Why Reliance is playing and investor to a bunch of fledgling tech ventures?

At the recent annual general meeting of shareholders of reliance industries ltd (RIL), at the very fag end of his speech enumerating the big strides made by his bread and-butter businesses — refinery and petrochemicals — and holding forth a little longer on reliance jio, Mukesh Ambani revealed his next dream project.

“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,” he told shareholders at the fortieth agm. he did not elaborate much.

As you read this, an ecosystem for entrepreneurs is taking shape on the outskirts of mumbai, and the coming months might see it gain scale. in the 100-acre reliance corporate park, the nerve centre of the Rs 3,39,000 crore enterprise, a nondescript, two-storey structure called the mab, or the main administrative building, is home to a batch of 20 entrepreneurs testing products and honing business plans. The accelerator for the startups is under the auspices of gennext hub.

Much of what RIL is betting on are businesses that have linkages with the telecom venture, but there are a few that may well open new frontiers. In less than four years, the 51 startups that have gone through gennext have raised about Rs 285 crore; about Rs 100 crore was raised at the time of entering gennext, which is a benchmark for investors.

in recent times, ril has picked up stakes in six startups. in the public domain are investments it made in netradyne, videonetics and edcast, startups in segments as diverse as artificial intelligence and video analytics. the gennext project, though, goes way beyond just investing.

To be sure, RIL is not the only indian company to nurture startups. mahindra & mahindra, marico, the tata group are also mentoring young ventures. banks such as icici bank, kotak bank, yes bank and even a few nbfcs such as edelweiss are mentoring fintech startups. what makes RIL stand apart is the sheer breadth of entrepreneurship it is backing.

In a recent interaction, a chairman of a leading conglomerate told this writer why corporates are backing startups. he explained that this is the fourth phase of entrepreneurship; it started with edison inventing the bulb in his garage in the late 1800s. From those days, entrepreneurship and innovation have picked up speed. companies born in garages like hewlett-packard spawned innovation back in the 1930s. entrepreneurs were soon courted by venture capital firms, giving birth to companies like google, amazon and facebook. the startup culture has now entered the fourth phase, where big corporates are facilitating their domain knowledge to nurture startups. abroad, this trend is called the corporate garage.

Why Reliance is playing and investor to a bunch of fledgling tech ventures?

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