Artificial Intelligence for Bharat
Think Global, Act Local to tap the $50 billion potential
An interesting part of being an early stage investor is the visibility into diverse perspectives, problems and their possible solutions. While late July was consumed by 26 meetings over 3 hectic days in Bangalore, early Aug saw interactions with 12 Social Impact ventures in Jaipur at the cohort organized by Startup Oasis and The Indian Institute of Crafts & Design. The passion, energy, enthusiasm was probably same at both places. Moving from Bangalore, where the focus was on AI for India & the world, the Jaipur interactions with ventures focused on the Bottom of the Pyramid, got me musing about AI for Bharat.
‘Bharat’ colloquially refers to the 800 million Indians living outside the big cities or in relatively developing areas of big cities. Mobile evolution, financial inclusion initiatives and spread of Social Media apps like Facebook and WhatsApp have brought some of them onto the digital bandwagon. However, it’s also clear that the digital evolution of Bharat would be different from the bigger cities. Cab booking through Ola/Uber, shopping with Alexa and targeted advertising will need to be adapted to a multi-lingual, partially educated, relatively low income but aspirational Bharat. At the same time, the opportunities in areas such as agriculture, healthcare, education, energy, water, sanitation, logistics, transportation, arts & crafts, affordable housing, finance etc. are immense for energized Entrepreneurs.
● Authentication of Arts, Crafts, hard to source items: Bharat, with its rich history and heritage, offers diverse culture, arts & crafts and sells millions of products in India and globally. However, concerns regarding authenticity (true origin) and unpredictable quality remain. Location based services combined with image recognition software can be a first step in authenticating a product from rural Tripura or Ladakh and the same maybe used as a unique differentiator.
● Logistics and increased connectivity: AI driven logistic startups are leveraging improvement in logistics models and fleet tracking services. This, with increased road connectivity (1.76 lakh km of roads added in India in last 5 years) , have brought lakhs of local artisans within 5–6 hours reach of a major city. A smart entrepreneur, sitting in Udaipur, can manage his/her supply chain much more effectively than ever before. Low inventory combined with an effective supply chain is the back bone of any arts & crafts business and improvements here should be welcome to an entrepreneur’s ears.
● Vernacular: We in India often complement ourselves for the English language heritage that Britishers left us with. However, this puts excess pressure on folks from Bharat to become competent in English apart from learning how to build their business. Thanks to AI, no more. If an artist in Portugal can interact with his Indian customer using a Vernacular app, why can’t it be the other way around? I have interacted with cab drivers across the globe using Google’s translation services. Adding a layer of Voice APIs would make it even more meaningful for a farmer in Bharat. (We are looking at investing in startups that are developing Bharat specific, multi-lingual solutions using NLP & Voice).
● Textile and Food Processing: India has a very large textile and food processing industries and Indian entrepreneurs should try apply AI to specific verticals. World’s largest food and beverage company Nestle is using AI to derive bioactive peptides. Kewpie Corporation (a major Japanese food company) is using Google’s TensorFlow machine learning to automatically detect anomalies in their diced potatoes . Myntra’s Rapid platform uses artificial intelligence to shrink the manufacturing process from 180 days to less than 45 for its fast fashion products . No reason why a collaboration between local academic institutions and smart Entrepreneurs can’t help translate and localize the learnings for Bharat.
● Medical: Telemedicine is here and has started to add value. Increasingly, diagnostics using mobile evolution have started to show results. Companies like SigTuple are using Artificial Intelligence to dramatically improve the speed, accuracy and consistency of screening processes to enable doctors to see more patients, with few errors . While it may be a small start, the journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step. Moreover, the impact in Bharat is higher than what many in the cities may realize.
● Education: We have an opportunity to not just improve basic teaching, where significant progress is happening, but leapfrog using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Imagine the impact on a rural 3rd grader flying through the solar system exploring the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Imagine how this might unleash their creativity and ambition and channel it into an aspiration to become an astronaut.
● Global sales and marketing: WhatsApp, Facebook and now Vernacular interfaces have brought the whole world to the fingertips of a small-time craftsman. No reason why he/she can’t use technology to enhance their story and selling abilities.
● Agriculture: from availability of satellite images, flexible storage facilities, increased loan against the same, information on weather to crop prices in local mandis; the advantages offered by digital are humongous. Nebulaa, for example, uses deep learning to analyze the quality of grains and provides accuracy 20 times faster than any human expert. SatSure is towards combining the power of satellite Remote Sensing, IOT, Machine Learning, Cloud computing, and Big Data analytics to provide better information to Farming community.
Artificial Intelligence can change the economics of Bharat that have been a barrier to unleashing its potential. A recent study by Bain, Google & Omidyar Network  has quantified the Market opportunity of $50 billion associated for unlocking digital for Bharat. The examples above only hint at the enormous potential. Smart Entrepreneurs shall surely find better and more surprising applications of AI to address the multitude of opportunities in Bharat. That’s what makes it very, very exciting for mentors and early stage tech investors like us — to jointly create those ‘Ah Ha’ moments …