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Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer seedfunds AI startup Niki.ai

NikiRonnie Screwvala’s Unilazer Ventures has invested an undisclosed amount in seed funding in a stealth-mode artificial intelligence (AI) startup named Niki.ai.

The funds will be primarily utilised for product development and expansion of service offerings. Unilazer has also made a commitment of a follow-on investment round of up to Rs 5 crore, the company said in a statement.

“Tech-first companies have dominated the market globally with a firm focus on user experience and simplicity, a trend which has started in India as well. Niki.ai has a stand out team and is on the brink of some innovative work,” Screwvala said.

Niki.ai, owned and operated by Techbins Solutions Pvt Ltd, was founded in April this year by four IIT Kharagpur alumni – Sachin Jaiswal, Keshav Prawasi, Nitin Babel and Shishir Modi.

The startup is building a product named Niki, a bot that lets users order anything through a chat interface. It has been building and testing the product with a limited set of beta users for the last seven months.

The company claims that the product supports end-to-end bookings for Ola and Uber cabs and has a first-of-its-kind in-chat payment option using the Paytm wallet. The company now has a 16-member team comprising developers, designers and growth hackers.

“Many users are not able to follow up with the continuing increase in the number of apps due to low memory phones and slow internet connection. There was a need to cut the noise around excess content to a more personalised suggestion and decision-making,” Jaiswal said.

There have been a couple of deals in the artificial intelligence space recently. Consumer durables giant Samsung and Wipro Ventures have both invested under $20 million in US-based Vicarious, a robotics startup that enables computers to achieve human-level intelligence.
This month mobile news curator Inshorts acquired BetaGlide, the company that runs data analytics platform Retention.ai, in a cash-and-equity deal.

While other AI applications such as Siri and Google Now focus mainly on productivity, Niki.ai’s focus is commerce. Niki helps users with recommendations to find the right service and complete the transaction. Users can search, choose, pay and complete their orders on the Niki App.

The company also plans to empower the product with voice capabilities in addition to enabling integrations with all online platforms including web and smartphones. Additionally, Niki will also be accessible on calls or SMS, the company said.

The startup said the Android version of the app will soon be launched.

Screwvala had floated Unilazer Ventures around three years back after selling UTV to Disney. Unilazer Ventures has been focusing on making private investments in segments like consumer, services, agriculture, healthcare, education, micro finance, etc.

Most recently, Unilazer Ventures invested $2.3 million (Rs 15 crore) in Series A funding in home services startup Timesaverz. Last year, Screwvala forayed into the business of sports with the acquisition of Mumbai-based football club and training academy PIFA FC.

In the past, it has backed Big Data firm Indus Insights besides firms such as mobile ads venture SilverEdge, restaurant chain operator Impresa Hospitality. Screwvala has also invested in Lenskart.com, EkStop.com, INI Farms and Himex.

In the education services space, Unilazer is a shareholder of schools operator Tree House Education. With Unilazer Sports and now U Education, it is moving beyond being an investment firm to become a holding company of new businesses.

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