Indian students turn entrepreneurs in Singapore
Posted on November 10, 2014
Prukalpa Sankar had the usual career plans of finishing her engineering and following it up with an MBA. A chemical and bio-molecular engineering student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, she even interned with the right mix of recruiters – Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil. But instead of landing her first job, she turned an entrepreneur.
Sankar credits the culture at NTU for turning her into a businesswoman. Having done a minor in entrepreneurship in her third year, she conceptualised and spearheaded Singapore Start-up challenge, an initiative funded by NTU that linked 200 startups to students looking for opportunities across Singapore. In her fourth year, she launched technology data company Social Cops, which aims to power decision-making in the social space through data sourced from on-theground sources in India.
Social Cops raised $320,000 in seed funding from VC firm 500 Startups, Google MD Rajan Anandan and Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific MD Manoj Menon this July. Buoyed by Singapore government’s support including cash payouts and tax waivers, and assistance from universities, Indians are giving up corporate jobs for businesses in the South-east Asian country.
Their business ideas and plans include addressing both global and regional problems back home. National University of Singapore (NUS) alumnus Abhinav Krishna launched online portal OurHealthMate with Akash Kumar, an assistant professor at NUS.
It addresses a specific problem faced by Indians moving out of the country, he said, as the firm ties up with doctors in India to provide medical aid and support to family members of overseas Indians, and helps them get status checks through feedback reports on treatments and diagnosis. Through 10,000 registered doctors and an online payment gateway, overseas Indians can book check-ups and consultations for family members back home.
OurHealthMate was initially assisted by NUS Enterprise, a division of NUS which aims at providing experiential entrepreneurial education and entrepreneurship support through industry partnerships.
Block 71 in Singapore’s Ayah Rajah Crescent has been revamped into an entrepreneurial hub by NUS Enterprise, corporate venture company SingTel Innov8 and Management Development Agency (MDA) Singapore. A cluster for light manufacturing industries back in the 1970s, Block 71 was up for demolition when it was converted into a tightly knit startup community. It offers subsidised rentals for accommodation and other facilities to early stage startups and houses 200 startups and 30 incubators and investors within walking distance of each other.
“We are developing entrepreneurs as we think entrepreneurs are not merely born, but can be created and nurtured,” said Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise. NUS also runs NUS Overseas College in the United States, China, India and Israel, which enables NUS students to work with startups in these countries.”Students coming to India can work with social startups for three to six months on locations outside Bangalore, Jaipur and Mumbai. The idea behind the overseas college is to get students excited about working in small companies.” Naman Shah, an economics and business management student who graduated from NUS this year, is the market lead (Asia Pacific) for US-based startup BizEquity.
An online business valuation portal for small business owners, BizEquity raised $5.1 million this month and Shah is setting up its operations in Singapore. He said his stint with the startup in Philadelphia through NUS Overseas College really helped him learn the ropes, adding,”In general, the culture here is not one of risk-taking. Students would still like to work in MNCs, but that’s gradually changing.”
Grants from the government for startups to develop products, research/test bed ideas and commercialise products can range from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on the stage of the startup and the eligibility criteria. Under the Technology Incubation Scheme, the National Research Foundation Singapore could co-invest up to 85% of investment (up to S$500,000 per company) in a Singaporebased startup, on recommendation from technology incubators, which include firms like Red Dot Ventures, Small World Group and Silicon Straits.
Indian alumni from INSEAD, the French business school which has a campus in Singapore, are also running successful ventures. RedMart, one of the more popular startups in Singapore, is an online grocery venture founded by INSEAD alumnus Vikram Rupani.
It raised $23 million in a series B round this July and investors include Eduardo Saverin, co-Founder of Facebook, and Toivo Annus, co-founder of Skype. Sanjna Parasrampuria, former Asia-Pacific regional head for HDFC, launched consumer analytics firm NEWCLEUS after graduating from INSEAD last year.”The next frontier for Singapore is in analytics and startups in analytics tend to get noticed a lot more,” said Parasrampuria, who was approached and incubated by NUS Enterprise.
Parasrampuria cites the example of online retailer Flipkart, which is registered in Singapore, and says government cash payouts and tax benefits aside, the rules and regulations make it easier for startups and VC firms to register companies in the country.”Given the current landscape in India, registering here makes more sense. Corporate tax rates in India could be anywhere around 33% while the maximum rate here would be about 17%.”