“If you do not change, you can become extinct.” ~ Dr Spencer Johnson, author of “Who Moved My Cheese”
When conglomerates like Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) step into the new era carrying more than 50 years of legacy, putting their stamp on the transformation certainly becomes important for retaining the top spot amid competition. Post the November 2016 demonetisation drive, the Indian digital and technology landscape has leapfrogged to new heights opening up a multitude of opportunities in all sectors.
With Japan, China, Israel, the US and the UK among others eyeing this burgeoning growth, Reliance needed to quickly find its edge to gain advantage in the market.
Although with segments like energy, petrochemicals, textiles, natural resources, retail, and telecommunications being the core segments for Reliance, stepping into digital sectors such as ecommerce, mixed reality, big data, logistics, deeptech among others was not an easy task. But it seems like Reliance has already found its way here.
In the period between FY18-FY19, RIL has entered into nearly 49 merger and acquisitions, strategic investments and joint venture deals globally. Some are completed while some are still pending and are about to complete by 2020-21. As Money Control’s Rakesh Sharma noted in one of his podcasts,
“If pre-2017 was the era of petrochemicals and building massive refinery complexes, it seems post-2017 is going to be a new big chapter in the Reliance saga with Jio as its protagonist with all these other acquisitions and deals in one way or other lending a supporting role to the hero, Mukesh Ambani.”
In line with this, we at Inc42 curated a list of the top 11 Indian tech startup acquisitions and investments by Reliance in 2018-19. Apart from these, Reliance has made significant investments in global tech startups such as DEN, Hathway, Eros International Plc, Edcast, Karexpert Technologies, Vakt Holdings, Indiavidual Learning Pvt. Ltd, Radisys Corp, Videonetics, Kai OS Technologies and SkyTran Inc. among others.
Meet The 11 Indian Tech Startups In Reliance’s Portfolio
C-Square provides software solutions with specific focus on pharma sector for various stakeholders including C&F, distributors, retailers, online ecommerce, sales force automation, etc. The aforesaid investment will further enable Reliance group’s digital commerce initiatives and solutions. RIIHL will further invest an amount of up to INR 60 Cr and the deal is likely to be completed by March 2021.
EasyGov is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup that enables citizens to search and apply for various Indian government schemes/services from a single platform. It counts key investors such as Rajan Anandan and Social Alpha. By March 2021, Reliance is looking to invest another INR 50 Cr in the company as well. The acquisition was routed through its subsidiary Reliance Industrial Investments & Holdings (RIIHL)
Lightbox and Kalaari Capital-backed Embibe leverages AI-based data analytics to deliver personalised learning outcomes for the students. It targets students across K-12, higher education, professional skilling, vernacular languages and all curriculum categories across India and abroad. Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) will invest over $180 Mn into AI-based education platform, Embibe by 2020.
Post-acquisition Aditi Avasthi, founder and CEO of Embibe, has continued to lead the company and might operate it as an independent entity as well. Reliance aims to connect over 1.9 Mn schools and 58K universities across India with technology. It believes that Embibe’s highly experienced management team will be instrumental in enabling Reliance to realise its vision for the education sector.
Founded as Shopsense Retail Technology, Fynd functions via an O2O model and directly sources products across various categories – including clothing, footwear, jewellery, and accessories, from prominent brands in the country. The startup optimises delivery time by sourcing products from the outlets nearest to the customer. It claims to have about 8,000 outlets on board for about 500 clients.
Among its key backers are Google, Kae Capital, IIFL, GrowX, Anand Chandrasekaran, Rajiv Mehta (CEO of Arvind Sports Lifestyle Limited), and Ramakant Sharma (cofounder of Livspace). The deal, being routed through Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings, will give RIL an option of investing another INR 100 Cr in Fynd. It will give an exit option to Fynd’s investors, and Fynd’s team of 150 including cofounders will stay.
Grab offers services ranging from on-demand, reverse deliveries, first mile, and last-mile logistics. Some of its clients include McDonalds, BigBasket, Myntra, Amazon Now, Swiggy. It was backed by investors such as SIDBI Venture Capital Arm, SIDBI Venture Capital Limited (SVCL) Aramex, Zomato and Sixth Sense Ventures. At a later stage, Reliance will also invest up to $5.63 Mn (INR 40 Cr) to complete the acquisition deal by March 2021.
