71-year-old Mahindra Group wants startups to flourish in its tractor garages 1

Digitization has certainly come beyond buzzword, though there is still a lot of debate and thoughts on leveraging digital technologies. IT executives and leaders have been living through waves of automation, updates in usability, user self-service, web and mobile enablement and eCommerce.

This is the reason why we highlight Digital and Digitization” as Trend #1 of [Top 25 Digital Startup ideas and technologies for 2017]

A few days ago, we posted a link to an article in The Economist highlighting how Siemens and General Electric gear up for the internet of things  Another article along similar lines, includes an an interview with Anand Mahindra, 71-year-old conglomerate, the Mahindra Group – The Editor, myDigitalStartup

Extract from an interview on qz.com follows (Tip @mskarnik)


71-year-old Mahindra Group wants startups to flourish in its tractor garages


Anand Mahindra believes Indian industry is at an inflection point. And he is readying his company for the future.

He is overseeing the sprouting of new-age entities under the canopy of his 71-year-old conglomerate, the Mahindra Group, with its presence in 10 sectors and annual revenues of $17.8 billion. The group chairman believes that the differences between brick & mortar, family-owned businesses currently dominating Indian industry and digital-era startups will soon vanish.

So, be it the group’s tie-up with taxi-hailing firm Ola or in-house ventures such as SmartShift, 61-year-old Mahindra’s moves are in tune with the broader thinking within the group that it should be looked at as “a collection of startups.” In an email interview with Quartz, Mahindra spoke about his vision.

Edited excerpts:

What are your views about Indian startups and why has the Mahindra Group decided to be a part of this new ecosystem?

In my view, we are at an inflection point where the line between the traditional types of businesses and new businesses will get increasingly blurred. We tend to think of them as two separate boxes with separate cultures. Perhaps that’s true today, but I don’t think it will be true for long.

To me, these changes offer a huge opportunity to harness the power of creativity of young people, and for traditional companies to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that offers all the resources of a large company and yet mirrors the startup garage culture of Silicon Valley or Bengaluru.

Can you tell us more about some of Mahindra Group’s in-house startups?

One example is Smart Shift, which connects transporters of cargo with customers. Through an auction system, they work out mutually beneficial deals. Another of our startups is Trringo, which is revolutionising the tractor industry by enabling farmers to hire tractors for short periods of time, bringing mechanisation within the reach of every small farmer. You could think of this as an Uber for tractors.

This mindset not only brings us into the digital world but also enables us to cost effectively meet the needs of underserved communities and to penetrate underserved markets.

We have an internal private equity arm, Mahindra Partners, that spearheads the group’s investments in new firms and startup businesses.

Can you tell us about the driverless tractors that your group is currently developing?

I think it’s an idea whose time has come. I strongly believe the most fertile ground for autonomous mobility is the agricultural sector. This is something that has not been emphasised enough globally. There are many reasons for this.

It’s a ring-fenced sort of activity, where paranoia about accidents and collisions is virtually non-existent; much easier to execute than autonomous cars. It could be a game-changer for productivity. Autonomous tractors would enable a farmer to focus on the work that matters the most on a farm.

We are driven by the belief that driverless tractors can lead to a disruption in the Indian farm industry and perhaps in the developing countries.

We will, of course, commercialise a driverless tractor in phases—from a partially-automated to a highly-automated to a driverless one. We have the in-house technologies and we will use the ones that make sense for our Indian farms.

Once we do this, the next challenge is ensuring that our farmers can access this technology. This calls for new business models. And that’s where startup businesses like Trringo come in.

Will we see increased expenditure towards R&D?

We are already at par with global players when you consider our R&D spends as a percentage of turnover, which was at 4.7% in the 2016 fiscal.


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