Global tech giant, Microsoft has turned its interest towards Indian startups after a long gap, as has been reported by the media. The company is planning to open up an office in the country and invest in Indian tech startups using new age technologies like autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain.
What is the plan?
Microsoft Ventures runs a startup accelerator that has been helping emerging firms to stand up before they seek funding from venture capital firms to grow business.
Peggy Johnson, global vice-president of the Satya Nadella-led company, has revamped the venture arm by roping in her former Qualcomm colleague, Nagraj Kashyap to lead it. The headquarters have been relocated to Silicon Valley, with offices in New York, London and Tel Aviv, Israel and the one planned in India.
Speaking to Economic Times, Johnson said,
“We look largely around our core ambitions — cloud infrastructure, AI, machine learning (ML) and connectivity. But India is unique because the productivity here is mobile only. We have learnt a lot and look forward to learning more. We generally focus on Series A and B (funding), with a little bit of seed. But largely Series A and B and it is anywhere between $2 Mn and $10 Mn. It will be part of our global corpus.”
How is it going to benefit India?
Johnson said about 5000 Indian startups benefit from Microsoft various programmes including that of seven accelerators, with partners like an arm of Reliance Industries and 24 third-party accelerators.
With a deep commitment towards fostering the startup ecosystem in India, Johnson claimed that Microsoft would as a hub for its research and development, and engineering activities, and also as a market for its products. Currently, it has about 11 offices in the country that employs about 8000 people.
Bank frauds like that of the Rs 13,000-crore Nirav Modi scam at Punjab National Bank, have shaken the country. Vice-President Johnson claimed that technology can help prevent such frauds.
“Because they have vast amounts of data, we can help. We have seen interest from banking sector the world over and I think it can help them be more efficient with some of their processes and take out some of the manual parts that can introduce error into the process,”
The company has been working with Bandhan Bank and Bajaj Finserv, another company official said.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations that have put social media giant Facebook in a spot has raised a number of eyebrows across the world and people have now become a lot more concerned about the security of their data.
Johnson said Microsoft has a history of compliance and will adopt any new regulations as well.
She added that technology tools like blockchain can help resolve the current concerns on the data security and privacy front.
About Microsoft Ventures
The venture arm of Microsoft in India headed by Rahul Sood before he left the firm in 2014 to start on his own.
Johnson explained that it was lack of funds that had restricted Microsoft from investing in companies when they graduated from an accelerator. The venture arm would allow Microsoft to get a “signal into the startup community”. It would also put the software behemoth back into the conversation with the venture capital firms to understand emerging technology developments.
So far, Microsoft Ventures, which also has a model of co-investing with other VCs, has backed over 45 startups globally.
Johnson has a strong belief in the diversity of her team and is sure that it would work out as a great strength. She said,
“I had the freedom to build the team from scratch. We did not have a number of resources. When I spoke to people who run it for me, I told them we need to have diversity. What is produced is one of the most diverse VC community. There is a real business impact on diversity and I think this is a great example of that.”
Microsoft India has also claimed to help 650 India-based partners through its cognitive services, IoT, AI and machine learning platforms to build solutions for India.
Over the last year, Microsoft and its partners have deployed AI solutions in areas such as healthcare, education, agriculture, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and financial services.
Some of the tech startups which have partnered with Microsoft to work or develop AI technologies include Ola Play, Flipkart, ZingHR, WittyParrot etc.