VCs and entrepreneurs spring to action amid India’s covid-19 crisis

San Francisco Bay Area-based venture capitalist Ashu Garg says it's a small drop in the bucket, but he and his wife and brother are close to raising $3m to help supply beds and oxygen support for Indian hospitals to help the country in a healthcare crisis brought on by the pandemic.

For Ashu Garg, a general partner at Foundation Capital, the covid-19-spurred healthcare crisis in India is personal.

Garg has friends and family in India, including his brother Neeraj Garg, a healthcare executive, who is running covid-19 testing facilities in India.

The coronavirus in recent weeks has crushed India’s medical infrastructure: ambulances, oxygen, hospital beds and medicines have all run short as positive cases soar. India’s total number of positive covid-19 cases has now passed 25 million, and earlier this week the country reported 4,529 deaths in one day, a daily record and the ninth time this month deaths topped 4,000 a day. What’s more, the death total is thought to be largely undercounted as the virus spreads to rural areas, which typically have less testing and healthcare resources.

VC Venture Investor India
Ashu Garg, Foundation Capital

To help, Ashu Garg, his wife Pooja Malik, chief executive and co-founder of asset management firm Nipun Capital, and his brother Neeraj have launched OneMoreBreath to help provide some relief. The goal of the organization is to raise $3 million and provide 2,000 hospital beds and oxygen support to existing hospitals. Garg said that much of the equipment is already ordered, and they’re on track to deliver 700 beds by May 30 and have 2,000 delivered in June.

Garg said he recognizes 2,000 beds sounds like a small drop in a large ocean. He estimated the total number of deaths in India, which currently stands at nearly 300,000, according to Worldometer’s covid-19 data, could soon reach 1 million if no action at all is taken.

He said that each bed the organization donates could save 20 lives over the next three months.

“People are dying in India, and it’s getting worse,” he said. “I wish we could do more, but every bed we set up will save lives and that makes it worth it.”

Garg said the organization has so far raised nearly $2.5 million, and he expects to reach $3 million soon.

Among those who contributed are investors and entrepreneurs. They include Garg’s Foundation Capital colleagues, such as Paul Holland and his wife Linda Yates, as well as Zach Noorani, Joanne Chen and Rodolfo Gonzalez.

Others from the VC world include former Foundation Capital investor Anamitra Banerji, now with Afore Capital, along with his wife Shakuntala Ray; Gaurav Manglik of Westwave Capital; and Navin Chaddha of Mayfield, along with his wife Pooja.

Among the many entrepreneurs who have donated included Nick Mehta of Gainsight and Balraj Suneja of Teladoc Health.

Garg noted that the San Francisco Bay Area and the tech community at large has benefited from India over the years, thanks in part to the engineering talent that enters into the US, as well as the tech community’s reliance on outsourced teams located in India.

“If you live in Silicon Valley, you’ve benefitted from India,” he said. He added that many of Foundation Capital’s portfolio companies, which have ties to India, have also stepped up, setting aside money to pay for medical expenses and helping with overall communications.

The efforts of OneMoreBreath come as others throughout the broader private equity world are also doing their part to support India. Affiliate publication PE Hub reported that Goldman Sachs, along with buyouts shops Bain Capital and Blackstone’s private equity arm have donated money to help purchase equipment and support India’s vaccination efforts.

“The only way to cope with [the crisis] is to kick into action,” said Hans Taparia, co-founder at Desert Bloom, a food investment vehicle funded by family offices and firm executives.

“We all need to feel useful in some way,” said Taparia, whose family has ties in India. “If we are not doing something, it eats at us.”

Taparia manages OxygenforIndia, a relief effort led by his epidemiologist brother-in-law, Ramanan Laxminarayan. The organization provides covid patients with emergency oxygen concentrators to take home.

Charity efforts

Other charity efforts of the Indian-American community include the American India foundation and such charities as Pratham USA and IMPACT.

Earlier this week, covid-19 cases dropped for the first time in all 50 US states. President Biden then announced plans to send 20 million vaccines to other countries by the end of June.

It’s unclear where the vaccines will be distributed, but IMPACT has urged the government to send the majority of the surplus to India, given the nation’s large population and immediate need.

Only 3 percent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population was fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to Our World in Data, a scientific online publication.

“It’s a global crisis; it’s not confined to India,” said Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT. “It could set back all of our progress immediately.”

Similarly, Garg of Foundation Capital said the escalating healthcare crisis in India will be felt in India and beyond for years to come.

“The wealth created in the Bay Area would not be possible without India and the tech talent that has come into the US over the years,” he said. “Everyone in Silicon Valley should step up and donate.”

 Karishma Vanjani of affiliate publication PE Hub contributed to this report.