Last month, Tata-owned Bigbasket announced it had acquired deep tech startup Agrima Infotech. While the terms of the acquisition haven’t been disclosed, Hari Menon, BigBasket’s chief executive (CEO) and co-founder, was clear on how Agrima fit into the e-grocer’s plans. Kochi-based Agrima has, over the course of its 11-year existence, developed a computer-vision technology platform capable of identifying fruits and vegetables without the need for barcodes. Called Psyight, the platform is expected to be deployed at the checkout counters of Bigbasket’s offline retail chain, Fresho.
Effectively ending up in the stable of Tata Group, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, is an ideal final destination for grocery-focussed Agrima. Tata has a vast retail empire, with grocery a key part of this business. This muscle only grew when Tata acquired a majority stake in Bigbasket in May 2021. But while Agrima’s future is now inextricably linked to the future of Tata Group, the deep tech business has another large conglomerate to thank for getting it this far—Tata Group’s rival, Reliance Industries (RIL).
Agrima’s links to RIL trace back to when the startup was inducted into the 2016 cohort of the latter’s startup accelerator programme. Then called GenNext Innovation Hub, the accelerator has since been rechristened to Jio GenNext Innovation Hub. The goal of the programme was to identify promising tech ventures that could either become vendors to RIL or even be acquired outright.
Agrima’s experience with RIL was game-changing for the startup. The accelerator opened doors within the sprawling conglomerate, giving Agrima access to the group’s retail arm, Reliance Retail. Agrima used this to build a vast image repository, which was used to train and fine-tune the algorithm for Psyight. However, despite the progress enabled by the accelerator, no long-term partnership materialised at the end of the programme. Instead, half a decade later, Agrima finds itself on the other side of India’s grocery war.
Strengthening a direct rival is hardly what RIL could have wanted, and is indicative of JioGenNext’s hit-and-miss track record. Since its inception in 2014, 170 startups have passed through the programme’s doors. While some —such as UX assistant Jiny and SaaS SaaS Software as a service (SaaS) Software as a service is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. player LogiNext—have gone on to become vendors for RIL’s varied business units, most have no ongoing business ties with the group.
This wouldn’t be an issue with most accelerator programmes, which charge startups a fee—usually in the form of equity—for the access, guidance, and support they provide. JioGenNext, however, charges no such fees. This means that RIL gains little outside of a window into the world of upcoming startups if its accelerator alumni don’t end up as vendors or get acquired by it.