Dr Shai Vyakarnam, co-founder of AcceleratorIndia
AcceleratorIndia is a new international business-building company that helps fast track business expansion of technology companies in the Indian and European markets. Clients are innovative companies aspiring to deliver their products and services in the Indian and European markets in media, computing, telecoms and advanced engineering sectors.
It works with clients at various stages of their growth:-• Accelerating access to Indian and European markets and customers through mergers & acquisitions and joint ventures• Taking a commercially proven product or service from India into European markets and vice versa• Commercialising a new product or service in the Indian and European marketsCo-founder, Dr Shai Vyakarnam, is director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School.1. Why did you decide to found AcceleratorIndia?The primary motivations were twofold. First and foremost I did not want to be a spectator of the success and growth of India. Bearing in mind that is my country of origin, it is exciting to see how the overall agenda is one of inclusive growth and so to be able to be part of that and to contribute to it is exciting. The second motivation is that this vision is shared by a number of people who have come together. One of these is Dr Uday Phadke, a serial entrepreneur and scientist who has the expertise and depth of experience of commercialising technology. So we have combined his skills, honed over 20 years when he was at Generics (Sagentia) and his own company Cartezia and my own skills in building entrepreneurial ecosystems and education to start to develop clients and projects.2. What are the short and long term objectives for the venture?The short term objectives are to develop cash flow! Actually it is to gain the experience of taking technologies to India, for the huge markets that exist there and to bring the innovative products and services that have been developed for Indian needs to Europe. The latter has been developed with cost in mind and at the moment this is high on the UK agenda, so we think the timing is right.Longer term we would like Accelerator India to become a thought leader for innovations, developing bilateral opportunities and being at the hub of game changing ventures. In particular we would like to work at the so-called – bottom of the pyramid, where we can bring innovations that positively affect the lives of large numbers of people.3. Is there an appetite among East of England and UK companies generally to trade with India?It has taken quite a while to see an appetite from companies in the East of England. I think there was a dominant ‘China syndrome’, but we can see and hear people saying that they now realise it is tough to do business in that large market and seeing Indian regulatory frameworks becoming easier to navigate is encouraging more companies to look to India. Bearing in mind India is growing at eight per cent overall and some segments (such as technology, healthcare and so forth are growing even faster) UK companies have simply got to look at India as a market place and also as a source of business partnerships.4. What are the barriers or perceived barriers to two-way trade between our countries?The real and perceived barriers are sometimes the same. These are about distance, understanding the culture and how to do business in and with India and of course the regulatory and governance issues. But there is an increasing level of experience and there are several business support agencies now that can provide information, networks and hand hold companies into India. If a company is entrepreneurial then there are no real barriers other than having a budget and patience to get into a marketplace. Frankly it can be just as difficult for small companies to sell to UK public sector agencies or to very large organisations where decision cycles are really long. So – there is nothing special about the challenges.5. Can you outline the opportunities? Specifically, what industries or technology sectors offer most opportunities for trade between our countries?Funnily enough, for all the noise made by outsourcing/offshoring etc., the biggest trade items have been diamonds! From a hi-tech perspective the opportunities are in: Telecoms, media, advanced engineering in such areas as infrastructure, education, healthcare, retail. The entire country is growing so there is opportunity in almost all sectors. The key for first time exporters is to rely on personal networks, perhaps aiming at professional firms (rather than say small family companies) as potential clients or partners. Probably stick to the major cities in the early stages of development as you can get there most easily.6. The Indian Government has made great play of using the Cambridge model to help them build their knowledge-based 2020 vision. What progress has been made in this regard?There is a wide range of activities, but not in any co-ordinated way. The University of Cambridge has invested in building relationships. This has been demonstrated at a strategic level by three visits to date by the Vice-Chancellor, several research projects being initiated and playing a key role in an advisory capacity to the government. However the business community has been slow to date to build links and to take the long view of a growing market. So far progress in this sector has been ad hoc. The regional agencies and business networks have not engaged with this agenda at all, beyond a few dinners.7. How do you see the Indian economy shaping over the next decade?I am not an economist – so I should be safe in making predictions! There is great momentum in the Indian economy with supportive political and legal infrastructures. The population is young and dynamic and this demographic dividend is expected to play a major role for several decades. As long as the weather holds and rains remain more or less regular Indian industry can continue to thrive on the back of stable agricultural outputs.8. India seems to be a contradiction in that it has a very wealthy and growing middle class yet so many of the population on breadline wages. Are there any government policies or corporate venturing strategies in place that might help bridge the divide?This divide remains the most difficult challenge in India. The rate of population growth is so high that this has remained a major challenge. The light, however, is starting to shine on Indian innovation, inspired by the late C.K.Prahalad and his book on the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. This new thinking is percolating Indian business to think in terms of value/price based innovation and to see the poor in India as a market place with aspirations rather than as a burden on the economy. The Government has framed its economic policies on the notion of “inclusive growth”. Both these strategies are forward looking and based on innovative thinking rather than being dependent on the old style ‘trickle-down’ policies of focused growth. Of course it will take time to make a real impact but the middle-class is spreading to include more and more people and estimated at 400 million now.9. With both your entrepreneurial and your academic hats on, how important is education to help improve people’s lives, as well as stimulating economic prosperity?Education is probably the single biggest challenge to solve many of the questions of sustainable growth in India. It is a strategic element of plans in India and is being led by some very senior and serious thinkers.On the positive side there have now been reforms in Indian legislation that will free up the market for education and enable private sector social enterprises to enter. This should provide many training agencies to get involved with skill development, perhaps even scope for Further Education Institutions from the UK to get in on the action. Indian Universities are opening up for a so called 2+1 model, where students do two years in India and one year in the UK for dual qualifications. There is a great hunger for education in India so it more a matter of increasing the supply side, in line with the nature of needs in society.I am not sure if Indian educational institutions have been close enough to industries’ needs in the past, so the reforms being pushed through now will bring in far greater engagement from industry and hopefully this will ‘skill-up’ the labour force to be more productive and hence push India even further on from the average 8.5 per cent GDP growth rate!At a strategic level India is creating a whole new generation of top flight Institutions which should give UK Universities a wonderful opportunity to align with India. My suspicion, though, is that while UK HEIs have to watch their pennies in the upcoming spending reviews, Institutions from Europe and the US will have made their connections and UK will play the role of bridesmaid.The other great stumbling block right now is the conflict between UK universities’ ability to harvest the opportunity and the Home Office wanting to clamp down on visas.10. Is there enough social entrepreneurship in the UK and India to spread the gospel of responsible and sustainable business development that benefits rather than harms society?The short answer is yes. I can see that society has moved on from the Thatcher era of selfishness. Of course there are still individuals, businesses, immigration policies, military interventions, corruption and the unintended consequences of decisions that harm society (the banking crisis being one such example) but if we are to look at a trend and look at political will, on the whole I feel society is working towards a sustainable and inclusive future.www.acceleratorindia.com