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SoftBank plans AI tour for founders to boost technology adoption

SoftBank Group Corp. will take a group of its Indian startup founders to Silicon Valley next month for an artificial intelligence tour as the Japanese investor steps up efforts to infuse its portfolio companies with the technology.

The investor is helping portfolio companies adopt AI and has been setting up meetings for the founders it backs with the leading players in the field, said Sumer Juneja, managing partner overseeing Europe, Middle East, Africa and India investments at SoftBank’s Vision Fund, in an interview in Mumbai. SoftBank expects to take many of the 20 founders from its India companies on the tour, he said, without naming specific names. Its portfolio in the country includes Oyo Hotels, ride-hailing provider Ola and delivery firm Swiggy.

SoftBank, led by Masayoshi Son, began making startup investments again in the June quarter after coming to a virtual halt as investors soured on money-losing startups. The Japanese company has built up a cash pile of more than $40 billion and is in the process of taking chip designer Arm Holdings Ltd. public in a deal that will raise additional money.

“What we don’t want to do is to invest in a company that misses the AI wave and then three years later turn irrelevant,” Juneja said. “Having a sophisticated tech team and being in the right industry where it could use AI to make the business model even more efficient are must-haves for us to write new cheques.”

Investors are rushing to back AI companies worldwide as products such as ChatGPT are quickly gaining popularity. Companies in many sectors, including software-as-a-service, will become redundant if they don’t adopt AI use cases quickly, according to Juneja. However, the biggest challenge with AI today is how to use it best.

“If you are too late to the AI party, you are toast, and if you are too early, it won’t impact your revenue. We are helping to ensure the transition is right,” he said.

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Son invested more than $140 billion in startups after setting up the Vision Fund in 2017, championing the potential of new technologies such as artificial intelligence. But many of those investments have plummeted in value, including office-sharing startup WeWork Inc.

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