Business relations between Israel and India are set to take a significant upswing with a major investment in Israeli high-tech by Indian conglomerate Tata.

The “salt to software” corporation, which has companies that work in everything from auto manufacturing to pharmaceuticals to packaged food, is investing in a fund being established by Tel Aviv University that will go to develop software and promising technologies in areas like cleantech, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Tata will be kicking in some $5 million to the Technology Innovation Momentum Fund, said Shlomo Nimrodi, the CEO of Ramot, Tel Aviv University’s tech transfer company, making the company the lead investor in the project — and making this the largest single investment in Israel by an Indian group yet. Tata and TAU signed a memorandum of understanding on the deal last week.

It’s new ground for both Tata and TAU, said Nimrodi, and both sides had good reasons to seek out a deal like this. “We decided to form this fund to help develop early stage innovations being worked on in the university that have the potential to be commercialized. We were looking for a strategic partner that would be interested in a wide range of technology, to match the kinds of research we do at TAU. And we wanted a partner with scale, one that was big enough to develop the innovations our researchers and students are coming up with. And we wanted to work with a company in the eastern hemisphere.”

Tata was only one that fit TAU’s needs. Fortunately, the university and Nimrodi had a relationship with Tata, the result of an India-Israel tech and business forum the university had set up some years ago. “We reached out to Tata with this opportunity. They came and checked it out, did their due diligence, and the rest is history.”

Tata had a lot of good reasons for wanting to partner with TAU, Nimrodi asserted. “Tata is a huge company, worth $100 billion at least, but it has made a strategic decision to significantly expand that worth in the coming years, and the best way for them to do that is via innovation. Tel Aviv University is a world-class research center, the largest in Israel, and we have been producing new ideas for years, so we were a great match for Tata.

“When they came to check the idea out, we showed them over 70 technologies that we were developing at the university,” said Nimrodi. “Suffice to say that they were very excited.”

The fund will concentrate on research being done in a wide variety of areas within the university. Tata, according to the terms of the deal, will have first crack at taking the technologies past the research stage and into start-up mode, said Nimrodi.

“The diversity of innovation at TAU, coupled with Tata’s uncompromising commitment, creates a major opportunity to impact communities across the world,” Nimrodi said.

Speaking for Tata, the company’s executive director, K. R. S. Jamwal, said “Tata has taken the decision to partner with Ramot and TAU with a desire to enhance capabilities of Tata companies and leverage technology as a differentiator for our businesses. An extensive due diligence process was conducted by CTOs from major Tata companies prior to this MoU and we were encouraged by the technological leadership, the passion and the commitment demonstrated by TAU.”

Perhaps the most important for both institutions, said Nimrodi, is the opportunity for revenue. For Tata, hitting on a great tech discovery could enable the company to develop new products and services to increase income, while TAU can look forward to licensing and other revenues when the technologies are commercialized.

“It’s a model that works,” said Nimrodi. “In some years, the Weizmann Institute, which has an excellent tech transfer program, has been able to generate as much as $300 million in licensing and other revenues. There is what to aspire to.”