This VC Believes India Can Dominate the World in Deep-Tech Innovation
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A tech aficionado, Manish Singhal, founding partner at Pi Ventures, believes these are interesting times in terms of innovation for India. “India has a good chance of putting its deep-tech innovation flag over the world,” says Singhal.
Pi Ventures is an early-stage fund that focuses on artificial intelligence (AI) even within deep-tech. “I believe companies which use AI will outshine companies that don’t if the two of them are functioning in the same sector.”
Singhal founded Pi Ventures in 2016 and exceeded the initial target fund of INR 195 crore by 17 per cent and raised INR 225 crore. He says the journey of starting the fund has been nothing less than a roller-coaster ride and is very similar to that of how a founder starts a company.
Similarities between a fund and a start-up
“It is a focused fund. The first challenge was coming up with a thesis which makes sense. We did not have any anchor investors and raising money was another challenge. So, I was simultaneously building a team, investing in start-ups and also raising funds,” says Singhal, who has also been an entrepreneur.
Singhal says during the two-year journey of raising funds, there were times when he felt he will not even be able to achieve his target of Rs 195 crore. “Imagine how hard it is for a start-up to raise one round of fund. It was (raising fund for Pi Venture) similar but much bigger and harder as the money involved was huge.” He adds, “One thing led to the other and we were ecstatic when we crossed our target.”
Pi Ventures has been able to bring on board big names such as Deep Kalra of MakeMyTrip, Sunil Munjal of Hero Corporate Services and Flipkart founder Binny Bansal as investors.
Technology a great leveler
“There is digital disruption happening and AI is going to lead this disruption,” says Singhal. According to him, the Internet has already made education more accessible and now AI will open avenues for more people. “Niramai, one of the companies that we funded, helps in the diagnosis of breast cancer through machine learning,” says Singhal. He further explains, “It is inconvenient to carry mammogram to every place. So, technology is improving access to healthcare services.”
Out of the ten investments made by Pi Ventures so far, four have been in the healthcare sector. Singhal says the high ratio of investments in the healthcare sector is by chance but at the same time he believes “technology has to make healthcare more accessible”.
Singhal shares that in India, two kinds of trend can be seen in deep-tech—‘digital deep-tech’ and the other is ‘beyond digital’. The former is the disruption that AI is causing in the digital space. Explaining beyond digital deep-tech disruption, Singhal shares, “In India, we are witnessing very interesting innovations in material sciences, mechanical engineering, space sciences, etc., using deep tech. This has led to some amazing innovation such as the artificial cornea and a battery that does not require electricity to recharge, among others.”
Singhal hopes Pi Ventures to play a significant role in bringing about a disruption using AI in both digital and beyond digital spaces.