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These 5 AI enthusiasts and investors are betting on the sector

Sampath Putrevu
17th Apr 2018
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Unless you are living under a rock, you would have heard how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is gearing to change our lives and automate many tasks to make the going simpler.

Like any emerging technology these days, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Artificial Intelligence. Ashwini Asokan, Co-founder of Mad Street Den, says it is a myth that Artificial Intelligence is synonymous with the term ‘automation’. She once told YourStory, "Automation is automation. Machines performing repetitive tasks in not necessarily AI. Many use the terms interchangeably."

Much is being spoken about data being the new oil, and employment of Artificial Intelligence in the technology space. While the interest in research, and funding for Artificial Intelligence rises and falls, there are a number of endorsers for the technology and its capability to potentially disrupt the world technology.

Bill Gates believes a good way to make the transition to an AI-powered world is to tax AI or robots. In an interview with Quartz, Gates noted, "Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level."

Speaking at Google I/O 2016, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google said the world is going from mobile-first to AI-first. He said, "This is why we built the Google Assistant, which allows you to have a natural conversation between you and Google."

If we talk national, Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group has invested in AI in undisclosed funding deals. On that note, here is a look at five Indian investors who have put their faith, and money, in AI and its potential.

pi Ventures

pi Ventures invests in early-stage startups that focus on solving problems in healthcare, logistics, retail, fintech, and enterprise sectors using Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning (ML), and Internet of Things (IoT).

Manish Singhal (L) and Umakant Soni (R)

India’s first 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 was co-founder and CEO of LetsVenture, and a prominent angel investor.

Predicting strong growth in the AI space, Manish Singhal and Umakant Soni founded pi Ventures, an AI-focused fund for India. In March last year, they closed $13 million of their $30 million AI-focused fund, and invested or co-invested in three AI startups - Ten3t, Zenatix and SigTuple.

In an earlier conversation with YourStory, Manish had said he had seen many great applications in the AI space, in sectors such as healthcare and energy. About the maturity of the space, he had said,

"Whether it is winter, spring, or summer, enough stuff is happening in the AI space in India. There is enough critical mass now."

Pallav Nadhani's FusionCharts

The Bhagalpur boy started up when he was 17, and went on to create a multi-million-dollar company. The seed capital he received was the computer his father had given him, and the $1500 he earned by writing articles on the internet.

Pallav Nadhani at YourStory TechSparks 2016

"I was writing a few articles to earn pocket money, and one of the articles was about how to create a new animated charting component. People loved it and before the product launched, they were already willing to give me $100 for customisation," he had told YourStory.

Pallav's FusionCharts now helps more than 23,000 enterprises and five lakh customers across 118 countries build JavaScript/HTML5 data visualisation for their web and mobile applications. The startup claims that about 85 percent of its clients are from Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Weather.com, Facebook, and NASA.

Pallav made his debut in the AI space as an investor with Artifacia, (formerly called Snapshopr) that provides an AI-based visual discovery platform designed for retailers and helps them improve engagement and conversions on their apps and websites.

Apart from Pallav's backing, in September 2015, the startup raised a seed round of funding from Amod Malviya, former CTO of Flipkart. Using IBM cloud technology, Artifacia helps its partners provide unique product discovery and personalisation experiences to customers.

Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, invested an undisclosed amount in Niki.ai, an AI-based chatbot, which was founded in April 2015 by four IIT-Kharagpur alumni Sachin Jaiswal, Keshav Prawasi, Nitin Babel and Shishir Modi. The funding round was along with Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer.

Ratan Tata

Though the tycoon retired in 2012, he has been a keen observer of the Indian startup ecosystem. For a lucky few, he became an investor with his personal wealth. Although most of his investments are undisclosed amounts, startups which succeed in getting Tata on board are excited for reasons that go beyond financial benefits.

Niki.ai has now grown to a 21-member team, and was officially launched during YourStory’s TechSparks 2015, and is a Tech30 company.

The Bansals of Flipkart

Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, the founders of Flipkart, invested $740,000 along with Ashok Bareja, Nirupa Bareja, Debanjan Mukherjee, and Accel Partners in SigTuple, a Bengaluru-based healthcare AI startup.

Sachin-Binny_Flipkart
Sachin Bansal (L) Binny Bansal (R)

It offers intelligent screening solutions for pathology labs through digitisation of pathological slide images and cloud-based image processing used for diagnosis.

The Bansals have also made an investment in Gurugram-based GreyOrange Robotics. GreyOrange offers automated on-demand robot services for logistics and warehouse management.

Varun Jain, Qualcomm Ventures

Varun Jain of Qualcomm Ventures once said that many companies that could not raise money tried to shoehorn themselves as AI companies. For the record, Varun had come across pitches and proposals that ranged from juicers to WiFi routers that run on AI.

Varun Jain, Qualcomm Ventures

Varun has invested in two AI startups - Clarifai and Cruise Automation. While Clarifai is working on advanced image recognition systems that make it easier for customers to detect duplicates, Cruise Automation is a San Francisco based driverless car company. Cruise Automation was acquired by General Motors, and will be rebranded as GM Cruise LLC.

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