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SoftBank-backed Lenskart raises $220 million as India’s tech industry booms

India’s Lenskart, an online retailer for eyewear, raised $220 million from investors including Temasek Holdings Ptey and Falcon Edge Capital, another sign of growing interest in the country’s technology startups.

Founded in 2010 by Piyush Bansal, the company sells eyeglasses, contact lenses and sunglasses online and through around 750 retail outlets in the country. It plans to use capital from KKR & Co earlier this year with $95 million to expand online sales and add brick-and-mortar stores in India as well as Southeast Asia and the Middle East .

“From apparel to footwear, every vertical apart from eyewear has been disrupted globally,” said Bansal, 37, over a video call announcing the funding. “We could easily take two decades to solve the problem of awareness, penetration and affordability in eyewear.”

The startup is now valued at $2.5 billion, the founder said.

Bansal graduated from McGill University in Montreal and then worked at Microsoft Corp in the US before returning to India nearly a decade and a half ago to become an entrepreneur. He founded Lenskart Solutions Pvt, as the company is officially known, in Faridabad, a dusty industrial city outside New Delhi, and received initial support from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.

Lenskart sold nearly 8 million pairs of eyewear last year and is aiming to grow by 30 percent in the year ending March 2022. The company claims to be the largest eyewear seller in India and seeks to become a leader in the new geographies of the Southeast. Asia and Middle East. The combined market opportunity is projected to exceed $15 billion by 2025, the startup said in an announcement on Monday.

India’s tech industry is having a breakout year. Global investors are pouring billions of dollars into the country’s startups, mining more unicorns than ever before.

Those investments are starting to pay off. Food-delivery app Zomato Ltd. Became the first unicorn in the country to debut in the stock-market, raising $1.3 billion. Digital payments startup Paytm has filed a draft prospectus for the country’s biggest ever IPO.

Bansal began his entrepreneurial endeavors with a startup aimed at solving housing problems of college students. But they quickly realized that they could make a bigger impact in eyeglass sales.

“India is the blind capital of the world and about half of its 1.3 billion people need glasses,” he said.

He said that Lenskart is now profitable despite the ups and downs during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We turned profitable at the company level before the pandemic, were in the red during the peak of the first and second wave and have returned to the green again,” he said.

The startup plans to invest in its own supply chain and new technologies. A new manufacturing plant in Rajasthan in western India is said to be the world’s largest factory for the company’s ready-made prescription glasses, which make 150,000 pairs a day. The company recently established the Lenskart Vision Fund to invest $2 million each in select startups operating in the eyewear, eye-care and related retail segments.

Its digital offerings include a virtual 3D tool for trying on glasses, as well as artificial intelligence face-mapping to help with frame recommendations.

“The technology provides huge benefits to the entire eyewear industry,” Bansal said.

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