Introducing Paarul Dudeja, Accion Venture Lab’s Director of Asia Investments
We recently welcomed Paarul Dudeja to the Accion Venture Lab team. As Director of Asia Investments, Paarul leads the team’s deal activity and portfolio engagement in Asia, with a focus on India.
Just before joining our team, Paarul co-founded a healthcare education enterprise in India focused on addressing the need for technically skilled healthcare professionals. Previously, Paarul was an investment officer at the International Finance Corporation, investing in financial institutions to enable sustainable growth and address development challenges. Paarul has invested across the capital spectrum as an investment professional at Vinik Asset Management, a long/short hedge fund. She began her career as an investment banking analyst with Lehman Brothers and a corporate valuation associate at S&P.
Paarul has a Bachelor of Arts in Computational Finance and Economics from Franklin and Marshall College and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
We are very excited to have Paarul on board and to lead us to new ventures in India, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Paarul and I chatted about her background and her pie in the sky vision for Venture Lab in the region.
Tell us more about your background — what brought you to the financial inclusion space?
Paarul: It has been a rather organic journey, actually. I started investing with a hedge fund in 2006 where the prime focus was profitability and alpha generation but as I moved to investing with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) not only was that work more meaningful at a personal level, it showed that returns and impact do not always have to be a tradeoff in investing.
I then founded an education company in India to plug a gap of skilled technical workers in the healthcare space. What we noticed was that there is a huge demand by willing students, often from low-income, daily wage-earning families who wanted to invest in their education and move up the economic pyramid. But they were encumbered with a compounded disadvantage that they were also not part of the formal banking or financial system, so in many cases they didn’t have the means to get an education.
I think financial inclusion is really the facilitating medium for every other aspect of an individual’s journey in fulfilling their potential. Financial inclusion generates the positive impact that I am excited to be a part of and through fintech investing it can also bring returns that the investor in me seeks.
What compelled you to join the Venture Lab team?
I’ve done investments in several financial companies globally and across the capital spectrum. The last decade has been an interesting time to invest in the financial industry which went through a dramatic peak and trough, in the US and then globally. As traditional structures became weighed down by overregulation, innovation from the fintech space began to change and democratize financial activities. Venture Lab is at the forefront of helping early stage startups experiment — which is where the action is.
I also think we have a fantastic team — there’s a strong sense of intellectual curiosity and drive to reach impact!
What excites you most about fintech for financial inclusion in India and other parts of Asia?
During my time with IFC, I did some investment work in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, the so-called birthplace of microfinance and innovations such as bKash. It was a great opportunity to empirically see how fintech innovations were advancing financial inclusion. From a fintech perspective, India at this point with India Stack is truly at the forefront of a large scale national experiment to digitize the world of 1.2 billion people.
Asia as a whole is the most populous continent with a large unbanked population — over 430 million in Southeast Asia alone. Solving this problem, fitting together the pieces, and supporting innovative startups in creating financial solutions with far-reaching impact is thrilling.
What is your vision for Venture Lab in the region?
In 1930 Keynes wrote a short essay, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. He imagined a world of economic possibilities where people solved the basic problem of fulfilling their material needs and beyond. While that dream has worked out for some segments of the population, there is a vast number still struggling.
I suppose my vision, at a loftier level for Venture Lab through our investments, is to enable a vibrant and steadfast ecosystem of fintech companies that leave no one behind.
Tell us some fun facts about yourself
I love films — black and white, color, any genre (except horror)! Really anything that compels a willing suspension of disbelief. Starting from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Steven’s Giant, Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso to Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road.
I learned Russian as a child in school. Although I can no longer speak it, I can still sing May There Always be Sunshine in Russian.
I am always up for an adventure, from snorkeling with the turtles in the Gili Islands of Indonesia to zip-lining down the Great Wall of China.
We look forward to expanding our presence in Asia through Paarul’s leadership.