Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla bets on innovative start-ups

Vinod Khosla
Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla (pictured) is betting on start-ups aiming at radical innovation in the use of technology in areas such as transportation, housing and construction, and food and health care.

Khosla Ventures, his venture capital entity, invests in experimental technology such as robotics and biomedicine.It believes technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing are becoming the new platforms, offering a huge opportunity to create an impact.“One of my favourite start-ups right now is trying to do 3D print at a much lower cost and in 24 hours. But, more important, its environmental footprint is much better,” Khosla told co-panelists (Infosys co-founder) Nandan Nilekani and (technology think-tank iSpirt founder) Sharad Sharma at an event here.

Looking back 40 years, Khosla said he had been unable to find any major innovation from large companies. These are mainly created by start-ups. He said automobile giants General Motors and Volkswagen couldn’t design an electric car. Large plane makers Boeing and Airbus were not able to create a venture like Elon Musk’s space transportation services company SpaceX. Khosla also sees the area of AI-led drug discovery being dominated by start-ups, not large pharmaceutical companies.

“In most cases, the innovation came from somebody who had never worked in that area,” he said. “Like Elon Musk (co-founder and chief executive at Tesla) hadn’t worked in cars and the automakers sort of laughed at his Silicon Valley start-up with no experience in automotives. He made lots of mistakes but fixed these quickly, figured out a better way than they would have by applying conventional wisdom.”

After a degree in electrical engineering from IIT-Delhi, Khosla failed at starting a soymilk company and came to the US to study further. He co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and helped incubate the idea and business plan for Juniper Networks. He has invested in companies focusing on a range of areas — solar, biofuel-to-energy storage and even makers of wearable devices to increase energy and lower stress.

One venture is Impossible Foods, which develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products. “It makes a vegetarian burger that tastes the same as meat. Most people cannot distinguish between this and the real meat burger,” says Khosla. 
“Plant proteins are the best way to save the planet. It’s healthier than meat proteins for humans, (as the latter) come with cholesterol and other negative things.”

Khosla also sees AI replacing doctors, such as radiologists. He said looking at the population of India and the number of doctors here, one won’t be able to train enough of the latter in the next 30 years to achieve the present doctor-patient ratio in the West. Also, doctors have limitations, as in, for instance, keeping up with the last 5,000 articles published on prostate cancer. Or remembering a certain type of treatment for every new mutation that regularly keeps emerging.

“These are not things for human beings to do. A normal blood test should result in 30,000 data points. We don’t do 30,000 or 3,000 or even 300 data points because humans can’t look at it,” Khosla said. “Whether it’s food, buildings, construction, transportation, education or health care, they are all open to radical innovation with technology. That is optimistic me and that is why I have too many problems for the remaining part of my life,” he added.

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