Bharti Airtel picks up stake in conversational AI tech startup Voicezen
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Bharti Airtel Ltd has acquired a 10% stake in Voicezen India Pvt. Ltd, an early-stage startup focused on conversational artificial intelligence technologies, as part of its strategy to offer differentiated offerings to its customers.

The billionaire Sunil Mittal-led telecom company said in a statement it bought the stake under its Airtel Startup Accelerator Program. It didn’t disclose the deal value.

Voicezen founder Apurba Nath said the company’s platform helps deliver better customer experiences in Indian languages. The startup uses conversational AI to achieve its goals.

“With this strategic investment, we will work even more closely with them to continuously improve our AI models and build out an enterprise-grade, battle-hardened product that will make customer interactions more efficient,” Nath said.

Separately, Bharti Airtel chief product officer Adarsh Nair said the investment in the company was also in line with its focus on AI and the potential impact of the frontier technology.

“Voicezen has built some promising products that are very relevant for a market like India,” Nair added.

Gurugram-based Voicezen is the third startup in which Bharti Airtel has picked up a stake. The company had purchased a stake in fitness-focused startup Spectacom Global Pvt. Ltd earlier this year and invested in Vahan Inc. last year.

Airtel says that companies it invests in through its Startup Accelerator Programme receive advantages including access to its online and offline distribution network, large customer base, infrastructure and technological support, and collaborations with the company’s strategic partners.

The move is also indicative of the interest that AI and other frontier technology-based startups have received from strategic players in recent months, especially companies operating in the information technology and telecommunications sectors.

For example, IT services major Cognizant has been on an acquisition spree of late, with the company having made four such reported moves this year. Most recently, the Nasdaq-listed Cognizant acquired Collaborative Solutions, a privately held consultancy that specialises in Workday enterprise cloud finance and human resources services.

Tech Mahindra Ltd in February announced that it had agreed to acquire the US-based AI solutions company. Zen3 Infosolutions (America) Inc. and its Indian unit for up to $64 million (around Rs 460 crore).

But perhaps the biggest example is Reliance Industries Ltd, whose Jio Platforms has scored massive investments from the likes of General Atlantic, Facebook Vista Equity Partners and Silver Lake Partners.

One of the bigger moves RIL made in the space was to acquire the AI-based conversational platform Haptik Inc. The acquisition of the 87% stake in Haptik for a total of $100 million was made through wholly-owned unit Reliance Jio Digital Services Ltd.

Haptik itself has gone on to make acquisitions and acqui-hires, including that of Buzzo.ai and the Los Angeles-based conversational AI startup Convrg Technologies Inc.

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