Investing in startups has been a learning experience for me, says Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts, who says he became an investor by accident, believes investing in India’s startup ecosystem has been a learning experience for him.

There’s a reason the world looks up to Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts.

The industrialist and philanthropist, who took the Tata Group to new heights during his tenure as the chairman for 25 years, continues to remain down to earth and modest.

And even as startup founders and entrepreneurs seek his backing and vie to learn from him, Ratan Tata believes that investing in startups has been a “learning experience” for him.

Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Trusts, in conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma

“I have not brought any magic with me. I have chosen to support enterprises that seemed to attract me from a founder’s position on what the company is trying to do,” Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts, said in an exclusive conversation with YourStory Media Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma.

Over the last few years, Ratan Tata, 82, has invested in over two dozens of startups across India. Despite being one of India’s most successful investors, he famously said he became an investor by accident”.

Several media reports from last year revealed that during his working years, Ratan Tata considered the startup ecosystem “exciting but untouchable” because it could have led to a “conflict of interest with Tata Group” in some ways.

The Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Tata Motors, Tata Industries, Tata Steel, and Tata Chemicals was the Chairman of Tata Group from 1991-2016. Currently, he is serving as the Chairman of Tata Trusts, one of the oldest philanthropic organisations in India.

After retirement, Ratan Tata began making small-sized investments in his personal capacity in certain enterprises he considered “interesting”. He supported enterprises that attracted him based on solutions they were offering.

“There have been instances that have been learning experiences...getting involved in personal investments, as I have been trying to do in supporting startups, has been a learning experience for me.”  

The patriarch of the Tata Group revealed that a “cluster of several events” during his work and career had now become “interesting times” for him. 

Apart from making investments, Ratan Tata has also been at the forefront when it comes to guiding young entrepreneurs and startups. While joining Jungle Ventures as a special advisor in 2015, he had said young entrepreneurs should be given the opportunity to prove themselves.

Last year, the Chairman Emeritus took to Instagram and shared a startup pitch deck for debuting entrepreneurs after his followers requested him for this via a poll on his Instagram.

The startup pitch deck, a 16-slide PowerPoint presentation watermarked Office of Ratan Tata, revealed some of the most important aspects that need to be covered in any pitch by an aspiring entrepreneur. 

Watch the full conversation here:

Betting on the startup ecosystem

Recently this month, Ratan Tata invested an undisclosed amount in Thane-based medtech startup Generic aadhaar, founded by 18-year-old entrepreneur Arjun Deshpande. The startup is involved in helping mom-and-pop pharmacies convert themselves into branded stores and enabling entrepreneurs to access generic medicine at a lower cost through its platform.

According to previous reports, Ratan Tata’s private investment company RNT Associates and the University of California’s Office of the Regents (UC Investments) joined hands in 2016 and came up with ‘UC-RNT funds’ to fund startups, new companies, and other enterprises across India

The industrialist was an early backer (since 2015) of ride-hailing platform Ola and fintech unicorn Paytm. He also went on to invest in Ola’s electric vehicle arm, Ola Electric, in 2019, stating that the company would play an important role in the growth and development of Indian electric vehicle ecosystem.

Apart from this, Ratan Tata has also invested in ecommerce portal Snapdeal, fitness startup, weather forecaster ClimaCell, auto portal CarDekho, online furniture mart Urban Ladder, eyewear e-tailer Lenskart, home rental platform NestAway, baby products ecommerce platform FirstCry, cellphone manufacturer Xiaomi, and online pet care platform DogSpot, among many others.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)