Gupta, Singh plan new India fund

China is so last year. Or so it seems to a growing number of venture capitalists who are beginning to find India irresistible.

The newest evidence of the trend comes in the form of Ashish Gupta, a venture partner at Woodside Fund in Redwood Shores, Calif., for the past three years. Gupta has teamed with Kanwaljit Singh, formerly an India-based director of The Carlyle Group who focused on Asian venture opportunities, to start a new firm under the name Helion Fund.

Helion’s mandate, according to one source familiar with the fund, is no mandate. “I understand that they don’t want to limit themselves,” the source says. “It’s an emerging market. I think you’ll find that most funds in India are pretty broad. It doesn’t make sense to set up a telecom fund there, you know?”

Helion is raising money from a number of sources, including Sutter Hill Ventures, partners from Woodside Fund, and Sanjeev Agarwal, an Indian entrepreneur who sold the call-center startup Dakesh eServices to IBM for a reported $170 million and who happens also to be Gupta’s brother in-law. It is unclear if Agarwal will remain in his current post as CEO of IBM Dakesh or quit to join Gupta and Singh as a general partner in Helion.

Gupta confirmed that the aforementioned investors were helping to fund Helion, but he declined to disclose how much Helion was raising or when it hoped to close its fund. When asked if Sutter Hill Ventures was playing a major role in Helion, Gupta said: “They will be a strategic partner here in the U.S., but Helion is an independent fund.”

As for Woodside, Gupta says: “We’ll still work together and I’ll continue to look at deals [on their behalf]. They’ve been very supportive. They’re good friends in addition to having taught me a whole bunch about venture investing.”

Gupta said he was unsure if any other U.S.-based venture capitalists would become limited partners in Helion.

As for Gupta’s new partner, he says that he met Singh six years ago through investing circles. Singh has “been in India forever,” says Gupta, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 18 years and is planning to soon move back to his native India from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Gupta and Singh are also co-investors in Bangalore-based Textual Analytics Solutions, which analyzes enterprise data and is just one of numerous investments in India that Gupta says that he has been making as an individual investor since 2001.

Although Gupta is no longer on the boards of any Woodside portfolio companies, he is on the boards of two Indian startups: Bangalore-based Merit Trac, whose competence assessment software sells to organizations wanting to administer online tests to candidates before deciding who to bring in for interviews; and the marketing, risk, and supply-chain analytics startup Mu Sigma of Bangalore, which already counts among its clients several big U.S. customers, including Microsoft and McCann WorldGroup, a division of the media services conglomerate Interpublic Group.

Why India? “There is a sociological change underway, coupled with broad economic change,” says Gupta, a co-founder and VP of engineering at Junglee before coming a VC. “Because the standard of living has improved dramatically in recent years, many more people are taking employment for granted for the first time. Whereas they once worked for big companies in secure jobs, they feel safer creating new, interesting opportunities for themselves. I just realized that it was time for me to jump in with both feet.”

It could also be argued that India is under-invested compared to China. China’s economy is 2.5 times bigger than India’s, but China received 10 times as much direct investment as India last year, despite India’s booming economy.

Other venture firms that have been investing in India include Norwest Venture Partners, which recently invested an undisclosed amount in online travel site Yatra Online, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which announced two investments in India-based companies in this month. KP reportedly invested $2.7 million in, a competitor to Yatra Online, and an undisclosed sum in Info Edge India, a holding company that operates online classifieds and job portals such as, and