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9 May, 2007 - 10:48 By Tony Quested

Thak Patel of THINKindia

THINKindia was formed in Cambridge in 2006 and helps UK businesses access India as a strategic destination for Joint Ventures, collaborations, access to key sectoral markets and contacts who understand how to maximise the many opportunities in India. Tony Quested speaks to chief executive, Thak Patel

Company: THINKindia was formed in Cambridge in 2006 and helps UK businesses access India as a strategic destination for Joint Ventures, collaborations, access to key sectoral markets and contacts who understand how to maximise the many opportunities in India. The company can advise on a range of key issues for UK businesses keen to penetrate India - including tax, finance, legal representation, travel, accommodation, language and culture. It acts as a conduit to support and improve knowledge-based trade and investment between the two countries.

Its three co-founders live and work in Cambridge - led by chairman Shai Vyakarnam, who is director of the University's Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning. The other co-founders are Thak Patel and Arun Muthirulan.

THINKindia has offices in Cambridge and also operates a growing B2B information highway to support trade and contacts between India and the UK. 1) Why is India such an important market? India last year overtook Japan to become the third largest overseas investor into both the UK and the East of England. With China, India is one of the two fastest-growing economies in the world. Also, its government has recognised the country's vast potential and its objective is to make India a knowledge superpower by 2020. 2) Received wisdom suggested that UK companies could cash in on a boom in trade with China, yet this hasn't happened; so why would they have any more success in India? Anecdotal evidence from Cambridge business sources suggests that there is still a barrier of suspicion between Chinese and UK businesses. Also, China is a market that requires intense research before companies even consider trading there. There are clear linguistic and cultural barriers unless UK companies route through Hong Kong.

India, on the other hand, has natural synergies with Britain that can be traced back to the days of Empire. English is the second foreign language for most professional Indian people; there are also cultural synergies as they impact on business. Indian professionals have computing and engineering skills sets that America has long recognised and which are vital to internationally trading technology companies in the UK.

India's elevation to the position of third largest overseas investor in both the UK and East of England is testimony of intent: Acquisitions of UK companies by large Indian corporates in the last couple of years have been followed by strong investment in plant and people and a long-term commitment to growth. 3) When the technology bubble burst thousands of Indian software specialists left Silicon Valley to return home. So much so that B2B in America was labelled 'Back to Bangalore.' Is there a potential payback in this Indian exodus from the States for Cambridge and the UK? Indian entrepreneurs who spent years writing software for American companies realised that they had the skills and the desire to use their talent within their own businesses. Many have formed their own companies since returning to India and these are growing as successful organisations in their own right. This has boosted the Indian economy but also established an entrepreneurial culture in India.

Our evidence is that this entrepreneurial culture has a direct synergy with that in the UK, especially Cambridge. Government and industry-led delegations from India to Cambridge in the last year or so have endorsed this view.

They have visited business incubators such as St John's Innovation Centre and been impressed by the way young technology businesses are nurtured through the often difficult early periods.

The University of Cambridge as a world-leading seat of academia and a warren for business ideas has been another model for Indian government figures and business leaders. The UK and the East of England are global exemplars of what can be achieved in building knowledge-based enterprise and an increasingly mature Indian technology community recognises and wants to engage with these regions. 4) Why did THINKindia choose Cambridge as its launchpad? First and foremost, Cambridge is the largest technology cluster in Europe. Our inspiration and chairman Dr Shai Vyakarnam heads up the university's Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning and both Arun and myself were based in Cambridge. Cambridge has a cachet in many overseas markets, not just India, and is an effective calling card.

Also, the interface between the University of Cambridge and the business sector for mutually beneficial research collaborations produces a dynamic enterprise nexus.

Companies such as ARM, CSR and others in the semiconductor and wireless segments of the Cambridge business community have already shown an appetite for growth in India and we have direct evidence that there are scores more set to follow their example. 5) There are so many long-established technology consultancies and technology transfer organisations in Cambridge. Can't they do what THINKindia can? We don't believe so. The excellent technology consultancies in Cambridge are one of the reasons the success of the Cambridge Phenomenon rippled out across so many countries and spanned so many decades but they have a technology specialism, whereas THINKindia has a much broader remit. Our expertise spans academia and business and the many facets endemic in that interface.

As Indians, the co-founders have an unrivalled knowledge of the way our country works - but we have the added benefit of having lived and worked in the UK and Europe.

This inside track on the cultures of both countries is unique among consultancies in Cambridge and elsewhere in the UK. Furthermore, we understand how the Indian marketplace works. It is easy for companies to be seduced by snapshots of this or that sector, which they believe they can exploit. Thinking it and achieving it are entirely different. THINKindia knows the nuances of every major market sector in India.

We know the ingredients for success in those markets and the key players within them. We know how to access critical contacts and networks within those segments. No organisation is better placed to educate UK companies in the way to achieve success in India. 6) How broad is THINKindia's industry focus? Much wider than just technology businesses. We have expertise and contacts in broader industry - including engineering and manufacturing - and also in major sectors such as food, biomass, agriscience and renewable energy, to name a few. In fact we are in the process of setting up THINKindia enterprises in some of these sectors, initially in food. 7) How important is it to identify the right partner within India? Absolutely vital - as it is in most countries. There are so many choices but given the cost of establishing enterprises in a foreign country, getting it wrong can cripple a company before the venture even gets off the ground. We have a database of partners in all the different sectors and provide a matchmaking service to ensure the best fit for UK companies keen to trade in India. 8) Is there a strategic element to THINKindia's service offering? Most definitely. We identify the right market entry strategy for the specific company and then follow up by delivering innovative, targeted services. We use our collaborations with an extensive network of partners to reduce the cost as part of the overall strategy. Focus is all. 9) How can you help UK and East of England companies that want to physically establish a base in India? We do this through services such as our 'Gateway to India' provision which takes companies through from investigation to implementation and considers whether the best route is through JV or M&A - or simply by opening offices there and using our contacts to grow indigenously.

Another service, 'Passage to India,' can help companies for a relatively small outlay establish a satellite office in India with a fixed, all-inclusive price per head, per month covering salary, infrastructure taxes, communications and so on.

This can be achieved without the hassle of forming a legal entity and operations can be established within weeks. We can also screen staff tailored to specific requirements and invite UK companies to India to personally interview and select the final candidates. 10) India is a vast country. How do companies decide where best to establish a presence or begin collaborations? You're right. India is a massive country but that should not put anyone off, as long as they adopt a focused approach. India's economy is growing by 8 per cent per year with attendant increasing spending power of more than 300 million members of an affluent middle class so its attractions are obvious.

Where best to settle or establish collaborations will be dictated by your industry sector.Delhi, for example, used to be dominated by government-related jobs but the service sector is growing. Construction, power, telecoms, health and community services and real estate all form integral parts of Delhi's economy and its retail industry is one of the fastest growing industries in India. Chennai is considered the automobile capital of India.

Mumbai has a vast array of different industries although textiles remain the largest; other industries include: Pharmaceuticals, construction, engineering, metals, silks, glassware, printing, plastics, bikes and film. It also has a large petroleum industry. Bangalore remains one of the world capitals for IT but Kolkata is also making vigorous efforts to become an internationally respected IT centre. All of which shows that before deciding to settle or target anywhere in India, it is essential to first get the right market intelligence.

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