In the dynamic world of venture capitalism, Vani Kola stands out as a trailblazing figure. As the founder and managing director of Kalaari Capital, an Indian early-stage venture capital firm, she has played a pivotal role in nurturing and supporting innovative startups in India. Let's delve into the life, career, and contributions of this remarkable entrepreneur and investor.
Vani Kola was born in either 1963 or 1964 in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana), India. Her educational journey began at a young age, commencing her post-secondary education when she was just 16 years old. She pursued electrical engineering at Osmania University in Hyderabad, where she was one of the few girls among 400 engineering students. Her determination led to her earning a Bachelor of Engineering degree.
In the late 1980s, fueled by a thirst for knowledge and ambition, Vani Kola left India to pursue a Master of Engineering degree from Arizona State University in the United States. This journey marked the beginning of her illustrious career in the world of technology and entrepreneurship.
Vani Kola's career in Silicon Valley spanned an impressive 22 years. She proved herself as a serial entrepreneur, making significant strides in the tech industry. Notably, she founded and served as the CEO of RightWorks, an e-procurement company. In a testament to her business acumen, she successfully sold RightWorks to ICG after just four years for a substantial $657 million.
Following this achievement, Kola continued her entrepreneurial journey by founding and leading Certus Software. Her remarkable success in Silicon Valley laid the foundation for her future endeavours in the world of venture capital.
In 2006, after her thriving career in Silicon Valley, Vani Kola returned to India, drawn by the burgeoning opportunities in the country's startup ecosystem. She co-founded Indo-US Venture Partners (IUVP) with Vinod Dham in 2006, marking her initial foray into venture capital in India. This partnership with New Enterprise Associates (NEA) eventually evolved into Kalaari Capital, reflecting her strong commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in India.
Under Kola's astute leadership, Kalaari Capital began operations as a US$150 million fund in September 2012. As of 2017, the firm managed an impressive US$650 million in assets, showcasing her ability to drive growth and investment in the Indian startup ecosystem.
As the managing director of Kalaari Capital, Vani Kola specialises in technology-focused early-stage investments. She collaborates closely with entrepreneurs, helping them transform their startups into global companies. Kola has played a pivotal role in funding ventures across various sectors, including e-commerce, mobile services, education, and healthcare. Some of her notable investments include Dream11, Urban Ladder, Snapdeal, and Myntra.
Vani Kola's exceptional contributions to the business and venture capital landscape have earned her numerous awards and recognitions. Forbes recognised her as one of the most powerful women in Indian business in 2014. She received the TiE Delhi-NCR 5th Edition of Women Entrepreneurship Summit Award in 2018 and the Midas Touch award for the best investor in 2015 as part of The Economic Times' startup awards. Kola also won the NDTV Women of Worth award for leadership excellence in business and entrepreneurship. Her insights and expertise led to her being named one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in 2016.
Her influence extends beyond accolades and recognition. She has been profiled in several books and was named as one of Fortune India's 'Most Powerful Women in Business' in both 2018 and 2019.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vani Kola spearheaded ACT Grants, a not-for-profit initiative involving entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. ACT Grants have already made a significant impact, with a corpus of ₹100 crores supporting 50 different ventures during these challenging times.
Additionally, Kola is actively involved in supporting the Heartfulness Institute, a non-profit organisation focused on human transformation through yoga and meditation. Her commitment to philanthropy underscores her dedication to making a positive difference in society.
In her personal life, Vani Kola is married to Srinivas Kola and is the proud mother of two daughters. Beyond her professional achievements, she has pursued physical challenges such as running marathons and scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in the 2000s.
Meditation plays a significant role in her daily routine, with over two decades of dedicated practice. In 2021, she was featured in an article discussing the challenges of "Zoom Fatigue," illustrating the importance of returning to face-to-face communication in the workplace.
Vani Kola's journey from a budding engineer to a pioneering venture capitalist showcases her resilience, vision, and unwavering commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in India. Her impact on the startup ecosystem and philanthropic initiatives continue to shape the landscape of business and social responsibility in the country.