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QZ&A

Despite Softbank’s setbacks, Masayoshi Son’s brother thinks Indian entrepreneurs are “amazing”

By Itika Sharma Punit

Following the deep involvement of his elder brother Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Softbank, in the Indian startup ecosystem, Taizo Son, too, is now set to back entrepreneurs in the country.

On Sept. 14, the younger Son made his maiden visit to Bengaluru—his first to India in eight years—and launched Gastrotope, an accelerator that will invest in agricultural technology startups.

“The accelerator aims to invest in startups that can add value to various parts of the value chain, starting with farmers and moving to food transportation, processing, and delivery,” the 44-year-old Japanese billionaire said.

Gastrotope is a joint venture between Son’s early-stage investment firm Mistletoe Inc and local startup incubator GSF India.

He launched Mistletoe in 2013 and has since invested around $161 million (Rs 1,032 crore) of his personal wealth in over 90 startups. Earlier, in 1998, he had founded GungHo Online Entertainment, whose Puzzle & Dragons is one of the world’s best selling mobile games.

In India, Mistletoe has invested in online food delivery startup Innerchef (launched by GSF founder Rajesh Sawhney), agri-marketing platform Ninjacart, and online agriculture marketplace Kisan Network.

In conversation with Quartz, Son spoke about his plans for India and its “amazing” entrepreneurs. Edited excerpts:

What is your vision for Gastrotope in India?

We want to make a food-supply chain that ensures no wastage and no compromise on quality. We want no one to worry about lack of food. That’s what I want Gastrotope to achieve in 10 years from now.

Softbank hasn’t had a dream run in India. What gives you the confidence to invest in the country?

My brother’s approach and my approach are very different. In my perspective, Masa (Softbank’s Son) is playing an important role in helping startups grow faster and making it big. My focus is more on going after new technologies that are not very well known. These are technologies that some people believe in and some don’t. I believe in them and so want to provide the resources they lack.

You moved out of Japan because of the regulatory environment there. India’s not the best in those terms either. What makes you want to be here?

I don’t have a detailed know-how of the workings in India, but I believe the country has the scale that businesses need to grow. Singapore is a compact, small country and the government there is very aggressive and supportive of innovation. It is one of the best places to innovate and build new technologies. Once we see that some new technology is workable, India is the best place for us to scale it.

How do Indian entrepreneurs fare vis-a-vis their counterparts elsewhere?

Based on the entrepreneurs I met in the last two days, I feel the quality in India is one of the best in the world. They are amazing. I don’t know what’s the reason. Maybe it’s just this country’s (good) fortune.

What are the areas you’ll look at?

Healthcare is very important. I have heard there are many interesting technologies in this space in India. I’d like to meet (such) entrepreneurs. I am also very passionate about education, especially elementary education. I feel elementary education needs to be updated. Artificial intelligence and robots will replace jobs that need memorising and reproducing…So the school systems need to develop creativity, collaboration skills, critical thinking, and communication skills.