It is a good time to launch a start up in Asia's third-biggest economy. AFP
It is a good time to launch a start up in Asia's third-biggest economy. AFP

Indian startup scene: ride the wave while you can



Siddharth Sharma owns a startup in Noida in north India called ZipZapDeals, a consumer discount app for students, and the 25-year-old says it is a good time to be an entrepreneur in Asia's third-biggest economy.

“I think the market has become more mature now - before it was just a bubble,” says Mr Sharma.

Startups are hitting new highs in terms of their valuations. Global investors are ploughing funds into the sector and culturally there's a greater acceptance of entrepreneurship in the country, inspiring Indians to try their hand at setting up the next potential billion-dollar company.

“The scene in India right now is pretty exciting,” says Ravi Jakhar, an investor in food, health and technology ventures, who this year launched an organic food company based on nutrition science called Truefarm Foods. “Ten years ago, we were only talking about IT startups, but now it cuts across everything, ranging from e-commerce to fitness to art.”

This trend is largely being driven by India's expanding economy, rising disposable income, and the technology boom. India has seen a wave of entrepreneurs - from students quitting university to seasoned professionals giving up their jobs – trying to tap the market with new ventures. India's GDP grew at 7.7 per cent in the first three months of this year, making it the world's fastest growing major economy.

“Everything is changing - the way we shop, the way we travel, the way we commute,” says Mr Jakhar. “This is why there's a tremendous opportunity.”

The home-grown success stories of startup ventures like Flipkart are adding to the attraction for future entrepreneurs as more and more of them jump on the startup bandwagon, experts say.

US retail giant Walmart in May announced plans to buy a 77 per cent stake in Bangalore-based online shopping website Flipkart for $16 billion (Dh58.7bn). Flipkart started out in 2007 as an online bookseller, launched by two young Indian entrepreneurs Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal, out of an apartment in Bangalore with just a few thousand dollars.

Binny Bansal thinks the deal is groundbreaking. It is “the dawn of a new era for India's #StartUp ecosystem”, he wrote on Twitter after the transaction was announced.

Indian food delivery app startup Swiggy proves Mr Bansal's point. It has just become a $1bn company, after South Africa’s Naspers and investment house DST Global led a round of funding feeding $210 million into the venture.

It is the second “unicorn” - commonly used terms for a company with a valuation of over $1bn – to emerge in India's online food ordering space, alongside New Delhi-based Zomato, which received $150m from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Financial in February. Morgan Stanley earlier this year valued the firm at $2.5bn.

“Post the Flipkart deal, people have now started to realise that these are not just paper values,” says Bhaskar Majumdar, the managing partner at Unicorn India Ventures, a venture capital fund. “The muted valuations that were there have started to shoot up, primarily because people are realising India is one of those few markets where there's still the possibility for large home runs.”

However, one look at the data on startup funding in India, shows have not been very rosy for this budding sector of the economy as far as the recent past is concerned.

Figures from Inc42, an Indian information platform, show that funding into the Indian startup sector stood at $1.17bn in the first quarter of this year, down 50 per cent compared to the previous quarter, as investors have become more discerning and are not throwing money at any idea.

“Investors are more constrained and relying on sustainability metrics and profitability for making an investment,” according to Inc42.

Seed stage funding however, has improved, according to the figures, with the number of deals up 43 per cent compared to the fourth quarter of last year. The fintech and health tech segments are attracting the most interest from financiers, according to the firm.

Despite the overall funding decline, things are looking up for those with novel ideas with potential of commercial success.

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“We are seeing an explosion in high quality ideas among Indian startups,” says Shripati Acharya the managing partner at Prime Venture Partners, a seed stage venture capital fund based in Bangalore. “It is no surprise that the investor interest is getting stronger as well as seen from a number of new fund launches and participation in funding rounds from overseas funds and strategic investors.”

But what is being poured into startups is still a drop in the ocean and much more need to be done in terms of funding in India for the sector to fulfil its potential.

“While we see sufficient capital in early stage, growth stage funding for mature startups is still inadequate as compared to the opportunity," he points out.

It helps that the likes of Softbank and Tencent have taken an interest and are now betting big on the success of Indian startups.

Japan's Softbank has ploughed capital into homegrown tech companies in India, including Flipkart, mobile wallet company Paytm, and the ride-hailing app Ola, with its investments into the country totalling more than $8bn in less than five years, according to figures from data analytics firm Tracxn.

India's government has also thrown its weight behind the sector in India, with prime minister Narendra Modi, in 2015, unveiling a campaign called Startup India that includes a fund of funds specifically for startups.

Mr Jakharr explains that India has now become more supportive of entrepreneurship, whereas previously there was a lot more pressure for well-educated Indians to take conventional jobs and avoid risks.

