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Machine Learning India

Fostering data science and machine learning in India

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In the list of the world’s 50 smartest companies, released by MIT Technology review, there are 5 from China, 3 from Japan, 2 from Israel, 6 from Europe and one each from South Korea and Nigeria, and the rest from United States. India draws a blank. There is hardly any company from India with worldwide respect for its innovative product or technology. On similar lines, in an earlier article I had noted India’s dismal record in machine learning research - Tsinghua University in Beijing alone does more machine learning papers in top conferences every year as compared to the whole of India.

This needs to change. We need to build smart companies in India which are highly innovative, technology driven and develop products with no substitutes across the world. We have a huge opportunity to build companies which use machine learning and data science at its core. There are several factors in favor of machine learning – a. It is currently going through a disruption and is solving problems which have been unsolved for decades at a fast pace. b. It is creating huge impact on businesses, both old and new, and the economy. c. Several of its applications do not require expensive infrastructure and have moderate to low gestation periods. d. It requires computer science and math skills, which are present in fair abundance in the Indian ecosystem.

Then, why can’t we build some of the smartest data based companies in India? To start with, there are no examples. The first such company, the role model, is always hard to get. Once we have it, I can assure several will follow. We find the investors, both angels and VCs, not investing in such Indian companies for many reasons – no successful example, Indian market not mature enough to absorb such products, such companies should be closer to their market – read the valley, disinterest to invest in IP based longer gestation period companies, lack of understanding of data science led innovation, poor research in India and shortage of real IP based companies. There is also a lack of mentors who understand both technology and business to guide such companies, instill the confidence and provide the ability to see 5-10 years ahead.

To address this, and build over our current initiative of ml-india.org, we are happy to launch Data Angels – angel investors and advisors for the most innovative machine learning led companies from India. These angels have expertise in machine learning and/or experience in building successful technology companies.

We will support companies with hardcore technology backed products driven by AI/data. We like globally differentiated innovation and publications/patents. We love multi-disciplinarity which combines data science with say IoT, 3-D printing, bioengineering, virtual reality, crowdsourcing and so on.

We will not support companies which use data/AI in some business process; say to optimize sales using a recommender system. On the other hand, if the company sells a new breed of recommender system, it will be a good target. Again, we will not support internet companies that use recent innovations in data infrastructure at backend, say we use hadoop to enable real-time search on friend messages. On the other hand, if you have an innovation which makes a business proposition possible which was not so earlier, you are welcome!

We are open but will prefer companies where a technology prototype is ready and demonstrable. It doesn’t require to be production ready. There should be a clear description of core IP and the innovation. We need to see or help develop a strong business argument. We would like to see a product road-map and business plan. It is useful to have some beta users/customers; a business pilot big plus.

Some of our angels:  

If you have a terrific early stage innovation driven startup, reach out to us today! If not, you should! Put something together, bake it and we will love to hear from you after 6 months.

Looking forward to work with smart passionate people to build the world’s smartest companies from India!

-Varun Aggarwal

Varun Aggarwal is co-founder and chief technology officer of Aspiring Minds, a company that uses data science to enable meritocracy in the labour market.