India has a new one-man venture capital fund—Ratan Tata

Happy investor.
Happy investor.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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After retiring as the chairman of the $100 billion Tata Group in December 2012, 76-year-old Ratan Tata is building a different avatar as India’s newest, one-man venture capital fund.

With eight investments in the past year in Indian and international companies, Tata has clearly hit the ground running. And except for three, all his investments are in internet-based ventures.

Tata is estimated to be worth $1 billion (Rs6,000 crore) and is using his personal wealth to fund India’s hot startup ecosystem. But Indian entrepreneurs want more than just Tata’s money. They also want mentorship from one of the country’s most respected businessmen.

“An investment by a legendary and respected figure like Mr. Tata is an excellent validation of our focused strategy on building a long-term enterprise and marks the start of a very important phase for the company,” Snapdeal’s Kunal Bahl had said last year. Tata had invested in the online marketplace in August last year.

And this isn’t something that Tata has inadvertently got himself into.

In 2009, when Tata still led the eponymous conglomerate with interests in everything from steel to salt, he set up RNT Associates. The Mumbai-registered firm, according to data from the registrar of companies, has just two board members: Tata and RK Krishnakumar, his long-trusted aide and former managing director of the Taj Group of hotels.

Tata is not the only industry stalwart to invest in Indian startups. PremjiInvest, an investment firm owned by Azim Premji, made a quiet start in 2006 and has since built an estimated portfolio of around $16 billion. Infosys co-founder, Narayana Murthy, had also set up Catamaran Ventures in 2010 with a corpus of Rs600 crore ($96.21 million). Catamaran has joined hands with Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, to set up an e-commerce joint venture in India.

In February this year, Tata joined Kalaari Capital, a venture capital fund, as an advisor. ”What I look at while investing in startups is the quality and intelligence of the entrepreneurs,” he said after joining the fund. “That is what I have based my current investments on.”

Here is a list of Tata’s personal investments, starting from the latest.

Grameen Capital: On March 24, Tata picked up a stake in Grameen Capital India, a firm that advises and arranges funds for microfinance institutions in India. This is Tata’s first investment in the social impact investment space. Grameen Capital was set up in 2007 as a joint venture among Grameen Foundation—which was founded by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus—Citicorp Finance and IFMR Trust.

Paytm: A little over a week earlier, on March 13, mobile payments and e-commerce firm, Paytm said that Tata is acquiring a stake in One97 Communications, which owns and operates the company. Tata subscribed to fresh shares of Paytm, although the actual stake was not disclosed. He will also be an advisor to the firm. Paytm, a mobile wallet, is soon expected to start a credit rating agency.

CarDekho: In February, Tata invested in Jaipur-based Girnar Software, which owns and operates, an online automobiles classifieds website. The funds from the investment will be used for marketing and hiring people, said Amit Jain, co-founder of the company.

Swasth India: In December last year, Tata made a small investment in Swasth India, an affordable healthcare services firm. He invested Rs2 crore ($320,693) in the venture, which is founded by two Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay graduates.

Urban Ladder: Tata invested in Urban Ladder, an online furniture retailer, in November 2014. Tata had studied architecture at Cornell University before starting out as an employee at Tata Steel, and has a keen interest in furniture.

Bluestone: In September 2014, Tata made a strategic investment in the Bangalore-based online jewellery retailer The value of the investment was not disclosed. ”An investment by Ratan Tata who has been at the helm of India’s most successful and respected conglomerate is a validation of our approach in building an innovative brand that is disrupting the jewellery market,” Gaurav Singh Kushwaha, co-founder of Bluestone, had said then.

Snapdeal: Tata began his investment spree in India with Snapdeal in August 2014. According to documents filed with India’s ministry of corporate affairs, Tata holds 0.17% stake in the company which is worth between $3.1 million (about Rs20 crore) and $3.4 million (about Rs21 crore), according to the company’s latest valuation.

Altaeros Energies: His first investment after stepping down as chairman of Tata Sons was in the Boston-based Altaeros, a wind energy company founded by graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company is building the world’s highest wind turbine in Alaska.