Billionaire Japanese investor and serial entrepreneur Taizo Son’s start-up incubator Mistletoe has forged an alliance with GSF India to launch a new accelerator programme for agri-tech and food-tech start-ups.

The largest investors and venture capital firms in India have had mixed success with ventures in the two sectors targeted by the alliance.

The accelerator programme called Gastrotope will invest in and help incubate early-stage ventures in the two sectors and attempt to build an ecosystem for start-ups focused on agri-tech and food-tech—something that Son feels is lacking in India. The new programme will attempt to replicate the model followed by Mistletoe, which is not just an incubator programme but is also an investor in start-ups.

In an interview, Son, who is the younger brother of SoftBank Group Corp.’s founder Masayoshi Son, said he wants to fix key food and farming industry problems such as oversupply and outdated farming techniques through the new start-up incubator programme.

“If we can make innovations which are good for India, those technologies and ideas can be adapted later for the rest of the world. Together with GSF, we will support and invest in start-ups in these areas and create a programme to support those kind of people—and also test every kind of new technology for agriculture and food," Son said.

“Today’s food supply chain is discriminatory towards producers, farmers, logistics and distribution companies and consumers. This is a 20th century industrialized paradigm...I think we need to change from the industrialized supply chain to a newer, updated one," he added.

Taizo Son, who shifted base from Japan to Singapore and pledged to invest at least $100 million in early-stage ventures in South-East Asia earlier this year, said he wants to “open-source" all the solutions that are generated by ventures in the accelerator programme, or in layman’s terms, make those solutions readily available for everyone.

“We will bring the open source culture from the IT (information technology) industry to the food supply-chain area...we want to take a different approach—and not just look at investing in start-ups," Son said.

He did not specify the kind of corpus Gastrotope has set aside for start-up investments in India, but indicated that a significant amount of funds would be earmarked for early-stage ventures.

“So far the venture world view of farming is basically one that sees farmer as a labourer or the farmer as a factory manager," said Rajesh Sawhney, founder of GSF India. “In our view a farmer is an artist, a technologist and an entrepreneur. If we can bring about that transformation in India, then a lot of changes will happen on a sustainable basis."

Mistletoe has already made inroads in India—so far the venture-capital and incubator program has backed food-tech and agri-tech start-ups such as Ninjacart, InnerChef and Kisan Network. Sawhney is also a co-founder of InnerChef.

In the late 1990s, Taizo Son founded game-making firm GungHo Online Entertainment Inc., which became famous for coming up with the popular mobile game Puzzle and Dragons—which in turn helped him amass a fortune. Prior to GungHo, Taizo and Masayoshi Son worked together to kickstart Yahoo’s Japan operations. A serial entrepreneur, Taizo Son launched Mistletoe in 2013, focusing on creating a network of experts, mentors and investors—an attempt at replicating a classic Silicon Valley model.

So far, Taizo Son has invested roughly $100 million of his own money in start-ups and other ventures across the world.

Unlike his brother Masayoshi Son, who is known for writing large billion-dollar cheques, Taizo Son believes in backing early-stage start-ups that have the potential to become the next big thing. And unlike his illustrious older brother, who is currently estimated to have a net worth of about $22 billion according to Forbes, Taizo Son likes to keep a much lower profile and considers not his older brother, but Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang as his true role model.

“(Masayoshi Son) is accelerating the growth speed of great companies in India. He plays a good role there. On the other hand, my focus is on much earlier-stage (start-ups)—seed, Series A, etc. At those stages, companies need money, but more than money they need a network and ideas and a market and customers. I provide those kind of things and I provide new inspiration to founders—that’s my role, compared to my brother," said Taizo Son.

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