Season Two Ventures is an early-stage venture fund focused on deep tech/AI-enabled B2B solutions for large businesses in healthcare, fintech, retail, energy and utilities. Its CEO and managing partner, Sajan Pillai (he holds patents in internet computing and data systems and is former CEO of UST Global), tells Sudhir Chowdhary that India can become the next AI superpower; but there needs to be a nation-wide prioritisation to upskill the younger generation and encourage governing bodies to push an AI-first agenda in a strategic manner. Excerpts:
How do you compare India’s AI strategy with that of China and the US?
The US and China are in a race to become the next AI superpower. In fact, China has closely followed the US’ AI-focused strategy and will likely surpass it soon in terms of investments and innovations in this space. In terms of policy, the US government signed the American AI Initiative in 2019, detailing that there is going to be a strong federal push for AI upskilling. China has focused on a similar strategy, in addition to starting education and upskilling of graduates in this space at an early stage. China has doubled down to incentivise the return of AI professionals trained abroad, and the retention of quality AI specialists within the country, by offering subsidised access to resources and attractive pay packages. India also has a high data availability and diversity along with high volume of data. Therefore, India can become the next AI superpower through innovation and advancement in technology.
Where does India stand currently in terms of global comparison?
India has the potential to match China in AI capabilities due to the degree of innovation that occurs and the accessibility to large datasets. However, there needs to be a nationwide prioritisation to upskill the younger generation in this space and encourage governing bodies to push an AI-first agenda in a strategic manner. AI has quickly become a focus here in India, with the number of AI startups and private investments growing rapidly.
The government has accelerated the application of AI in both agricultural and healthcare space.
It has introduced a National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence in 2018, with a commitment to provide Rs 3,000 crore in funding for AI-related initiatives across verticals. There is a pool of 1.7 million STEM graduates from India every year. India has an infrastructure oriented towards technology and IT services, the Indian education system and workforce have tremendous potential for upskilling and re-skilling, and directly focusing on AI-related opportunities.
How can the startup ecosystem help in India becoming an AI superpower?
India has a large number of startups and the entrepreneurial potential to be a major player globally in various sectors, but it needs a strong innovation engine to build deep companies of substance. Startups in India can leverage technology and AI for some of the crucial industries such as healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities and infrastructure and strengthen the current position of India. Additionally, AI skilling needs to happen from a young age. AI in the education and healthcare sector is the need of the hour and startups must prevent “brain drain” by promoting a culture of innovation.
Has Season Two Ventures made any investments in Indian startups so far?
Season Two Ventures has made five fresh investments in India this July. We have backed digital payments startup Uvik Technologies, air quality intelligence startup Ambee, data privacy company Ozone.ai, and two healthcare businesses Svast and Hilabs. These are all relevant companies that can capture large markets in a post-Covid-19 world.
Indian policy in general makes it difficult for startups to receive funding. The government should focus on adopting best practices and policies to create a predictable, stable and transparent environment for investors. There is also a need to benchmark against other countries which can help reduce transaction costs. It is imperative to expand startup hubs and research labs across the country, and not just limit to Bengaluru and Hyderabad.