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‘Indian banks must bank on brains’: Romesh Wadhwani

Indian banks must bank on brains

Romesh Wadhwani says he may have built an empire, but his tangible assets would be worth only $100 million. If he were to seek a loan in India, a bank here he says would have only sanctioned $10 million. That would have severely limited what he could do. In the US, he says, banks knew his real assets were the brains working for him, and they allowed him to raise large debt on easy terms. That allowed him to grow exponentially.

The Indian-American tech tycoon who has built 30 companies over the last 30 years and created an enterprise value of about $30 billion, hopes India would make it easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow. “We just have 10 major venture capitalists in India. We need thousands of them,” he told us on a visit to the country.

He says borrowing money for small businesses means showing physical collateral, while tech companies do not have any land or buildings. “Our assets are the brains of people. Banks need to move to the next level of thinking,” he says.
The 75-year-old is now involved in a range of ventures focused on AI. His venture SymphonyAI, founded in 2017, is an enterprise AI firm building solutions in retail, financial services and manufacturing. His venture ConcertAI is focused on healthcare and life sciences. The two firms employ 4,000 techies, of which 400 are in India. He also has a nonprofit, Wad-hwani AI, which develops AI solutions for underserved communities in developing countries.

Wadhwani says generative AI (like ChatGPT) is changing the way content is created in areas one didn’t even imagine. In healthcare, with generative AI, it is possible, he says, to speed up drug development and clinical trials from 5-7 years to 1-2 years. “Imagine, if you can bring in drugs five years earlier, you’re helping millions of people who would have died waiting for a drug. More manufacturing processes will be run by AI managers, and the cost of chemicals and raw materials will come down. Students will be able to have AI tutors who help them become better in different subjects,” he says.

Wadhwani had hoped to generate $1 billion in revenue from his two AI companies in 10 years, but within less than fiveyears, he has surpassed more than half of that target. He says all the new applications will need more and more talented techies to build it.

In the US, he says, from the time that generative AI was announced a few months ago, 750 new companies have been started that use the technology for new kinds of applications. The same thing, he says, should happen in India. “PM Modi’s call to make AI in India, and to make AI for India is a battle cry for tech entrepreneurs,” he says.

For tech advancement in the US, he says, the Silicon Valley ecosystem is a must. “Silicon Valley has universities where research is done, thousands of venture capitalists, forty years of history of successful com-panies, which means from those companies have come good managers and leaders,” he says.
Satya Nadella, he says, became a successful CEO because he had been working for Microsoft for years. And similarly Shantanu Narayen at Adobe and Sundar Pichai in Google. In India, he observes, there are places like Bengaluru that are becoming an ecosystem, but rues that the country still doesn’t have a large enough base of experienced tech managers who can drive the growth of large tech companies. India, he says, has the potential to have three to five equivalents of Silicon Valley.

Source: Times of India