After Jio, Airtel too invests in ‘startup accelerator’ program

Telecom services provider Bharti Airtel said it was launching a new ‘start-up accelerator’ program aimed at finding and investing in promising start-ups.

The company said the first investment has been made in a blue-collar job-search software from Bengaluru based tech startup Vahan.

The size of the investment was not revealed.

“Founded in 2016 and backed by YCombinator and Khosla Ventures, Vahan leverages advanced Artificial Intelligence to match job seekers with employers inside messaging apps such as Whatsapp,” the company said.

Vahan is focused on finding blue collar jobs for millions of young Indians in Delivery, Driving, Retail, BFSI, BPO and Hospitality sectors with companies such as Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo as clients, it added.

Rival Reliance Jio also has a similar program under which it invests in companies that show promising technology. The investee company’s products and solutions are often sold by Jio on its own platform later.

Airtel said its own intention in starting the accelerator program was to support growth of early stage Indian tech startups.

“With the advent of its Start-up Accelerator Program, Airtel aims to support the creation of a vibrant start-up ecosystem that contributes to “Digital India”,” it said.

Through Airtel’s Startup Accelerator, early startups get access to Airtel’s online and offline distribution network, deep market understanding and ecosystem of global strategic partners, it added.

“In addition, Airtel has also developed strong in-house capabilities around machine learning and artificial intelligence which could be leveraged to aid the growth of startups. Furthermore, startups also get access to advisory services from Airtel’s executive team.”

Telecom companies are starting to invest more and more in Internet-of-Things solutions, including in big data and artificial intelligence, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the entire network will eventually turn into a big computer. Intelligence, in other words, will reside in the network, rather than on any particular computer.

“Today, early stage startups in India have some very exciting ideas but face multiple challenges in scaling up,” said Adarsh Nair, Chief Product Officer, Bharti Airtel.

“With Airtel’s scale and digital capabilities around distribution and payments, we have the potential to drive accelerated growth of emerging startups that are solving hard problems. The team at Vahan is doing some incredible work to bring jobs to millions of people through AI based technology. We are excited to partner with them on this vision.”

Madhav Krishna, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Vahan, said Airtel will help the company reach more blue-collar job seekers.

He said most such job seekers are unaware of the opportunities that exist in the market, especially new-age on-demand jobs.

“Airtel’s distribution channels will help us reach the very depths of the country and in turn, help millions of Indians take control of their economic destiny. We are incredibly excited about this partnership.”

The exact way in which Airtel will engage with the company was not revealed, but it is possible that the functionality being developed by the Bangalore-based company may find a space on Airtel’s consumer-facing applications, such as Wynk.