Wipro Venture helps parent firm boost client engagement

Wipro Ventures’ start-up investments have allowed Wipro to offer new-age technology solutions in over 60 engagements to some of the firm’s 1,300 clients


Wipro Ventures founder Rishad Premji. His firm’s contribution to Wipro’s client strategy highlights one way in which large IT companies are keeping pace with new technologies. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Wipro Ventures founder Rishad Premji. His firm’s contribution to Wipro’s client strategy highlights one way in which large IT companies are keeping pace with new technologies. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Bengaluru: Wipro Ventures’ investments in nine start-ups has allowed parent Wipro Ltd to offer new-age technology solutions in over 60 engagements to some of the firm’s 1,300 customers, highlighting one way in which large IT companies are keeping pace with new technologies.

Wipro Ventures was set up by Rishad Premji, Wipro’s chief strategy officer and director on the company’s board, with a $100 million corpus in 2015.

Client engagement is one metric which Wipro uses to evaluate the success of investments made by Wipro Ventures, which until now has spent over $25 million in picking minority stakes in nine start-ups across the US, Israel and one in India, according to Premji.

“We closed our first investment in June 2015 and we have now done over 60 engagements with clients,” Premji, son of Wipro chairman Azim Premji, told Mint on Thursday. “We are on track to invest in 4 to 6 start-ups every year. We have invested in start-ups based in India, Israel and the US across industrial IOT (Internet of things), enterprise chatbots, cybersecurity, big data life-cycle management, business process automation and artificial intelligence.”

Increasingly, customers are pushing large IT services firms that work for them to offer solutions and products similar to those offered by smart start-ups. As a result, the large firms have had to expand their offerings—traditionally developing and maintaining applications—to include these.

One way companies, both Indian and multinational, do this is by investing in start-ups (and, sometimes, acquiring them).

Infosys Ltd and Wipro have set aside $500 million and $100 million, respectively, to invest in start-ups focused on these newer technologies. Both offer start-ups a springboard to take their technologies to the two companies’ Fortune 1,000 clients.

“As far as engagements are concerned, we are seeing customer activity across industries and geographies with the underlying theme being automation, improving customer experience and enhancing security. Our teams, in conjunction with our portfolio companies, have done deployments in Australia, Europe, Middle East and the US and we are already seeing repeat engagements in some of our accounts,” said Premji.

Wipro Ventures’ $100-million fund is jointly managed by Venu Pemmaraju, formerly a senior investment manager at Intel Capital, and Wipro executive Biplab Adhya. Both Pemmaraju and Adhya are based out of California and report to Rishad Premji. Bets made by Wipro include those in cyber security-focused start-up Vectra Networks and Arizona-based fraud prevention solutions start-up Emailage Corp.

Experts said it is encouraging to see Wipro Ventures using client engagement as a metric rather than financial returns.

“The main goal of corporate venturing should be strategic benefits, not financial returns. Thus, using new engagements as a metric seems a reasonable one,” said Josh Lerner, professor of investment banking and head of the Entrepreneurial Management unit at Harvard Business School.

“Corporate venturing can be a powerful tool for encouraging corporate innovation. But it is not a cure-all. Rather it should be seen as one ‘arrow in the quiver’ that firms can use to respond to a changing competitive environment,” added Lerner.

Wipro, which has been working hard at making itself future-ready, has lagged its peers on growth: It reported a 4.9% dollar revenue growth to end with $7.7 billion in revenue for the year ended 31 March, compared to Infosys’s 7.4% growth and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd’s 6.2% (both companies are larger than Wipro).

Nonetheless, Wipro CEO Abidali Neemuchwala has assuaged concerns and stated that Wipro will be back on the growth track by the end of March 2018.

In addition to making Wipro tap into the start-up ecosystem, Premji also oversees merger and acquisitions, and over the last two years, the firm has been the most aggressive among Indian IT services firms on this front, having spent $1.14 billion in buying five firms, such as Denmark-based design firm Designit and US-based cloud computing firm Appirio Inc.

Infosys, since expanding its venture arm five-fold to $500 million in January 2015, has spent over $60 million and made investments in 13 start-ups and corporate venture funds. Ritika Suri oversees the corporate venture arm. Infosys uses client engagements and the valuation of the start-up in which it has invested as two metrics to evaluate the success of its investments. A company spokesperson declined to share details on the number of client engagements done because of these technologies brought in by these start-ups.

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