Tej Kohli is an investor and philanthropist who with wife Wendy Kohli created the Tej Kohli Foundation in 2005. The Foundation focuses on developing solutions to major global health challenges whilst also making direct interventions that transform lives. Under Tej’s guidance the Foundation has become a global hub for interdisciplinary innovation as part of a global mission to eliminate needless corneal blindness worldwide by 2035.
Tej Kohli was born in Delhi, India in 1958, the son of a journalist father and a diplomat mother. In 1980 he graduated in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. In 1998 he met wife Wendy in Costa Rica and decided to stay and found a company.
When he is not dealing in real estate, investing in and mentoring entrepreneurs or guiding the Tej Kohli Foundation, Tej is a father to two teenagers, a car enthusiast and a ballroom dancer.
In 1999 Tej started an online payments company in Costa Rica that became known for its market-leading fraud protection software. The company grew quickly by specialising in payment gateways and a wide array of associated services for clients in high-risk sectors such as gaming, dating and travel; and later also diversified into the acquisition, turnaround and sale of formerly distressed online gaming properties.
Tej Kohli sold the company in 2006 and the Kohli family moved to a new family home in the United Kingdom. Tej had already built a substantial real estate portfolio in India and South East Asia and continued to build it by focusing on premium real estate in the UAE and Europe. He also became an investor into innovative technology ventures focused on artificial intelligence, robotics and genomics through his investment vehicle Kohli Ventures.
Many of the team who started their journey with Tej Kohli have gone on to build their own successful global businesses, and Tej is proud of his mentorship of these entrepreneurs. This mentorship philosophy continues through the investments of Kohli Ventures, where Tej is backing and mentoring entrepreneurial young founders as they build technology businesses.
Blindness is heavily impacted by poverty. The World Health Organisation says that 14 million of the 39 million people on the planet who are blind live in India. 12.7 million people are currently waiting for a cornea transplant worldwide. 6 million of them are in India.
In 2010 the Tej Kohli Foundation funded its first donor cornea implants at Niramaya Hospital in India. Tej was present when a 50-year-old patient, who had been blind for decades, had the bandages removed after a corneal transplant and saw his wife and grown up children for the first time. Tej immediately decided that eliminating corneal blindness was his calling.
After funding thousands of corneal transplants at Niramaya Hospital, in 2015 the Tej Kohli Foundation substantially expanded its efforts to tackle corneal blindness in poor and underserved communities with the ambitious launch the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, a World Health Organization collaborating centre.
Thanks to Tej’s enduring commitment to tackling needless corneal blindness, between January 2016 and November 2019 the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute welcomed more than 223,404 outpatients and completed more than 43,255 surgical procedures, largely for free.
Tej believes that ending corneal blindness worldwide requires a solution that is affordable, accessible and scalable. It cannot be reliant on expensive transplantation surgery using donor cornea, which are limited in supply, or synthetic cornea, which are highly expensive.
As an advocate of the promise of new technologies to solve major global health challenges, Tej has driven the Tej Kohli Foundation’s pursuit of a ‘universal treatment’ for corneal blindness through it’s ‘Applied Research’ program, a longstanding scientific collaboration between researchers in Montreal Canada, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK. In January 2020 the ‘Applied Research’ program announced that it had moved one step closer in its mission to invest an affordable, accessible and scalable universal cure for corneal blindness through the regeneration of corneal tissue.
Tej is a firm believer in the Foundation being a global multi-disciplinary hub for innovation, and so after being approached by Harvard Medical School to support its Department of Ophthalmology to accelerate innovative and collaborative research to achieve unprecedented new breakthroughs in corneal disease in , Tej funded the Tej Kohli Cornea Program at Massachusetts Eye And Ear in Boston with an initial donation of $2m.
Tej strongly believes in levelling the playing field to build better access to opportunity for young people living in poor and underserved communities. Tej’s first philanthropic project was in Costa Rica, providing long term financial and practical support for disabled children. Then, supported by wife Wendy, in 2005 Tej helped to instigate the FundaKohli’ program. This program has fed hundreds of children every week in its free soup kitchens since 2005 and continues to do so today, ensuring that hundreds of families and children have access to vital nutrition and sustenance; as well as the little extra help that they need to flourish.
