India’s third-biggest firm shops Israel for innovative tech

Another huge multinational has ‘discovered’ Israel – and Aditya Birla is determined to take some of Israel’s tech home with it

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the first official visit to Israel of an Indian leader, October 14, 2015 (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the first official visit to Israel of an Indian leader, October 14, 2015 (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)

Aditya Birla, India’s third-largest conglomerate, is a name not well-known in Israel – certainly not as well-known as Tata Group and Infosys. But Aditya Birla is likely to become a household name, at least in the Israeli start-up space, following the company’s announcement that it is on the lookout for Israeli firms to invest in.

The company dispatched its number two man – Dev Bhattacharya, Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development – to review as many as 500 Israeli start-ups in a wide variety of technology areas. The best ones in their fields will be invited to go to India, all expenses paid, to show off their technology to the conglomerate’s member companies and subsidiaries and apply for funding to continue developing their ideas.

Accompanying Bhattacharya, who visited Israel earlier in February, were several top executives in the company, including directors of three of its largest units, who reviewed companies in areas like cleantech, cyber-security, financial technology, water tech, new media, and more.

All those areas interest Aditya Birla, as the company, valued at some $41 billion, has interests in almost every sector of the Indian economy as well as abroad. It has more than 120,000 employees in 40 countries. Aditya Birla operates in both the old and new economies, working in everything from cement to fibers to fertilizers and chemicals, to financial services, telecom, and IT services. The company is either the market leader or close to it in all these areas, and the addition of Israeli technology, it believes, will give it an edge over the competition.

According to Anat Bernstein-Reich, an attorney with the law firm of A&G Partners which represents Aditya Birla’s Corporate Strategy department in Israel, the company has been toying with the idea of Israeli tech for a long time and company executives have been here before. But this time, the company is seeking to recruit candidates for its Biz Labs program, where start-ups show off how their technology can fit into the company.

Dev Bhattacharya (Courtesy)
Dev Bhattacharya (Courtesy)

Aditya Birla isn’t the only Indian conglomerate to express interest in Israeli tech. Infosys, another Indian giant, last year bought out Panaya, an Israeli cloud tech firm that helps customers upgrade databases and make them more efficient, in a $200 million deal. With Panaya’s technology, the Indian firm said, Infosys will be able to offer upgraded services to customers using databases like SAP and Oracle. The acquisition, said Infosys, “uniquely positions us to bring automation to several of its service lines via an agile software as a service model, and helps mitigate risk, reduce costs and shorten time to market for clients.”

Meanwhile, Tata, which has units that work in everything from auto manufacturing to pharmaceuticals to packaged food, has invested in Tel Aviv University’s Technology Innovation Momentum Fund, which develops promising technologies in areas like cleantech, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and software development.

“Tata is a huge company, worth $100 billion at least, but they have 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,” said Shlomo Nimrodi, the CEO of Ramot, Tel Aviv University’s tech transfer company. “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. Suffice to say that they were very excited.”

That excitement is pulsing through the executive offices of Aditya Birla as well, said Bernstein-Reich. “The heads of the corporation decided to come and see Israeli innovation for themselves. Aditya Birla considers this outreach a flagship program for it for the coming year, and Israeli companies that successfully fit into Aditya Birla will receive an important stamp of approval qualifying them to compete in the huge Indian market.

“This is a win-win for both Israelis and Indians,” she added. “The Indian firm will enjoy a steady stream of top Israeli innovation, which will enable it to advance its businesses, while Israeli firms that work with Aditya Birla will enjoy access to resources that will enable them to further develop their projects, as well as give them access to working with a giant global group. I believe that the next time we hear about a tech start-up acquisition, it will be by Aditya Birla.”

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