Mukesh D. Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd (Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)

Startup Street: Mukesh Ambani Goes For A Grab

This week on Startup Street, we highlight a French startup that is archiving our fast depleting cultural heritage and giving them a new life in 3D. Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani makes a startup acquisition. And how India’s market regulator and startup promotion agency are trying to boost funding. Here’s what went on:

Ambani Goes For A Grab

Reliance Industries Ltd. will acquire a controlling stake in Mumbai-based hyperlocal delivery startup Grab a Grub Services Pvt. Ltd. as Mukesh Ambani continues expanding his already sprawling empire.

The oil giant's wholly owned subsidiary Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Ltd., will buy equity shares of Grab for Rs 106 crore, according to a stock exchange filing. This will be then followed by an fund infusion of Rs 40 crore by March 2021. The total investment would translate into about 83 percent of the equity capital in Grab on a fully diluted basis, the filing added.

Ambani, Asia's richest man, has already outlined plans to marry his telecom and retail ventures to create an e-commerce giant that would take on the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. The acquisition of Grab, which provides last-mile delivery services, would fit in his plans. “The aforesaid investment will further augment the group’s digital commerce initiatives and strengthen its logistics services, catering to both B2B and B2C segments,” the statement said.

Founded in 2014, Grab has raised over $2.3 million in funding with strategic backing from Zomato and Dubai-based Aramex. It claims to have deliver over 127 million orders across 49 cities and has offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. It's clients include big names like McDonald's, KFC, Domino's, Fed Ex, Amazon, BigBasket, Flipkart and Big Bazaar, among others.

Grab had been talking to potential suitors for the last six-seven months which also include Paytm, according to a TOI report which reported Reliance’s interest in the startup.

The French Startup That Rebuilt Past Glories Of War-Torn Aleppo

Eight years of a brutal war in Syria have nearly destroyed Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world. The city once had architectural marvels built by, among others, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans.

French startup Iconem is trying to keep those memories alive by helping the Syrian Heritage Archive Project with their 3D models of key sites. The startup, founded in 2013, specialises in digitising cultural heritage sites in 3D and works with governments, local authorities and museums to recreate experiences for tourists, and architects that may in the future work on restoring these places.

One such exhibition by the Syrian Heritage Project is now open in Berlin. “This project aims to preserve the past and also has a vision for the future: to gather archives so that reconstruction can happen quickly,” Stefan Weber, director of Berlin’s Museum of Islamic Art, which is hosting the exhibition until May 26, told the newswire AFP.

The archive exhibition, partially funded by the German foreign ministry, is one of several such initiatives for Syria—alongside a digital map of pre-war Aleppo's Old Town created by Germany’s Cottbus University and 3D models of key sites made by Iconem.

A digitally restored Umayyad Mosque in Syria (Source: Iconem)
A digitally restored Umayyad Mosque in Syria (Source: Iconem)

“Our world’s cultural heritage is threatened,” Iconem says on its website. “Looting, urbanisation, mass tourism, armed conflict and climate change damage and destroy irreplaceable sites where cultures emerged, languages developed, civilisations thrived.”

These imperilled heritage sites embody humanity’s rich cultural diversity. It’s crucial that we document and preserve them now. Iconem’s mission is to further conservation of these endangered places by digitising them for exploration and study, today and tomorrow.
Iconem’s Mission Statement

The startup has a team of experts that travel around the globe and use drones with large-scale scanning capacity to record heritage sites. Then they convert them in to “photorealistic quality” digital replicas in 3D.

In October, Iconem partnered with UNESCO to recreate a virtual trip from Palmyra in Syria to Mosul in Iraq—another city destroyed in war. The exhibit attracted over 1.3 lakh people in four months.

That’s not the only project that Iconem has worked on. It has recreated the Villa of Diomedes in Pompeii, an anciet Roman city destroyed in an volcanic eruption. It has also digitised the Qutub Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad, India, among others. It had also partnered with Microsoft to digitise France’s Mont-Saint Michel island for the tech-giants virtual gadget HoloLens.

Digital map of the Qutub Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad, India (Source: Iconem)
Digital map of the Qutub Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad, India (Source: Iconem)

The startup is still bootstrapped and mostly works through grants from governments, local authorities, international organisations like UNESCO and museums. But it remains confident that their work will, at least in the future, be extremely relevant for preserving cultural heritage.

“With these measurements, we can now conserve the memory and knowledge of these threatened Syrian sites, and above all transmit this knowledge to future generations,” Yves Ubelmann, co-founder of Iconem, had said in 2016 when they had started work on the Syria project. “In addition, the data will enable us to prepare the way for future restoration work. We'll thus be helping to prevent the annihilation of an exceptional historical and cultural heritage, at a time when it is more vulnerable than ever.”

All of Iconem’s 3D models can be seen here.

Boosting Startup Investments

Securities and Exchange Board of India has approved easing norms for accreditation of investors that are willing to invest in startups as it looks to boost startup funding in India.

The market regulator's board approved a framework for accreditation of investors for its Innovators Growth Platform, which it had rechristened in December 2018 for listing startups and new age ventures.

Under this new framework, investors having demat accounts will apply to the stock exchanges or depositories to be recognised as an accredited investor. The exchanges and depositories will grant accreditation to these investors for a period of three years, after ascertaining eligibility.

In December 2018, the SEBI's board had approved a number of other measures to make it easier for startups to get listed on the Innovators Growth Platform.

While detailed eligibility and other norms for accredited investors will be notified by SEBI later, the newswire PTI reported citing unnamed sources that it's being proposed that individuals with total annual gross income of Rs 50 lakh and a minimum liquid net worth of Rs 5 crore will be considered. In the case of body corporates, the net worth requirement would be Rs 25 crore.

At the time of application for listing by a startup on the platform, merchant bankers must carry out due diligence on the eligibility of accredited investors.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade held consultations with startups and investors on Friday to increase fund flows in new businesses. The meeting was chaired by DPIIT Secretary Ramesh Abhishek and was attended by officials from SEBI.

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