says the plan is to push the pedal to the metal. “By March, we are targeting AUM [assets under management] of Rs 6,500 crore, and Rs 50,000 crore (around $7-8 billion) by 2025,” he says.

Rai explains that there are plans to push the group’s presence in areas like housing finance and micro housing finance by 2025 and taking the group’s debt businesses to Africa. “Within India, too, we are planning to verticalise and go deeper. We are thinking of launching a climate fund and a pre-IPO fund but with a focus on impact investing only,” Rai says, adding that the group is well on track to achieve the ambitious targets set.

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