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With USD 10 billion fund, Google bets big on India’s digital transformation

Last month, Microsoft also announced it’s bringing its venture fund arm M12 to the country to invest in enterprise startups in the Series A through C funding stages.

Photo by Arthur Osipyan on Unsplash

American technology behemoth Google is all geared up to play a major role in India’s ongoing digital transformation journey.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google as well as the parent enterprise, Alphabet Inc., on Monday, said the company would invest USD 10 billion over the next five to seven years through Google for India Digitization Fund to help accelerate India’s digital economy.

With USD 10 billion in its kitty, the Google for India Digitization Fund will back equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure, and ecosystem investments.

“This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” Pichai said.

Meanwhile, citing sources, a Bloomberg report said Google is in “advanced talks” with Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, to buy a stake in his ambitious digital venture, Jio Platforms, for USD 4 billion. India’s largest conglomerate has already got social media giant Facebook and global chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm as strategic investors on Jio Platforms’ cap table and has raised a total of 15.7 billion from 12 investors over the last two and a half months.

It is to be noted that Google has been investing in Indian businesses through its growth equity investment fund, CapitalG. It has invested in a handful of Indian startups including concierge service provider Dunzo and fintech firm Aye Finance.

In June, Microsoft also announced it’s bringing its venture fund arm M12 to the country which will invest in startups focusing on B2B software in the sectors of applied AI, business applications, infrastructure, security, and vanguard technologies. M12 would invest in disruptive enterprise software startups in the Series A through C funding stages, targeting both local and cross-border solutions, the company had said in a statement.

With Indian startups going through a funding crunch as the government has put a roadblock on investments from Chinese VCs, such announcements are good news for the ecosystem.

For its recently announced fund, the California-based technology giant has charted out four investment areas. Pichai said, it would back initiatives that are enabling affordable access to information in regional languages; building new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs; empowering businesses that are doing digital transformation; and leveraging technology and AI for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture.

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Google started its India journey in the early 2000s and set up its offices in the country across Hyderabad and Bangalore in 2004. Its initial focus was to provide relevant information to Indian users through Google Search. Over the next decade, the organization became one of the biggest tech names in the South Asian nation, with its mobile operating system Android becoming a house-hold name.

“Back in 2015, connectivity, data, and device affordability were major issues. And we were only just beginning to see more Indian-language users come online,” Sanjay Gupta, country head & vice president, Google India, and Caesar Sengupta, GM & VP of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, said in a blog post.

At that time, Google was customizing its products and services like GBoard, Google Assistant, YouTube, and Google Maps for Indian users.

“We outlined our vision to help the widest number of Indians have access to the Internet — and make it relevant and useful for every one of them,” they said.

The next two years saw Jio making the data affordable and accessible to masses, while the Indian government established the foundation for digital payments with Unified Payments  Interface (UPI). By that time smartphone sales had already picked up in the country.

“Low-cost smartphones combined with affordable data, and world-class telecom infrastructure, have paved the way for new opportunities,” Pichai stated.

Subsequently, Google launched a slew of India-first products such as Google Pay (which was launched as Tez), Files by Google, and Bolo (now Read Along) as well as features such as lite modes in Search and Chrome, including ‘two-wheeler’ mode on Google Maps that allowed users to look for the best route if they are riding a bike.

According to Gupta and Sengupta, these efforts have resonated with users not just in India but globally.

“When we build for India, we build for the world,” Pichai said, adding that AI-powered reading tutor app Bolo, now called Read Along, is another example of a technology built specifically for Indian users.

Read this: Indian antitrust watchdog to probe Google over its payment app

“It received such positive reception, we’re rolling it out to the rest of the world—now children in 180 countries can learn to read in nine languages, with more to come.” Another offering that Google created for India, AI flood forecasting system, to keep people safe during India’s monsoon season, is expected to be rolled out around the world.

But more importantly, Google has been sharpening its focus on India’s small and medium businesses for the last five to seven years.

“Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses in India had an online presence. Today, 26 million SMBs are now discoverable on Search and Maps, driving connections with more than 150 million users every month,” Pichai said.

“What’s more, small merchants across the country are now equipped to accept digital payments. This has made it possible for more small businesses to become part of the formal economy, and it improves their access to credit,” Pichai said. He added that global pandemic has supercharged the adoption of digital tools.

It is no surprise then, Google is interested in Ambani’s Jio Platforms, which Reliance has scaled up to primarily focus on millions of small merchants, micro-businesses, and farmers.