PremjiInvest, the largest Indian family office that manages over $10 billion for software tycoon Azim Premji, will invest more money into artificial intelligence companies while fine-tuning its proprietary AI investment tools, a senior executive at the firm said.

The company, among the first large Indian asset managers to use AI tools in the private equity space, is now working on an AI quant model for its public market bets too, TK Kurien, its managing partner and chief investment officer, said in his first interview after taking the role in 2017. The asset manager, which has seen “exponential returns,” will also invest more in the AI space, he said.

Investment firms worldwide, including BlackRock Inc. and SoftBank Group Corp, are relying on AI to analyse data streams in real-time to glean market intelligence and are looking to invest further in the sector. PremjiInvest started developing AI tools three years ago and hired 14 AI engineers, according to Kurien. At the same time, it started backing firms venturing into the nascent technology space.

AI is helping the asset manager scour more than 10,000 companies globally on 600 parameters to identify investment opportunities. The firm expects the entire exercise to also give it a bird’s eye view of emerging technologies and trends that could help it stay ahead of peers, Kurien said.

Cohesity Inc. — a data-management software company, Holistic AI — an enterprise software business based in London, Ikigai and Pixis are among firms in the sector that PremjiInvest had backed so far.

Kurien is planning to allow open-source developers to access some of its AI tools. The fund’s engineers are also developing platforms to help India’s overburdened courts resolve cases faster and to also aid governments’ efforts to offer services more effectively, he said.

Investment strategy

Technology and financial services will be the top sectors in which PremjiInvest will be betting on, Kurien said. In private markets in India, the other two sectors in which the firm invests are consumer and health care. In the US, the investments are focused on health care and technology sectors.

Premji, the reclusive-billionaire founder of Wipro Ltd., established the family office as a perpetual investment vehicle in 2006 to generate profits to support his philanthropic endeavors. He has donated most of his wealth to humanitarian causes in India.

Kurien, who earlier worked with Wipro for more than 16 years building up his operational chops, is scouting for investment targets in the US with the latest technologies that can be brought to India. PremjiInvest’s 120-member team, working across its Menlo Park, California, and Bengaluru, India offices, oversees investments.

The outfit returns about 5% of its capital to Premji’s philanthropic foundation every year, Kurien said, declining to provide further details.

 PremjiInvest’s assets are allocated as private investments, publicly traded equities and investments into other funds, according to Kurien. The 18-year-old firm has seen a fourfold surge in assets under management in the last eight years.

“We are patient capital without an exit time frame,” he said. 

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