Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata backs a startup that connects senior citizens with young graduates

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Ratan Tata, the octogenarian industrialist who oversaw the $128 billion Tata Group for decades, has invested in a startup that pairs senior citizens with young graduates to form meaningful friendships.

Goodfellows, a company that promotes “inter-generational friendships,” announced on Tuesday that it had received an undisclosed seed investment from Tata, the influential chairman emeritus of Tata Sons Ltd., which owns about 150 companies, including some of India’s most valuable, such as software outsourcer Tata Consultancy Service Ltd. and the country’s largest steelmaker Tata Steel Ltd.

Shantanu Naidu, 30, founded the startup while serving as general manager of Ratan Tata’s office and startup investment portfolio. Naidu also serves as chairman of Tata Trusts, the group’s massive philanthropic arm.

“You don’t know what loneliness is until you spend time alone wishing for companionship,” Tata said at the startup’s official launch in Mumbai on Tuesday. “You don’t mind getting old until you get old and realise it’s a difficult world,” he told a group of seniors and their young friends.

The startup was inspired by Naidu’s friendship with Tata, which he described as a “peak example of an intergenerational friendship given the five-and-a-half-decade age difference.” He added that he is drawn to people like Tata because of their newfound innocence, wisdom, and motto of savouring every moment.

Tata is credited with revitalising the 168-year-old steel-to-airlines conglomerate founded by his great grandfather. But he came into his own after leaving the group’s executive ranks five years ago, unexpectedly becoming a star figure in India’s startup circles. Since then, he has invested in over 50 startups, including the eyewear retailer Lenskart, the digital payments brand Paytm, the electric vehicle startup Ola Electric Mobility Pvt., and the online stock trading platform Upstox.

Even a small check from Ratan Tata is regarded as a source of pride among the country’s business community. Naidu, a design engineer with an MBA from Ratan Tata’s alma mater Cornell University, met Tata when he was looking for funding for his first startup, Motopaws, a social enterprise that provided reflective collars for street dogs. The two clicked right away.

“He selects his investments intuitively,” Naidu said by phone after the launch. “He identifies with young people and supports their motivation and the social impact they will have.” It is never about the money.”

Every second Indian under the age of 25 lives in a country of about 1.4 billion people. However, more than 15 million elderly Indians live alone, either because they have no family or because their children live abroad, posing mental and physical health challenges.

The subscription-based service is currently only available in Mumbai, but it will soon be available in other cities, including Bengaluru. The startup emphasises companionship, which can range from going for a quiet walk or watching a movie to simply conversing. Non-profit models that have tried this, according to Naidu, have failed because the companions are unpaid volunteers who do not commit long-term.