In a panel discussion at the 10th edition of YourStory's TechSparks, global experts came together to discuss the cross-border innovation scenario in their respective countries, and what entrepreneurs can do to navigate smoothly through cultural differences.
The panel comprised Angela De Giacomo, Investment Manager, Bissell Family Office; LEE Jin Sheng, Deputy Director, Global Innovation Network, Enterprise Singapore; Barrett Parkman, Director, Startup and VC Ecosystem, Samsung Catalyst; Takashi Suzuki, Director General of JETRO Bengaluru; and was moderated by Michael Copeland, Startup Strategist, AWS.
Investing in the Indian startup ecosystem
There’s a rising tide of Indian startups that have a pan India presence and are extending to other parts of the world as well. The panellists spoke about how the startup ecosystem has evolved over the years. “Indian startups are actually so attractive that foreign investors take the journey to invest in them. Some investors from Japan or the Middle East come with the intention to take these Indian companies to their home markets. With Chinese investors, the main intent is to explore the Indian market,” said Angela. who works with Bissell Family Office, which runs India’s most iconic clothing brand FabIndia.
She added that earlier, Indian talent wanted to move out of India as they saw opportunities in the US, but in the last few years, they’ve been coming back to India as they identify opportunities here, and want to contribute to their home country.
Lee said that the Indian startup ecosystem was interesting because while there were almost no unicorns a few years ago, today there were over 20 unicorns in the country. “It shows the growth of the market. It’s not just about the startups, but the collaboration. We want to create a network between India and Singapore to grow both ecosystems and build a global network. In the whole startup innovation ecosystem, you can’t do things alone, you have to collaborate,” he said, adding that Enterprise Singapore helps to drive innovation and productivity in Singaporean enterprises.
Takashi added that even though the Indian and Japanese markets are vastly different, the reason they identified India for the innovation connection is that Japanese companies used to rank on top in manufacturing, but things are changing. “Manufacturers cannot continue to just be manufacturers. We need India’s software and applications to collaborate with Japanese manufacturing technology to make the industry more innovative.”
Barrett spoke about how they have launched the Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC) to enable startups to address global social challenges. One reason they’re prioritising India is because there are a lot of hungry entrepreneurs in the country, who work really hard and are super passionate about what they’re doing. “They’re often building something that is addressing real problems that can improve the masses. They have the ability to scale not just in India, but globally. I think India represents the world better in some ways than Silicon Valley does,” he said. XTC is not a local accelerator, rather they help startups get global visibility and help them connect with international investors and corporates to succeed.
How startups can navigate through cultural differences
Angela has observed a critical skill that a good founder and a good team should have is to build relationships within the team, with investors, corporates, organisations, and governments. She says cultural differences can sometimes arise in tiny matters like scheduling a meeting. “If you’re coming to Germany as an Indian, you should reach out to people a couple of weeks in advance to schedule meetings. When you’re invited for dinner, be on time, not too early and not too late. Also, bring a small gift and don’t leave after dessert, because that’s when we have the most interesting conversations.”
Singapore lies in a pretty unique position, somewhere between Asian and Western cultures. Lee says that whether you schedule a meeting one day in advance or a week before, it works both ways. What really matters is building a relationship with that person. “Indian startups that have gone to Singapore have assimilated quickly because of the strong networks and support systems they have built over time,” he says.
The good news for Japan is that by next year, direct flights between Bengaluru and Japan will be launched. Takashi says there are certain common issues in the healthcare sector in India and Japan. “We are now encouraging Indian startups to visit hospitals in Japan, and Japanese healthcare startups are visiting India. We’re pushing these kinds of exchanges and it will be interesting.” On the cultural front, he says that there is nothing much to consider as things are really changing in the country. “It used to be a closed country with a different culture, but not anymore. In Tokyo, there are more than 500 Indian restaurants, so that’s taken care of.”
The discussion concluded on the note that today, a lot of smaller companies in India with the right business model are identifying opportunities and collaborating with larger countries to take their business to the next level.
YourStory's annual extravaganza TechSparks brings together the best and the brightest from the startup ecosystem, corporate world, policymakers and, of course, the investor community. Over the past decade, TechSparks has grown to become India's most loved tech and startup platform for knowledge sharing and networking. A big thank you for all your support over the years and a big shoutout to our sponsors.