I thought it is a good time to share some of my experiences in 2011 with respect to geographies, markets and services! Hopefully this will be useful for anyone looking to expand or grow his or her business in the region. When we decided to move back to India, the primary reason was family. But on the professional side, after 17+ years in the US the move back to India was to understand three diaspora’s that will be instrumental in shaping the economies over the next 50 years, i.e. Chinese, Indian and Islamic.
Therefore setting up my base in Bangalore (India) was quite obvious, since this is the city I grew up in and would be my base for establishing my presence in technology R&D Services. Singapore was gateway to understanding the Chinese diaspora and it socio-economic influence in the ASEAN region. Singapore also became a base for me to understand innovation in media, renewable energy and healthcare sectors. Watching the bid for the 2022 world cup soccer and Qatar’s successful bid, solved where I should setup my base for understanding the Islamic/Arab culture. The active role played by the government of Qatar in the region gave me the ability to work closely and understand various initiatives in the region with respect to non-profit and social-enterprise in the GCC/MENA region.
So if you are looking at business expansions in these regions here are some of my thoughts/experiences (in no particular order) that may be beneficial:
- Great place to operate both as an individual/startup, since there is active support from the government. – Qatar Foundation, Qatar University, Qatar Science & Technology Park. Also enterprises such as Silatech and Qtel, have engagements to support the talent/startups in the region.
- The region has a high penetration of smart phones, yet the support for native/regional applications is limited. Therefore this is a great opportunity to work with local entrepreneurs and build a strong eco-system in mobile applications.
- The Qatar government is actively supporting social enterprise in the GCC and Africa. Therefore as an entrepreneur it is an ideal location to setup your social enterprise and look at solutions to enable SME’s in the region.
- Work with a strong local partner, who shares your vision and market direction
- Take time to understand the local culture and understand the subtle differences across various countries in the region and have ‘patience’
- Fancy presentations & a quick business trip are not going to work here, build a solid on the ground relationship building strategy. If you do not have a strong ‘value’ or ‘innovation’ based product offering, then don’t waste your time, get down to the best ‘price’.
- One of the best government and public enterprise support based on my experiences to date. i.e. EDB, iDA, MDA, Singtel-Innovation, etc.
- The Media Development Authority is a great organization to work with if you are a startup looking for local funding support in the areas of new media, gaming, animation, e-books, etc.
- I also got to work in the area of healthcare and renewable energy with various entities in Singapore. There is strong support for research and pilot implementation support with universities such as NUS, Temasek Poly, SMU, etc.
- Some of the VC firms that are active in early stage funding are: JAFCO, Vickers Ventures, JAIC, Extreme Ventures, Neoteny Labs, Battle Ventures
- Innovative Media/VFX Companies: Blackmagic Design, OneAnimation
- If you want to work with any of the government entities, firstly ensure you have a strong Singapore national/resident. Also ensure that you have setup your entire operations in Singapore. Accessing the support and leveraging the funding vehicles will not work if you use Singapore as a sales/regional office.
- Most companies setup their sales/regional office in Singapore. I think this may work for ‘finance’ related industries, but will not work for any B2C related entities. Singapore is a very small market and you are better of setting up a dedicated sales presence in markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.
- Go to Singapore only if you have a mature product/technology –- The risk to experiment with new technologies in a large scale is limited. You will be spending a lot of sales cycles and resources convincing entities the viability of your technology. You are better of piloting it in other geographies and once there is market adoption, explore the market in Singapore.
- It is safe to say that you will not have any government or public enterprise support if you are a startup or individual looking to setup operations in India. Therefore my thoughts, don’t waste time looking at this option
- Support from banks in India is limited unless you have an operating track record (audited financial statements) for at least 3years.
- With respect to technology services/outsourcing, I believe that given our current cost structures in the Tier1 metros of Indi we may be out pricing ourselves in the market! I believe that the Indian software industry will not be able to grow purely on cost arbitration alone.
- The segments I believe have huge potential in India if there are appropriate ‘cost optimized solutions’ are:
- Opportunities in the rural market:
- Healthcare care (remote monitoring, tele-diagnostics). I was on the board of an innovative MRI product company that gave me an opportunity to explore the healthcare segment in India. I realized the acute shortage of quality doctors and nurses just out side of the Primary Health Care Centers (PHC) segment. I am not going to get into the specific details but I believe that there is a growing demand to remedy the acute shortage by leveraging technology and bring basic healthcare to the Community Health Care (CHC) facilities.
- Rural education – Delivering world-class education leveraging the proliferation of mobile Internet via device/tablets. E.g. bringing MIT OpenCourse and other courses to the remote villages of India!
- Opportunities in the metro’s:
- Wellness – Indian Wellness market is estimated to be INR 490 billion. By 2015, Wellness services alone have the potential to generate three million job opportunities. The Indian Wellness industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20 per cent for the next 3 years to reach roughly INR 875 billion, states the FICCI-PwC knowledge paper titled ‘Wellness – Riding the growth wave’. I have recently joined the board of an integrated clinical based wellness center, which will be launching wellness centers nationwide, will report my findings a year from now!
- The other areas that I believe have great potential are water and renewable energy.
- Unless you are “well connected” it takes a lot of time, effort and resources to break into the ‘government’/public-sector market. Had some interesting lessons when I tried to launch “Coorg Armour” — an innovate bulletproof armour technology.
- “Value Innovation” – Tata Nano, this is a good case study if you are looking to explore the India market. I.e. How can you deliver value based solutions, by also lowering the cost – Eliminate, Reduce, Raise and Create, a good exercise from Blue Ocean Strategy.
- With respect to technology services, I believe that supporting the cost structures in Tier 1 metros along with high attrition will continue to be a challenge.
- Opportunities in the rural market:
Anyway standard disclosure, all the opinions expressed in this blog are from my own personal perspective and does not represent those of any organization that I may be affiliated to or represent (☺)! But if you all do need any help in understanding any of these markets or need references/contacts do get in touch with me and I will do my best to point you all in the right direction. All the best for 2012!