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Airtel to acquire stake in tech firm Vahan, launches startup accelerator programme
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Bharti Airtel Ltd, the country’s second-largest telecom company, has said it will pick up a stake in Vahan Inc, a Benagluru-based startup that uses artificial intelligence models to match job seekers with employers inside messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

This is Airtel’s first move after it launches startup accelerator programme, which supports the growth of early-stage companies in the country with a view to support the government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative.

The company did not disclose the stake it has picked up in Vahan.

Madhav Krishna, founder and chief executive officer at Vahan, said in a statement the investment made by Airtel would help the firm to expand its job-seeking and matching services.

Vahan, which was founded in 2016, is backed by firms such as YCombinator and Khosla Ventures. It focusses on finding blue-collar jobs for people in sectors such as delivery, driving, retail, the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) space and hospitality.

Separately, Adarsh Nair, chief product officer at Airtel, said the group’s distribution channels and reach would help Vahan and other similar startups to address issues such as employment. “We have the potential to drive accelerated growth of emerging startups that are solving hard problems,” he said.

Through the startup accelerator programme, companies will get access to Airtel’s online and offline distribution network, strategic partners and market understanding, the Airtel said.

The acquisition of a stake in Vahan is one of the several bets Airtel has made on startups in the past few years. Earlier this month, VCCircle reported that Airtel acquired a startup in the logistics and supply chain segment.

In October 2018, it acqui-hired Bengaluru-based startup AuthMe ID Services, which specialises in artificial intelligence solutions.

It also acquired the intellectual property rights of AuthMe’s two flagship solutions - Callup AI and Fintech OCR. Callup AI is a chat and voice assistant that uses artificial intelligence to resolve customer queries over email, chat and phone calls.

Fintech OCR is an end-to-end optical character recognition pipeline designed for processing KYC documents, and bank, credit card and loan statements, among other purposes. In the same year in Septmebr, Airtel invested in a news video app started by veteran journalist and former NDTV chief executive Vikram Chandra, becoming the second company after newspaper publisher HT Media Ltd to back the startup.

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