Applied artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT-focused early-stage venture fund pi Ventures on Tuesday announced the first close of its maiden fund at $13 million. The $30 million (approximately Rs 195 crore) fund is expected to close before the end of 2017. Limited partners include SIDBI, India’s top lender to small businesses; prominent family offices from the USA, Canada, Singapore, and India; and leading entrepreneurs like Mohandas Pai, Binny Bansal, Deep Kalra, Sanjeev Bikchandani, and Bhupen Shah, among others.
India’s first such early-stage venture fund, pi Ventures was founded in mid 2016 by Manish Singhal and Umakant Soni. Both come with rich experience in setting up, building, and scaling companies. Manish has been co-founder and CEO at LetsVenture and a prominent angel investor. He has rich product experience having worked with Sling Media, Ittiam Systems, Motorola and written a part of MPEG 4 standards, the dominant video standard even today. Umakant was Director India, Science Inc, and co-founder of Vimagino, one of the first AI bot companies out of India.
For a more in-depth understanding of Manish's background and pi Ventures' origins, listen to this recent podcast: Shradha Sharma with Manish Singhal, founding partner, pi Ventures, India's first AI fund.
Pi Ventures looks to invest in early-stage startups that focus on solving problems in healthcare, logistics, retail, fintech, and enterprise sectors using AI, ML, and IoT. The Bengaluru-based VC plans to invest in 18-20 startups from this fund over a span of three to four years. pi Ventures has so far made three investments in the healthcare and energy efficiency space:
Related read from February 2017: How pi Ventures is looking to invest in an AI-first world
Manish, Founding Partner, pi Ventures, considers himself to be a hardware techie at heart. He said,
India is the dark horse in the AI race given it has lot of data, brilliant data science talent, and early adoption environment due to broken processes and we are happy to play a part in helping India leapfrog with AI. We are thankful to our early backers, investors, and founders who have chosen to work with us. We are very excited to play a role in building a strong AI-based product ecosystem in India.
Pi Ventures also holds sessions called #chAI (AI over a cup of chai) to bring together and encourage the startup ecosystem. At the events, startup founders share how they use AI to solve problems. With eight sessions so far (five in Bengaluru and three in New Delhi), pi ventures believes that it leads to a lot of cross-pollination of ideas among founders and also educates the audience about best practices in building AI companies. Open-for-all sessions, they have been attended by researchers from universities, startups, large companies, and students.
While some Indian unicorns and later-stage companies are right-sizing, laying off employees, and looking to stabilise their ships, many industry watchers have moved the startup 'Doomsday Clock' closer to midnight.
While it is true that bigger companies are facing challenges in closing funds at their desired valuations, early- and mid-stage startups don't have to be too perturbed. India-focused venture capital and private equity investors are sitting on an estimated $7.1 billion of investible funds. Many India-focused funds have ample dry powder from recent fund raises and are actively looking to deploy them, but given the startup environment are more cautious than 2015. These were not small fund raises, either. Sequoia led the pack with a $920 million fund raise, while Nexus and Accel have raised $450 million each.
For an in-depth overview of the funding situation, read this: Winter’s ending! Startup founders, are you ready for spring?