Haptik lets customers chat with their voice assistants to complete daily tasks such as online shopping, travel bookings, food delivery among others. The company has worked with over 50 brands such as Samsung, Future Group, OYO and KFC. The company expanded to the US in 2018 and the UK in 2019. The Haptik team will continue to drive the growth of the business, including the enterprise platform as well as digital consumer assistants. With the deal, Reliance Jio is looking to leverage Haptik’s capabilities across various devices and touchpoints in the consumer’s journey. Reliance said that the investment focus is on the enhancement and expansion of the platform, with an addressable market opportunity of over 1 Bn users in India.
Netradyne’s flagship product Driveri aims to alert fleet managers and drivers about any untoward incident or emergency on the road based on crowd-sourced data from on-board cameras. This is done based on a camera which is mounted behind the rear-view mirror of vehicles which captures videos in a 360-degree format. The device analyses things on-road and detects anomalous driving behaviour. It even sends videos to the cloud for further analysis. With the investment, Reliance is looking at potential synergies with digital services and communications initiatives of RIL and its subsidiaries, apart from commercialisation benefits in India. It’s also looking at the connected car space closely with the Netradyne acquisition.
Backed by investors such as Aspada Investment Company, Qualcomm Ventures, Reverie enables real-time delivery of online content in multiple Indian languages. As of 2018, Reverie had a turnover of Rs 7.6 Cr. According to the filing, Reverie would work in collaboration with the Reliance ecosystem for integrating its services in the various existing digital consumer platforms of the group. Reliance is looking to invest additional INR 77 Cr by March 2021 in the company.
Last year, Jio Music and Saavn merged to jointly strengthen their foothold in the Indian music streaming market and their combined valuation was pegged at over $1 Bn with Jio Music’s implied valuation at $670 Mn and Saavn with a valuation of $330 Mn. With this, Reliance also acquired a partial stake in Saavn from its existing shareholders for $104 Mn.
Some of the major shareholders of Saavn include Tiger Global Management, Liberty Media and Bertelsmann. The deal combines the streaming media expertise of Saavn with the connectivity and digital ecosystem of Jio. For the business, Reliance will invest ‘upto rupee equivalent’ of $100 Mn, of which ‘rupee equivalent’ of $20 Mn will be invested upfront for the growth and expansion of the platform.
Incubated by JNCASR, Bengaluru, SankhyaSutra helps simulate solutions to industrial problems virtually, removing the need to conduct costly physical experiments. It is high-performance computing (HPC) software simulation that offers services for manufacturing and industries such as automobile, aircraft manufacturing, oil and gas, and semiconductor manufacturing etc. Reliance is further looking to invest INR 200 Cr by March 2021 in the startup.
Tesseract is a deeptech startup and has launched three hardware and two software products in the MR, AR, and VR spaces — Methane, Holoboard, and Quark. The founder claims to have seven patents: one US, three international (130 countries), and three India patents.
Holoboard is being touted as the first made-in-India AR headset and works with smartphones. Users of AR headsets can see digital and virtual images in the real world around them.
Post-acquisition, Tesseract will continue to work independently. Tesseract has developed the Jio HoloBoard as a native mixed reality headset for JioFiber users. While specifics about the Jio HoloBoard are yet to be revealed, Reliance Jio wants to make the headset available for purchase in the market very soon at an “extremely affordable price”.
Reliance Industries: The Emerging Tech Powerhouse Of India
“It (RIL) will be known in the coming decade as an enterprise with lakhs of partners, supporting the small and young entrepreneurs and an enabler of a large ecosystem of entrepreneurs in India.’
When chairman Ambani made this statement in 2017, no one could sense what strategy is cooking up in the mind of this business magnate. Two years down the line, not only is Reliance actively building technology in-house, but is also supporting the young minds of India as well.
RIL had set up a venture arm, GenNext Ventures, which is looking to acquire up to 15% stake in young startups. Its GenNext Innovation Hub is a startup accelerator programme launched in partnership with Microsoft Ventures.
It also plans to set up an INR 5,000 Cr VC fund — Reliance Jio Digital India Startup Fund — to boost entrepreneurship in the country over a five-year period. The fund will be used to develop and fund new businesses across sectors such as agriculture, education, health, rural livelihoods, and ecommerce.
With India chasing its dream to become a $5 Tn economy by 2025, the efforts of mega conglomerates such as Reliance Industries not only support this vision, but are also propelling innovative startups by bringing them to a platform from which they can achieve rapid growth and scale up with the backing of Reliance’s extensive support system.