Ola founder's Krutrim becomes India's first AI unicorn

Krutrim, an AI startup founded by Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal, said it has raised a funding round that values it at $1 billion. The startup, founded last year, is the fastest to become a unicorn in India, it claimed in a press statement. It’s also the first Indian AI startup to become a unicorn, it said.

Matrix Partners India — which has also backed Aggarwal’s other two startups, ride-hailing platform Ola and EV startup Ola Electric — led the $50 million “first round” in Krutrim. TechCrunch reported last year that Aggarwal was in talks to raise $50 million for his new AI venture.

Krutrim, which means “artificial” in Sanskrit, is building a large language model that has been trained on local Indian languages in addition to English. The startup plans to launch a voice-enabled conversational AI assistant that understands and speaks multiple Indian languages, the startup said.

It plans to make a beta version of its eponymous chatbot available to consumers next month and follow it with rolling out APIs to developers and enterprises. On its website, Krutrim says it also plans to develop an in-house capability to manufacture chips optimised for AI compute. TechCrunch reported earlier that Aggarwal’s new venture will explore developing and designing chips.

Krutrim is Aggarwal’s third venture. Ola, his first, leads the ride-hailing market in India and is eyeing profitability. Ola Electric leads the two-wheeler EV market in India and recently filed the paperwork for a $662 million initial public offering.

“India has to build its own AI, and at कृत्रिम, we are fully committed towards building the country’s first complete AI computing stack,” Aggarwal said in a statement. “We are thrilled to announce the successful closure of our first funding round, which not only validates the potential of कृत्रिम ’s innovative AI solutions but also underscores the confidence investors have in our ability to drive meaningful change out of India for the world.”

The investment in Krutrim comes at a time when investors globally are rushing to identify and back AI breakthrough, banking on the thesis that advances in AI will make countless industries more efficient and startups at the forefront will deliver generational returns.

Despite being home to one of the world’s largest startup ecosystems, India has yet to make a material impact in the AI race. Indian contenders have yet to emerge and challenge the dominance of large language model titans such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Amazon-backed Anthropic, or Google’s Bard.

Indian powerhouse Reliance partnered with Nvidia in September, revealing plans to build a large language model that is trained on India’s diverse languages. But the firm — run by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest person — has yet to launch its AI offering.

Peak XV and Lightspeed India recently backed Sarvam, an AI startup that is also building a large language model.

Training a large language model has proven to be a very expensive endeavour. OpenAI has raised over $11 billion to date, whereas Anthropic has also raised billions from investors including Google and Amazon. xAI, Elon Musk’s AI startup, is in talks to raise up to $6 billion at a valuation of about $20 billion, Financial Times reported Friday.

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