Wendy and Tej Kohli have not lived in Costa Rica since 2006, however their commitment to the FundaKohli project and the families that it supports every single day will always endure.
Tej Kohli is a well-publicised proponent of ‘grassroots philanthropy’ which extends beyond simply giving money, and which also invests in garnering international attention for major global health issues that are not well served. Under his direction in 2019 the Tej Kohli Foundation’s ‘Impact Initiatives’ program embarked on a program to highlight the plight of children in India living with Xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic condition that makes the sun’s rays lethal.
Up to one in 370 Indians suffer from the condition, which forces many to live their entire life in the shadows. Young people with XP face significant social stigma, which combined with the physical effects of the condition, including corneal blindness, and the absence of clinical knowledge and specialist care services in their communities, robs them of their prospects.
The ‘Impact Initiative’ sought to highlight the plight of India’s XP children through a series of high profile collaborations. Working with internationally renowned photographer Simon Townsley and the Global Health section of The Telegraph, the Tej Kohli Foundation brought the realities of life of Indian children with XP visibly to the fore in a major photographic study and news feature. During 2019 Tej Kohli also sponsored the production of an independent documentary short about XP: SeeAgainFilm.com, which premiered at the 2020 Manchester International Film Festival and is now touring film festivals worldwide to raise awareness.
Tej Kohli is a strong believer in the power of technology to improve human life, and in late 2019 he was proud to launch the Tej Kohli Foundation’s first UK project: the ‘Future Bionics’ program. The program funds the purchase and fitting of 3D-printed bionic ‘Hero Arms’ for young people with limb difference in the UK; and highlights how technology can substantially improve the lives and confidence of younger people living with disabilities.
The 3D-printed ‘Hero Arm’ can be controlled with the electrical signals generated by a user’s muscles and has a superior multi-grip functionality that enables users to perform many more everyday activities compared to traditional prosthetics. The enhanced ability of the users to be able to personalise their Open Bionics Hero Arm is also a huge boost to their mental wellbeing and to perceived social acceptance, hopefully improving their prospects in life.
Tej Kohli is an advocate of a unique form of venture philanthropy as a vehicle for boosting development and prosperity throughout the Global South. Artificial intelligence is already transforming developing countries, and the United Nations ‘AI for Good’ campaign is fostering dialogue amongst policy makers on the beneficial use of technology for humanitarian work.
Tej Kohli believes that technology investors must also have a seat at the table, and since 2018 has made two substantial investments into Rewired, a robotics-focused venture studio with a humanitarian bent. Rewired is working at the vanguard of machine perception and the ability of robots to understand and interpret the physical world. Companies within the Rewired portfolio are also working on a technological solution to substantially increase the proportion of plastics that are viable for recycling; the development of affordable prosthetics, and portable machines designed to improve manufacturing processes.
NB: these are commercial investments that are not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Tej Kohli believes in biotech solutions to some of the world’s greatest public health challenges, and that joining the technological frontiers of AI and biotech can substantially improve human life. Biotechnology is currently undergoing exponential technological progression and improving by a factor of 10 every year in terms cost-benefit. However, the development of new biotechnologies also requires a very high appetite for risk and lots of patience.
Tej is the lead backer of Detraxi, a US-based company that plans to save millions of lives worldwide by developing its proprietary biotechnology solution for a range of global health challenges. Detraxi is working in collaboration with some of the worlds most talented and respected scientists across fluid replacement, diagnostics, transplantation and regenerative medicine. The Detraxi biotechnology has already undergone several clinical studies. It is currently undergoing pre-clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University.
NB: Detraxi is a commercial investment that is not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Focusing on investing in commercial ventures with a social impact, in 2005 Tej Kohli made a significant funding commitment through Kohli Ventures to an emerging solar products and renewable energy company based in South East Asia. The company focused on off-grid solar products which can have a transformational social impact by clean and renewable devolved power generation capabilities into thousands of poor homes in rural India.
At the time of the investment over 50,000 solar installations had already taken place in India, and the business planned to expand the established company substantially to serve remote and rural communities worldwide, including in many African states where the company had strong commercial ties, with a $500m 5-year revenue target. Tej Kohli exited the investment in 2017.
NB: This renewable energy investment was not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.