Technology

Ola’s Aggarwal sets eyes on AI, semiconductor design


Indian entrepreneur Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder of ride-hailing firm Ola and electric vehicle startup Ola Electric, is venturing into fresh terrain as he navigates his businesses towards initial public offerings.

He has set up an AI startup that seeks to develop a large language model and is currently scouting two U.S.-headquartered AI startups for a potential acquisition, people familiar with the matter said. Aggarwal is also in talks to raise over $50 million for the new AI venture, the people said.

The entrepreneur, who founded Ola over a decade ago, has also floated the idea of setting up a semiconductor design firm, one person said, requesting anonymity as the details are not public. It’s unclear whether the semiconductor design firm will be part of the same AI venture.

A spokesperson for Aggarwal declined to comment Monday.

AI and semiconductor designing are the latest of a long-list of areas that Aggarwal has explored in the past decade. Ola leads the Indian ride-hailing market whereas Ola Electric has assumed a leader position in India’s electric scooter market with nearly 250,000 vehicles sold in the past year and a half, according to Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles.

He told Bloomberg last month that Ola had turned profitable whereas Ola Electric had “grown and matured faster” than initial plans, prompting him to advance the timeline for the EV startup’s initial public offering.

The recent surge in AI interest has prompted a boost to the tech economy, delivering a rally in tech stocks and generating a flurry of startup activity. OpenAI’s unveiling of ChatGPT has been a key trigger for the enthusiasm, leading investors to deploy over $20 billion into AI startups in the past quarters. However, India, despite being one of the most significant startup ecosystems, appears to be lagging in this race.

“Normally science enables technologies. AI technology will enable significant acceleration of scientific progress. Science today is still experimental, empirical and relies on the time and creativity of the scientist,” he tweeted last week. “AI will give the scientist significant creative and intelligence leverage. Can we in India become a leading science ecosystem by adopting AI across scientific domains?”

On the other hand, Aggarwal’s assertive expansion into new and often unrelated sectors and their subsequent corporate structures have previously rattled some of his investors. Many backers of Ola, for instance, have expressed concerns about not getting a stake in Ola Electric, which spun out of the ride-hailing firm, people familiar with the matter said.