Meet the Delhi boy who failed at DU, made it to Oxford, and then set up a profitable AI startup
Ashish Airon was an “okay student” through school, but he never failed an exam. That however changed when he was at Delhi University (DU) pursuing an undergraduate degree in Computer Science. He failed the Probability exam in his fourth semester.
“It was a jolt for me and the silent treatment at home from my parents, who were extremely disappointed in me, shook me up even more,” says 28-year-old Ashish.
Self-admittedly, he was just about “getting by” in college till that point, without “much focus or application”.
But failing the exam turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Ashish got his act together and even aced all his papers in the final year, graduating with first-class honours.
During his final year at DU, Ashish approached overseas education consultants wanting to apply to Oxford University for a Master’s in Computer Science.
“Everyone said you have a back paper, you won’t get in,” says Ashish.
After being turned down by every consultant he approached, Ashish ended up applying independently. He got through.
The Oxford graduate today runs a successful Noida-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup called CogniTensor.
The early days
After completing his master’s from Oxford, Ashish moved to Frankfurt as a research associate. The stint was supposed to last one-two years. But Ashish was itching to start his own AI startup and although he was “learning a lot”, seven months in and he decided to move back to the UK to set up his firm in January 2016.
The startup, then called MetaTensor, was formed with the idea to connect researchers on its proprietary platform, DeepOptics, for solving data science problems with the help of AI.
Ashish set up the startup with a loan of Rs 5 lakh from his father and some savings from the Germany stint.
After running it for two years, he decided to move back to Delhi because “the business sentiment in the UK was a bit down due to Brexit” while the Indian market looked “full of promise and excitement”.
Ashish moved back to India in January 2018 and co-founded CogniTensor with industry veterans Pankaj Mathur and Arun Aggarwal. In a career spanning over 30 years, BITS, Pilani alum Arun has worked with companies such as DEC, IBM, Lucent, and Comptel. Pankaj, an FMS, Delhi graduate, also has over three decades of experience having worked for multi-nationals such as IBM, HP, and Orange.
For CogniTensor the product remained the same from its earlier avatar, MetaTensor, in the form of DeepOptics.
And because the product was already there, the startup managed to turn profitable in six months.
In its first year, CogniTensor clocked Rs 2 crore in revenue. It is poised for a 300-percent topline growth as it closes the current financial year, according to Ashish.
DeepOptics is a platform-as-a-service that helps organisations in predictive decision making and evaluating quantifiable business solutions. “We do it through an exceptional blend of business acumen, big data, and machine learning,” says Ashish.
CogniTensor also offers a mobile application, called CogniViz, for both Android and iOS users. Ashish explains what the app does: “It allows you to transform data insights in data dashboards to stay in control of your business activity by giving access to the key data metrics from anywhere and everywhere.”
The firm works with retailers, manufacturers (that use large amounts of raw materials), and energy companies, helping them with key decisions such as the right time to procure to optimise inventory, as well as to get the best prices.
Currently, it is in the process of collaborating with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to predict certain diseases before they occur.
Having started his entrepreneurial journey as a one-man company, Ashish now has a team of 25.
Commenting on competition, Ashish says, “We are very niche, as such we have not encountered competition. We will be filing patents after we raise funding.” The company is looking to raise “about a couple of million dollars” over the course of the next six months and has onboarded PwC to manage the fund raise.
Although the business is not cash-intensive, the funds are required to expand the company’s business to the Middle East and African (MEA) countries, adds Ashish.
Currently, CogniTensor’s offering is a B2B one, but in the next 10 years Ashish wants to create a B2C platform.
“Something like (Microsoft) Excel, that everyone can use,” he says with a big smile.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)