Impact of policy environment on funding start-ups in India

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Funding has always been the biggest challenge that every venture has to face. Particularly the technology and knowledge based start-up enterprises that are based on intangible assets such as human capital and an entrepreneurial idea. In absence of physical assets, such start-ups find it difficult to secure bank financing and they need to approach equity financiers such as angel investors or VCs. Mostly start-ups do not even have access to working capital loans; though some finance companies offer collateral-free working capital loans to small enterprises with at least three years of operations.

Like any other investment, the investment in start-ups is influenced by the policy environment prevailing in the country. The current policy environment in India is reasonably conducive for start ups, but still leaves a lot more to be desired. Domestic money to VC/PE funds are either restricted or prohibited in current regulatory framework. For example SEBI regulations for Domestic Venture Capital Funds do not permit registration of a fund which would have corpus of less than Rs.5 crore ($ 1 million). This makes it difficult for angel groups and seed funds to get registered and raise funds. Pension funds, which are the biggest source of money worldwide, are not allowed to invest in VC/PE funds. Insurance companies are allowed to invest in infrastructure funds only; even banks’ exposure to VC/PE funds is severally controlled.

The National Innovation Act that proposes tax incentives for angel investors is likely to be passed by the government. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) in India also plans to incentivise venture capitalists (VC) who invest in small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). It is anticipated that with implementation and stabilization of Goods and Services Tax (GST), the environment will be more favourable for promoting entrepreneurship and business.At present, for a business, planning to set up manufacturing units in India, the existing complex and high taxation structure consumes a large portion of the available cost arbitrage. Though the manufacturing cost of most products in India is nearly half than in the west, but due to tax levied at various stages, the cost advantage is reduced by almost 50%. The existing multi tax structures often compel manufacturers to base their inventory and distribution decisions on tax avoidance rather than on operational efficiency. The implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) is expected to reduce the hassles associated with the existing tax structure and facilitate investment decisions to be made purely on economic concerns, independent of tax considerations.

The policy environment in India is gradually evolving and regulations are expected to evolve in a manner that encourages more investment bringing it at par with that in the mature markets. However the timelines by which these proposed policy changes will be implemented and the overall impact on the VC community is yet to be seen.

First in the Race – Apple and Samsung

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Apple and Samsung are embroiled in several legal fights; both are contending for global leadership of smartphone and tablet market, with Samsung poised to surpass Apple in the race in 2012. Smartphones are an interesting example of a product category where the second or third movers have considerably learned from the experience of the product innovators. Long before Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, IBM had released the first smart phone called Simon in 1993.

Often the pioneers spend a lot of resources to come up with new and innovative products, demonstrate it to the users and test the market. In the meanwhile, newer companies that are more agile and are quick to see the opportunity, understand the product – market fit, learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, make a big bang entry and harvest the potential in the market already created by the earlier explorers. They survive and even make it big.

Samsung, for example, has perfected the game of being the second mover. They study the market leader meticulously, copy every aspect of the market leader’s strategy in minute details, and further improvise on the execution of the strategy.  They end up not only in catching up, but even surpassing the market leaders. It was the success of the iPad that made Samsung roll out the Galaxy Tab. Even the Galaxy Note was preceded by the Dell Streak.

On the other hand, there are companies such as GE or Siemens that have been successful in retaining the first mover advantage and in creating next generation products in a continuum while phasing out the older ones. One of the parameters of strategic health for GE is the proportion of revenue earned by products which have been brought out in the previous 2 years. It means that such companies need to have a whole range of next generation products in the pipeline. This is relatively easier for companies that cater to the B2B market, where customer expectations can be understood within a reasonable time frame, due to existing contractual relationships with the customers. It is more difficult for the companies to gauge the customer expectations in the B2C scenario, though the B2C market offers the advantage of high volumes.

This brings us to an interesting question that why the pioneers with all their obvious advantages such as a brand image, a customer base and a dealer network in place to push the new product, are still not able to retain the market leadership. Going back to the Kodak story, what could they have done differently so that having been the pioneers in digital technology, they would have continued to be so.

This steers the discussion towards a very important trait of executive leadership – the ability to foresee the horizon of changing technology and customer expectations. An organization has to be futuristic, open to accept that the world can change overnight and the confidence to believe they can be the leader in the changed world too. It requires the tenacity to persevere, understand the market’s perception of their products, support R&D to improve on the products and make required changes to their products or their marketing approach in order to sustain the market leadership.

The path to achieving this trait could be through corporate entrepreneurship, if promoted in a true sense within an organization. This group would need to be supported and backed by the topmost authority in the organisation and would have to be reasonably separated from the current culture of the organisation, to encourage them to think differently and foster a culture of innovation. This may also, at times, require convincing the shareholders and the board to take a dip in immediate returns for long term gains.

This leads to an interesting question next. Which of the items of mass consumption today is most likely to into oblivion replaced by a newer generation product in the next three to five years? Who knows? Plastic money could be one! Already some companies are developing mobile payments solutions that focus on the convergence of online (e-commerce) and proximity (face-to-face) payments.

 

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