Why we invested in iMerit

iMerit‘s delivery center in Baruipur, a low-income suburb of Kolkata, is located in an unassuming two- story building. There is little about the neighborhood or the building itself that gives you any clues as to what is hidden inside. The Baruipur center – and four other centers like it in east Indian cities – employs hundreds of young men and women and provides on-demand digital data services to leading internet companies in the world. Most of iMerit’s employees come with a high-school education or less, and typically from low-income homes. Their transformation to working for a cutting-edge digital services company is a testament to iMerit’s commitment to finding and nurturing talent in the most unexpected places, and building a meaningful business around this commitment.

Their track record and success in enabling low-income youth to fully realize their economic potential attracted the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to lead a $3.5 million investment round in iMerit, together with Omidyar Network and Khosla Impact.

Our investment comes at an opportune time. More young people are entering the workforce in India than ever in history, and creating the next generation of jobs to meet the needs and aspirations of India’s youth is one of the biggest challenges facing the country today. This challenge is particularly stark among low-income urban youth, who have been denied meaningful educational opportunities, yet are hungry for aspirational jobs. The first step in addressing this challenge is to recognize that talent can appear in the most unexpected of places (like Baruipur, for instance), and what we need is tenacious entrepreneurs and companies that can unleash this talent.

Their track record and success in enabling low-income youth to fully realize their economic potential attracted the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to lead a $3.5 million investment round in iMerit, together with Omidyar Network and Khosla Impact.

iMerit’s founder, Radha Basu, exemplifies this tenaciousness and determination, which ultimately led her to move from a three-decade long career building technology companies to committing her life to expanding opportunities for marginalized youth. Started as a small pilot in 2012, iMerit today employs approximately 500 youth, working on complex tasks such as machine learning and image recognition for the world’s leading internet firms. iMerit’s secret-sauce is in its commitment to finding and nurturing talent. The company invests significant time and resources to upskill and train its employees, who today work on projects with silicon-valley technology companies staffed by ivy-league software engineers. iMerit’s success in building its business in a tough operating environment was captured well in a recent USA Today feature on the company by Jon Swartz, the USA Today’s San Francisco bureau chief.

The new round of investment in iMerit will enable the company to scale its business significantly – setting up five new delivery centers and, expanding training and employment opportunities to more than 2,000 marginalized youth. But these numbers only tell part of the story. The true success of the company is in continuously enabling its employees to learn and grow, moving them up the skill ladder and assigning them value-added tasks involving greater complexity. Because once you show young people what they are capable of, there is no stopping them.