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How can the UK tech ecosystem attract Indian Tech Entrepreneurs in a post-brexit, post covid digital world?

Looking at what the UK must do to maintain its position as an attractive destination for Indian tech entrepreneurs.

Part 1

Back in 2017, BBC presenter Matthew Amroriwala, asked me a series of rapid fire questions (on a BBC World News show) about the future of India and UK trade relations. It was on the back of a landmark visit UK Prime Minister Theressa May and Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Secretary, made to India, in support of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Digital India’ Initiative.

Much has changed in the world since then.

Brexit happened. Covid happened.

These two compelling events have changed the rules of the game and require the UK to augment the core model of engagement if it wishes to become the nation of choice for tech and trade and innovation with India.

This is a complex topic and perhaps merits an extensive thesis on the subject. However,  that is not possible, so I will endeavour to focus on specific recommendations that are both pragmatic and purposeful.

The Indian Tech Ecosystem has matured at a rate of knots over the past 36 months. Like most nations, Covid-19 has boosted all aspects of digital investment, adoption and innovation. Access to Venture Capital, Angel Investment, Co-working Spaces, Incubators and Accelerators and even Corporate led Venture Capital has increased significantly. From Wipro to TATA, every large brand is seeking to innovate by partnering, procuring or investing in startups. The India startup ecosystem has over thirty thousand funded companies, with Edtech, Fintech, HealthTech leading the charge. The youth of India ( many who are MBA’s) have an alternative career path that is both cool and commercially lucrative. Digital India and its elder child, Startup India, is now an unstoppable growth juggernaut.

As such, the UK Government and the entire Tech Ecosystem seeking to build a ‘living bridge’ – underpinned by a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India, must consider the following;

1.India’s future tech economy will be led by its millennials and generation Z who will actively look for the best route-to-market on offer to them, be it the UK, US, Canada, Singapore or Australia. They are less nostalgic about the UK India history. More practical and motivated to thrive.

Key Question – How is the UK actively engaging this demographic?

2. The psychology of decision making, business needs and growth aspirations of the new Indian Entrepreneur (a citizen of Digital India) are vastly different to those of the past India Tech Services Founders. Role models matter. Authentic conversations are vital. Mutual respect and sensitivity to the subculture of the Indian Tech Ecosystem is essential.

Key Question – How is the UK transforming its approach, deal makers (both in the UK and on the ground in India) to align with this shift?  

3. The post-Brexit UK relationship strategy with Indian Tech Entrepreneurs needs to be ‘inch wide mile deep’ – where the UK plays to its industry strengths (focusing on building living bridges within niche sectors in India  – GreenTech, Fintech, Edtech, RegTech).

Key Question – What steps should the UK take to differentiate and promote its core strengths?

4. The UK should invest in building deep trusted and value based relationships with core tech brands, startups and micro communities in tier 1 and 2 cities across India  (mimicking the approach Private Wealth Managers take when cultivating clients who could succeed and build future wealth). The Role Model Startup Founders of India are (to a large extent) the torch bearers and custodians of startup culture. They are key partners for the UK.

Key Question – Where should the UK focus its resources to build mutual trust and camaraderie with tech leaders and game-changers defining the future of Indian Tech? 

5. The UK is now widely regarded as the world’s third tech ecosystem and has shown remarkable resilience during the pandemic. Investment into UK tech has reached record levels during 2021 and successful exits from the likes of Darktrace and Wise have demonstrated that London can produce world-class tech companies – this narrative is part of the ‘Why UK’ message that must be shared with the right partners in the Indian Tech Ecosystem.

Key Question – How can the UK create a consistent message that creates curiosity and inspires Indian Tech leaders to explore growth and investment opportunities in the UK?

6. The integrative and transparent nature of the UK ecosystem is a significant competitive advantage versus other nations. The UK has built a joined-up tech ecosystem where Investors, Innovation Agencies, Private Businesses, Government Departments, University R&D Labs, Co-working spaces and even the legal industry work together to support entrepreneurs ideate, startup, scale and IPO their businesses. This is a huge advantage and will attract Indian Tech Entrepreneurs to setup HQ and Branch Offices in the UK.

 Key Question – How can the UK Govt and Policy leaders, and Professional Services brands – KPMG, EY, Grant Thornton – share best practices and learnings with their opposite numbers in the Indian Tech Ecosystem?

7. The UK  policy, governance and regulatory environment is a growth enabler (not an inhibitor) for startups. To date, Indian entrepreneurs have directly benefited from various schemes, including; Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and leveraged R&D Tax Rebates to reduce tax liabilities and boost working capital. The loosening of data sharing policies such as PSD2 has been instrumental in transforming the banking industry – enabling neo-banks and business model innovation to thrive – from Revolut, Wise, Monzo, Starling Bank to Darktrace and others. This level of transparency and trust is rare across other global tech ecosystems.

Key Question – What steps can the UK take to double down the collaboration between their respective Fintech ecosystems  – including, sharing success stories, learnings, and personal stories of role model startup founders across both ecosystems?

Part 2 of this article will include specific ideas, approaches and actionable recommendations across each of the seven points above to create a sense of optimistic urgency amongst those who truly understand the future value and importance of India to the UK as we embark on our post-brexit journey of free trade and sustainable growth.

Af Malhotra

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