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15 February, 2006 - 10:14 By Tony Quested

East meets East as Cambridge cluster is showcased in India

Cambridge has been pushed to the forefront of the agenda for Indian hi-tech and biotech companies eyeing a foothold in Europe, Business Weekly can exclusively reveal.More university-industry interchange between the regions has also been triggered following a summit in Kolkatta featuring Dr Shai Vyakarnam – director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning  (CfEL) at Cambridge University – in his role as board member of the Indo British partnership Network.

While there are many hurdles to clear, Dr Vyakarnam is convinced the cause of Cambridge as Europe’s leading technology and biotech cluster has been significantly advanced by the exchange, led by Ian Pearson MP at the Confederation of Indian Industries Summit.

The objective was to open doors and have frank discussions in both directions about what it will take to increase the level of business between the two countries.

Many sectors were represented; retail, banking, legal and accounting services, architecture, healthcare and high technology.

Dr Vyakarnam said: "The main outcomes are to get started with student exchange programmes, find ways for Indian start-ups to come to Cambridge for our annual Summer School and to create visit programmes for business people in the hi-tech and biotech sectors.

"It was clear that there is much work to be done for Cambridge to raise its profile in one of the most exciting growth countries if India is to be seen both as a huge market opportunity and as a smart resource base for hi-tech and biotech.

"It seems there are three types of British business people – the Indophiles – these people who found out about India during their backpacking days and are enthusiastic about doing business in India and find out how to get there and get on with it.

"Then there are the "I’ll never go there – but are too polite to say so" group and then there are the fence sitters who would like to go but feel somewhat intimidated.

"From the Indian side there are business people who only see America – London being a stop-over point or an opportunity to visit family.

"Those in the middle think there is business to be done here but find it difficult because they approach the Brits as if they are Americans and because the market is small and not entirely open due to the EU.

"Finally there are those who are getting onto AIM and LSE, acquiring businesses in the UK and growing the level of FDI into the UK – 60 per cent of what comes to Europe comes to Britain.

"These are some of the barriers and issues that need to be addressed at the business level, not to mention other cultural, political, legal and practical issues if trade is to increase between Britain and India."

The biotech gauntlet has already been taken up with verve by ERBI, the East of England’s bio industry group.

It has launched a new web-based partnering service aimed at brokering relationships between British and Indian bio-pharma and biotech related companies.

The service is offered free of charge to companies operating in the human healthcare sector.

The 80 companies which have registered to take part so far are now updating their on-line company profiles and partnering objectives.

Once completed, they will be able to browse the profiles of all the other participating companies and create their short-list of potential partners.

ERBI will only broker relationships between companies where both parties have expressly stated an interest in the other.

Jeanette Walker, ERBI’s business development director, who is operating the programme, said "This is the first time we have offered this type of on-line relationship brokering service and we are delighted that some of India’s top bio and pharma companies have already registered to participate."

Anyone interested in taking part can register at erbiconference.co.uk/india/india_home.html

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