The Economic Times | 6 Oct, 2012, 05.00AM IST, Peerzada Abrar, ET Bureau | BANGALORE: US-based Artiman Ventures, which manages a $750-million fund, has invested Rs 34 crore in Tonbo Imaging, a start-up whose imaging technology has been used in drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, of armed forces around the world, including the US Army.
Amid a tough economic climate, when the West is not bullish on India's prospects, this investment is a boost for the Indian manufacturing story which now has a cast of new players developing cutting-edge products.
"Tonbo's technology and products are cutting edge with very compelling performance and cost metrics," said Ramesh Radhakrishnan, partner at Artiman Ventures. "India is in the early stages of creating world-class product companies."
Tonbo with offices in Bangalore, Palo Alto and Singapore is developing intellectual property for products that sense, analyze and control complex environments. These products include micro-optics, lower power electronics and real-time vision sold in the form of smart cameras. The five-year-old company, formerly known as Serial Innovations, sells these products to customers like Europe's largest defense contractor BAE Systems, Sarnoff Corp, auto-parts maker Visteon Corp and Autoliv Inc, the world's largest maker of automotive air bags and seatbelts.
"The applications include surveillance, sensing collisions in automobiles before they happen," said Tonbo founder Arvind Lakshmikumar, an alumnus of BITS Pilani and Carnegie Mellon University. "Our systems also allow soldiers to see during day and night, through fog and foliage, and do realtime interpretation of battlefield environment." His firm, which raised Rs 2.2 crore last year from Mumbai Angels, has 12 employees and 15 patents awaiting approval.
Tonbo, which means dragonfly in Japanese, will use the funding for research and development and hiring of talent in the US, India and Israel. While the company did not disclose valuation after Artiman's investment, an industry expert said for technology-product startups like Tonbo, the valuation is estimated to be Rs 70-100 crore. Tonbo is the fourth investment for Artiman in India, with an exit period of seven-eight years. "It takes time to build world-class companies. We invest very early and stay for the long term," said Radhakrishnan of Artiman.
Before Tonbo, Artiman has invested in companies such as Cellworks, Guavus and Oncostem Diagnostics.