“That's been one of the key driving factors, the change in our societal values and how we value entrepreneurship in the country,” he says. “I remember when I passed out of my college in 2004, I was the only one ..... to start a company and not appear for a job placement. But now, there is a large numbers of people starting companies from college, so that's a significant change.”

Ashwin Ramesh, 27, started an online marketing startup called OrganicApex at the tender age of 14 when he was still at in school. He made the company profitable by the time he was 18, and he dropped out of college to pursue entrepreneurship, setting up a firm enabling businesses to manage their online presence called Synup in Bangalore in 2014.

It has has been a tough journey - like most entrepreneurs learning from his mistakes along the way - but he says there is a definite transition taking place in India's startup scene.

He raised a series A funding for Synup in September of $6m and his firm launched a New York office in December.

“I think the environment is extremely good to raise funds,” he says. “There is a general bullish environment right now because a lot of tech companies are starting to mature. If you look at India, the problem was a lot of money was being pumped in into sectors like e-commerce but we had a big graveyard of e-commerce companies that went nowhere. But recently interesting things are happening in the space and a lot more capital is getting deployed.”

Mr Ramesh says he does not know if this will last a long time, but he expects it to prevail for a couple of years, and he thinks aspiring entrepreneurs in India should take advantage while it lasts.

The specs

Engine: four-litre V6 and 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo

Transmission: six-speed and 10-speed

Power: 271 and 409 horsepower

Torque: 385 and 650Nm

Price: from Dh229,900 to Dh355,000

EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS

Estijaba – 8001717 –  number to call to request coronavirus testing

Ministry of Health and Prevention – 80011111

Dubai Health Authority – 800342 – The number to book a free video or voice consultation with a doctor or connect to a local health centre

Emirates airline – 600555555

Etihad Airways – 600555666

Ambulance – 998

Knowledge and Human Development Authority – 8005432 ext. 4 for Covid-19 queries

The specs

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Power: 650hp at 6,750rpm

Torque: 800Nm from 2,500-4,000rpm

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch auto

Fuel consumption: 11.12L/100km

Price: From Dh796,600

On sale: now

What is a robo-adviser?

Robo-advisers use an online sign-up process to gauge an investor’s risk tolerance by feeding information such as their age, income, saving goals and investment history into an algorithm, which then assigns them an investment portfolio, ranging from more conservative to higher risk ones.

These portfolios are made up of exchange traded funds (ETFs) with exposure to indices such as US and global equities, fixed-income products like bonds, though exposure to real estate, commodity ETFs or gold is also possible.

Investing in ETFs allows robo-advisers to offer fees far lower than traditional investments, such as actively managed mutual funds bought through a bank or broker. Investors can buy ETFs directly via a brokerage, but with robo-advisers they benefit from investment portfolios matched to their risk tolerance as well as being user friendly.

Many robo-advisers charge what are called wrap fees, meaning there are no additional fees such as subscription or withdrawal fees, success fees or fees for rebalancing.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

Libya's Gold

UN Panel of Experts found regime secretly sold a fifth of the country's gold reserves.

The panel’s 2017 report followed a trail to West Africa where large sums of cash and gold were hidden by Abdullah Al Senussi, Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief, in 2011.

Cases filled with cash that was said to amount to $560m in 100 dollar notes, that was kept by a group of Libyans in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

A second stash was said to have been held in Accra, Ghana, inside boxes at the local offices of an international human rights organisation based in France.

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 261hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1,750-4,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 10.5L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh129,999 (VX Luxury); from Dh149,999 (VX Black Gold)

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

The Afghan connection

The influx of talented young Afghan players to UAE cricket could have a big impact on the fortunes of both countries. Here are three Emirates-based players to watch out for.

Hassan Khan Eisakhil
Mohammed Nabi is still proving his worth at the top level but there is another reason he is raging against the idea of retirement. If the allrounder hangs on a little bit longer, he might be able to play in the same team as his son, Hassan Khan. The family live in Ajman and train in Sharjah.

Masood Gurbaz
The opening batter, who trains at Sharjah Cricket Academy, is another player who is a part of a famous family. His brother, Rahmanullah, was an IPL winner with Kolkata Knight Riders, and opens the batting with distinction for Afghanistan.

Omid Rahman
The fast bowler became a pioneer earlier this year when he became the first Afghan to represent the UAE. He showed great promise in doing so, too, playing a key role in the senior team’s qualification for the Asia Cup in Muscat recently.

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
MATCH INFO

Cricket World Cup League Two
Oman, UAE, Namibia
Al Amerat, Muscat
 
Results
Oman beat UAE by five wickets
UAE beat Namibia by eight runs
Namibia beat Oman by 52 runs
UAE beat Namibia by eight wickets
UAE v Oman - abandoned
Oman v Namibia - abandoned

The specs

Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 680hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 2,750-6,000rpm
Transmission: Rear-mounted eight-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 13.6L/100km
On sale: Orderbook open; deliveries start end of year
Price: From Dh970,000


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